394. Letter From Secretary of State Herter to Foreign Secretary Lloyd 1

Dear Selwyn : I deeply appreciate, as very evident in your latest message,2 the thoughtful and extended consideration you have been [Page 670] giving the difficult problem of the Cuban request to exchange Sea Furies for Hunters. I am sorry to report that since my letter to you of November 4,3 nothing has occurred which we can interpret as being encouraging in the Cuban situation. On the contrary, it has become more evident that the extremist elements of Castro’s 26th of July Movement are rapidly undermining whatever democratic institutions are left in Cuba and replacing them with a violent and radical leftist party dictatorship. Moreover, fear of and hostility to Castro have been growing in Cuba as a result of his more recent arbitrary actions in reinstituting military tribunals which have the power to sentence to the firing squad those who criticize any action of the revolutionary government. I mention this unhappy development to explain in part our thinking that Castro’s eventual downfall may result from political excesses of this kind as much as from the inevitable economic decline which, we feel, his policies will bring about.

Of course, I cannot pretend to know when Castro and his government will fall. I do confess to a feeling of deep concern for the nature of the man himself. In recent months, he has shown an increasing tendency toward instability and rash actions as he is beset by ever greater problems and as the first signs of a splintering and weakening of his revolutionary support become evident. Modern arms and equipment in his hands and under these circumstances are indeed unpleasant to contemplate.

We all very much fear that the situation is past the point where it can be remedied by feeding his demands for arms and munitions. As it is now manifestly impossible for us to succumb to Cuban pressure on this issue, an export from one of our principal allies would certainly be interpreted as a major divergence in what has been until now a highly satisfactory, coordinated approach to this serious problem.

I have given considerable thought to the possibility of Castro’s purchase of jet fighters from behind the iron curtain. It seems to me that this transaction would carry certain disadvantages which Castro could not afford to ignore or, if he did, certain consequences which would be damaging to his interests. If consummated, the deal would certainly bring home to all of Latin America the proximity of Communist intervention and would, in my opinion, serve further to alienate the support which he has enjoyed among certain non-Communist elements in the hemisphere. I reiterate, too, my belief that the Soviets might well give second thought to any such provocative action.

My real concern, however, is the possibility of a breakdown in the control of arms shipments for the entire Caribbean area. As you are aware, with few exceptions, the countries of the free world, including Great Britain, have cooperated magnificently in limiting the shipment [Page 671] of arms in the area. We have recently received disturbing reports of Cubans, as well as third parties acting in their behalf, operating in Central European countries and seeking to make purchases of arms in substantial quantities. These include jet aircraft and other important types of military and naval hardware. I fear that the delivery of the Hawker jets would indeed be construed by some of these countries as signalling an end to this cooperative effort and might well result in an arms race which could seriously jeopardize all efforts made thus far to reduce tensions in the area.

In my letter of November 4, I mentioned that we were preparing a memorandum setting forth the facts surrounding our actions in carrying out the Caribbean arms policy and with a view toward clearing up any misunderstanding which may have occurred regarding its application. I am pleased to enclose the memorandum.4 It is also intended to give our views on observations made in a memorandum which your Embassy handed us on October 14.5

Regardless of the outcome, I want to express to you my deep gratitude for the sympathetic and thoughtful consideration you have given our views in this matter.

With warmest personal regards,

Most sincerely,

Christian A. Herter 6
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, November 1959, Secret; Personal. Drafted by Vallon and cleared with Rubottom, Merchant, and Ivan B. White (EUR).
  2. Document 390.
  3. Document 386.
  4. Not printed.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 368.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.