414. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom) to the Under Secretary of State (Dillon)1


  • Action Program on Cuba


Agreement was reached in ARA early in December that the United States Government could no longer tolerate the continued harassment of American property owners in Cuba, the failure of that government to respond in a positive way to our repeated efforts to seek a friendly solution to the problem of expropriation, and the vicious, unjustified attacks by the Castro government on the United States.

Although our attitude of patience and forbearance in the conduct of our relations with Cuba has generally won approval in Latin America and in the United States press, it is believed that in the face of these continuous provocations the time has come for the United States Government to assume a more openly critical and challenging posture vis-à-vis Cuba in order that our attitude to date may not be considered a sign of weakness and thus give encouragement to communist-nationalist elements elsewhere in Latin America who are trying to advance programs similar to those of Castro. Such programs, if undertaken, could only result in undermining United States prestige abroad, [Page 717] exposing United States property owners to treatment similar to that being received in Cuba and, in general, prejudicing the program of economic development espoused by the United States for Latin America which relies so heavily on private capital investment.

ARA believes actions can and should be taken, beginning immediately, which would affirmatively undertake to overcome the present impasse in our relations with Cuba. It is, therefore, proposed that the following program in the time sequence indicated be instituted by the Department.


Protection of American Property Owners Against Harassment.

It is proposed that a firmly worded, formal note be delivered early next week to the Cuban Government in effect protesting the continued harassment of American property owners. The note would relate to the occupation of properties, seizure of land, cattle and equipment, intervention in operations and other extra-legal, or quasi-legal activities to which these Americans have been subjected and the fact that in almost all cases they have been deprived of their rights under due process of law.

It is proposed that the substance of the note be widely publicized after its delivery.

Although it is not believed that the note will produce a cessation of these offensive actions, its delivery and publication is considered essential as a first outward step in the change of approach to the Government of Cuba mentioned earlier, and as part of the record which may be needed in an eventual judicial contest under international claims procedures.


Resolution of the Expropriation Problem.

It is proposed that, following his return to Habana on approximately January 11, Ambassador Bonsal be instructed to renew discussions with Cuban officials looking toward a mutually satisfactory settlement of the problem of fair valuation and satisfactory terms of compensation, including a proposal that the Cuban Government voluntarily impose a tax (say 1 or 1–1/2 cent per lb.) on sugar exports to the United States, to create a fund to be used for compensating American owners of expropriated properties.

Upon failure to reach agreement, Ambassador Bonsal would then be authorized to propose the submission of the problem to a Bi-national Commission, to an arbitration commission under the auspices of the International Court of Justice or to the Court itself.

Meanwhile, and on the presumption that the Cuban Government will turn down these proposals, the United States Government would undertake the steps necessary to relieve itself of all contractual obligations of the GATT as they relate to Cuba. This would include the [Page 718] denunciation of the United States-Cuban Trade Agreement of 19342 and the Convention of Reciprocity of 1902.3

These steps are essential and preliminary to ARA’s final proposal which is the unilateral imposition by the United States of an appropriate tax on all Cuban imports, the proceeds of which would be used to create a fund with which to settle claims of expropriated United States interests.

The details of this plan are contained in the Wieland to Rubottom memorandum of December 9, 1959 (Tab A).4 The details of the plan are now under consideration by the legal division and have not yet been cleared.

Although this procedure will undoubtedly take time to execute, it is believed that the sequence proposed will help publicly to re-confirm the correct and reasonable posture of the United States in dealing with Cuba and the United States Government’s respect for its international commitments. At the same time, it will permit firm dealing with the recalcitrant Castro government and provide for the eventual compensation of United States property owners.


Publicizing the Program.

It is believed that each proposal made to the Cubans, and each action taken by the United States Government in carrying out the program outlined in 1 and 2 above, should be accompanied by appropriate publicity in order to insure that the position of United States Government is made crystal clear at every step of the way.

As a first move in this direction it is proposed that, upon the departure of Ambassador Bonsal for Cuba on or about January 11, the Secretary publicly announce that he has instructed the Ambassador to seek an immediate resumption of discussions with the Cubans looking toward a friendly and mutually satisfactory resolution of the expropriation and other problems confronting the two governments. The Secretary would state that this effort in no way implies a modification of the traditional United States position favoring reasonable and legitimate agrarian reform intended to improve the economic condition of peoples. He would, however emphasize our firm belief that any expropriation measure carries with it the obligation, long recognized under international law, for prompt, adequate and effective compensation.

It is further proposed that appropriate public pronouncements by the Secretary or other officials of the Department accompany the initiation of the remaining proposals and action measures included in the program.


Sugar Legislation.

Between the tenth and twentieth of January it may be expected that several bills will be introduced into the Congress to modify and extend existing sugar legislation. One of these will certainly be an Administration bill which will include a provision granting the President discretionary authority to revise foreign sugar quotas.

At the time the Administration’s position is made public, there will be an excellent opportunity at a press conference to state the fundamental position of the United States with respect to Cuba. It is, therefore, proposed that at the time the legislation is introduced or shortly thereafter, a presidential pronouncement should be made on this subject, perhaps in the form of questions and answers as suggested in Tab B attached.5


Enlisting the Cooperation of Other Latin American Governments.

The Foreign Minister of Brazil recently indicated to Ambassador Cabot6 his concern regarding developments in Cuba. Our Ambassador believes that given sufficient encouragement and assurance of support, the Brazilians may be disposed to “point the finger” at events in Cuba.

In order to determine the extent to which this feeling may be shared by other Latin American Govenments, it is proposed that an instruction be sent to all Latin American Missions outlining the position of the United States Government with respect to Cuba and authorizing them to convey these views to the host government. They would, at the same time, be authorized to elicit the reaction of the government to this policy and discreetly inquire as to the government’s own views on developments in Cuba and its relations with the Castro regime. The instruction would have the dual objective of clarifying the United States Government’s change of approach in its policy toward Cuba, including the reasons for such change and sounding out the possibilities for a stiffening of attitudes toward Cuba by the other American Republics. At a subsequent time and depending upon the kind of responses received, further consultations with Latin American Governments may be undertaken looking toward some kind of multilateral action on the Cuban question.


Countering the Castro Propaganda Offensive.

Agreement has been reached with USIA for the full time assignment to ARA of Mr. Richard Cushing. Mr. Cushing will report on January 11. It is proposed that he undertake the coordination of an intensive though discreet campaign to counter the vicious “Hate America” propaganda being spread throughout Latin America and the world by the Castro Government. He will use all available material including “sanitized” intelligence reports in preparing a steady output for all media, not only presenting the United States side of the Cuban question but mounting our own offensive in this particular “cold war”.


Supporting Operations.

FSO George Gray, on transfer from Rome and now in the Department for orientation and briefing, will proceed to Habana early in January to work exclusively on problems connected with the Cuban Government’s actions against American property owners. Mr. Gray is a lawyer and has already established close working relations with CMA and the legal division.
The legal division has assigned Mr. Fabian A. Kwiatek to work with CMA on the legal aspects of the program described in 1 and 2 above. Mr. Kwiatek will assume responsibility for clearing all steps contemplated in this program with the various branches of the legal division. He will also propose alternative course of action as necessary.
Mr. Carlos Hall, Director of RAR, will give priority to all research requests connected with the Cuban problem.


That you approve the submission of a firmly worded note to the Cuban Government in effect protesting the continued harassment of American property owners.
That you approve the procedures outlined in section 2 above looking toward the resolution of the problem of expropriation of American properties in Cuba.
That you approve the proposal that appropriate publicity accompany these actions.
That you approve a pronouncement by the President which would set forth the fundamental position of the United States with respect to Cuba, such announcement to be made upon the publication of the Administration’s position on sugar legislation.
That you approve an instruction to our Missions in Latin America requesting that they present the United States Government position in regard to Cuba and eliciting the host government’s reaction thereto.
That you approve the initiation of a discreet campaign to counter the anti-American propaganda of the Castro government.7
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/12–3059. Confidential. Drafted by Vallon, Leonhardy, and Turkel; concurred in by L, P, and E; and initialed by Rubottom.
  2. Signed August 24, 1934, and subsequently amended; for text of the original agreement, see 49 Stat. 2559.
  3. Signed December 11, 1902; for text, see 33 Stat. 2136.
  4. Document 406.
  5. Not printed.
  6. This conversation has not been further identified.
  7. Dillon initialed approval of recommendations 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 on December 30. He neither approved nor disapproved recommendation 2. Regarding his reaction to this recommendation, see footnote 4, infra.