389. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Ambassador in Cuba (Bonsal) and the Cuban Minister of Finance (Lopez Fresquet), Havana, November 8, 19591

Rufo Lopez Fresquet and his wife (an American) dropped in unexpectedly at the Residence at about 11 a.m. on Sunday, November 8. After thanking me for the courtesies he had received on his recent trip to Tampa and Bradenton on family business, the Minister made the following comments:

He said that he is increasingly impressed with Fidel Castro’s tendency toward “paranoia”. He said that Castro is in fact weak and easily influenced in spite of his extreme sensitiveness to criticism and his spectacular rages. According to Lopez Fresquet, Castro’s temperament and tactics closely resemble those of Hitler. He referred particularly to Castro’s attitude toward the United States and his attempt to develop hostility toward the United States in the Cuban people.

Lopez Fresquet expressed the view that he and other members of the Government who thought as he did were only being kept on sufferance and would be ruthlessly dismissed when they had served their purpose. He described himself as a technician rather than as a politician. He said that he was sure he was under close observation of the Government’s intelligence services and that his movements and contacts were watched. He said, however, that he had already functioned successfully in the underground against Batista and that he thought he could handle himself under these present conditions. He [Page 661] described an incident the other day in which he arrived at the Palace in his own car, parked the car, walked through the Palace and took a taxi at the other entrance in order to evade observation.

Dr. Lopez Fresquet made the point that what he was telling me was to be considered highly confidential but that he wished it to be made available to the top people in the Department of State.

Lopez Fresquet stated that developments of recent weeks represented a definite triumph for the radical “Sierra” element in the Government (especially Raul Castro and Ché Guevara) over the more moderate “llano” element (represented by such people as Manuel Ray, the Minister of Public Works, Faustino Perez, the Minister of “Recuperación de Bienes Malversados”, and Felipe Pazos. He described the Cabinet meeting held on Thursday, October 29 as an illustration of this victory (see Embassy telegram 998 of November 2, Limit Distribution2).

At this meeting the following occurred:

Raul Castro spoke for an hour and a half regarding his idea of how the Cuban economy should be organized. Lopez Fresquet described the thesis advanced as being one of “national socialism”. He said that it could not exactly be traced to Communism, that it was rather a sort of Fascist approach with the state in control of basic industries and natural resources. Lopez Fresquet stated that Fidel Castro had told him later that he considered Raul’s speech to have been magnificent. there was apparently no extended discussion at the meeting of this maiden effort by Raul Castro who has only recently become a member of the cabinet as Minister of the Armed Forces.
Castro denounced Minister Faustino Perez for incompetence and inefficiency. Faustino Perez replied in a highly emotional speech, during which he cried profusely.
Fidel Castro asked President Dorticos to describe a recent conversation with Felipe Pazos. Dorticos did so, claiming that Pazos had said that the influence of Communism was leading Cuba into holocaust. Fidel Castro raved and ranted over this. Armando Hart said that Pazos should be shot. Lopez Fresquet, after giving Minister of Economy Boti an opportunity to speak, which the latter did not take advantage of, endeavored to defend Pazos pointing out his valuable services to the revolution, the importance of retaining him in his present position and saying that if Pazos had any weakness, it was that he would sacrifice a good deal for a brilliant phrase. The meeting was suspended in order to enable Castro to keep an appointment with Juan J. Arevalo, the former President of Guatemala. There was some talk of having Pazos come to the meeting in order to defend himself [Page 662] but the idea was abandoned. So far as Lopez Fresquet knows, this issue has not yet come to a head. Pazos has been tipped off by Lopez Fresquet and others regarding developments.

Lopez Fresquet said it had been highly injudicious of Pazos to talk to President Dorticós as if the latter were a friend, such as Lopez Fresquet, with whom he could talk freely and confidentially. Lopez Fresquet expressed the view that Minister of Economy Boti is perhaps in the Raul Castro camp. He based this partly on Boti’s failure to come to Pazos’ defense at the cabinet meeting and partly on the alleged failure of Boti to push matters of interest to private investors. Lopez Fresquet said that he thought Minister of Commerce Cepero Bonilla was a sound man whose views were generally along the lines of those of Pazos and Lopez Fresquet.

Lopez Fresquet said that the way in which Fidel Castro had thrown himself heart and soul in the search for Camilo Cienfuegos and was neglecting practically all other business for this purpose reflected both his profound affection for Cienfuegos and a desire by feverish activity of this kind to avoid grappling with the political and personal problems confronting him. In speaking of Camilo Cienfuego’s disappearance, Lopez Fresquet said that he had heard that shortly after Camilo’s plane took off from Camaguey on the evening of October 28 a Sea Fury took off in pursuit. He added that according to certain peasant witnesses, there was an air battle between two planes near Cruces (this is over half way to Habana from Camaguey), and that a plane resembling Camilo’s fell into the sea south of Cruces. He said that he knew that the crew of a Sea Fury from the Camaguey base was currently in jail. He said that perhaps this had been an attempt by friends of Huber Matos to avenge him.

Speaking of Huber Matos, Lopez Fresquet described a conversation which he had had with him in early September, at which time Huber Matos had stated his conviction that Raul Castro’s ruthless drive for power would perhaps lead him to eliminate Fidel by assassination if necessary.

According to Lopez Fresquet, an important tip-off, in the power struggle now going on within the armed forces, will be the designation of the new Chief of the Army General Staff to replace Camilo Cienfuegos. If Ramiro Valdez gets it, that will be a complete triumph for Raul Castro and the extreme radicals. If, on the other hand, Calixto Garcia is designated, that will be a success for the more moderate elements. (Calixto Garcia is currently military Commander at Santiago; according to Lopez Fresquet, he is a close personal friend of Fidel and was a member of the Ortodoxo party.)

Lopez Fresquet said that he thought that our policy toward Cuba had been generally correct. He said we must do everything possible to make a favorable impression on Cuban public opinion. He had no [Page 663] objection to the presentation we made on October 27 to President Dorticos.3 He said that our willingness to assist in the search for Cienfuegos had been very well received.4 He added that we should take every possible initiative to indicate a friendly attitude toward the people of Cuba.

I stated that I had come to the reluctant conclusion that I was now accredited to an unfriendly Cuban Government. I pointed to the malevolent, cynical way in which the so-called “bombardment” over Habana had been handled. I referred to the pamphlet on the subject which has been put out under the auspicies of the Ministry of State.5 Lopez Fresquet agreed with my position on this subject.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/11–959. Confidential; Eyes Only. Drafted by Bonsal on November 9. Attached to a covering letter of November 9 from Bonsal to Rubottom, in which the Ambassador asked that the memorandum be given very limited distribution. He indicated that he planned to show it to Braddock, Topping, and Noel, and left it up to Rubottom as to who in Washington should see it. A handwritten notation on the covering letter indicates that the memorandum was seen by Rubottom, Hill, Wieland, Stevenson, Turkel, Mallory, and Dreier.
  2. In telegram 998, Bonsal forwarded to the Department information given to him personally by an American newsman, who had received it from an unidentified member of the Cuban Cabinet, regarding a recent stormy Cabinet meeting and the concern felt by some members of the Cabinet, including Pazos, Ray, Faustino Perez, and Lopez Fresquet, over the trend in the government toward communism. (Ibid., 737.00/11–259)
  3. See Document 379.
  4. A Department of Defense Information Brief, which was enclosed with a covering memorandum of November 1 from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations to the White House Staff Secretary, described the U.S. Navy’s search operations conducted that day, in response to a request from the Cuban Government on October 31, to look for the missing plane in international waters between Florida and the eastern tip of Cuba. (Eisenhower Library, Project “Clean Up” Records, Cuban Situation)
  5. On November 6, the Department of State obtained a copy of an English-language brochure put out by the Cuban Government and entitled “Cuba Denounces Before the World.” The brochure attempted to show U.S. Government responsibility for the October 21 flight over Havana and the alleged machine-gunning and bombing of Cuban citizens. The text of a note of protest regarding the brochure, which Rubottom gave to Ambassador Dihigo on November 9, is in telegram 542 to Havana, November 6. (Department of State, Central Files, 737.5400/11–659) A brief summary of Rubottom’s conversation with Dihigo on November 9 is in telegram 558 to Havana, November 9. (Ibid., 737.5400/11–959) A statement released by the Department on November 9, which categorically rejected the implication that the U.S. Government was responsible for the October 21 flight, is printed in Department of State Bulletin, November 30, 1959, pp. 787–788.