419. Memorandum of Discussion at the Department of State-Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, Pentagon, Washington, January 8, 1960, 11:30 a.m.1

I Introduction

At General Twining’s invitation to begin the meeting Mr. Merchant first stated he hoped that the discussions could be continued on a regular weekly basis. He noted the importance which the Department attaches to them and the value of an exchange of views on a variety of subjects between the Department and the Joint Chiefs. General Twining agreed and stated that he and the Chiefs would be happy to meet with Mr. Merchant regularly.

II Cuba (Raised at State initiative)

Mr. Merchant said he would like to give the Joint Chiefs the Department’s assessment of the Cuban situation which he termed extremely grave. He stated he would give a short résumé and then ask Mr. Rubottom to go into further detail. From a military point of view the problem which Castro poses affects us locally because of our base at Guantanamo and strategically because we may find at our doorstep [Page 732] what, to all intents and purposes, amounts to a Soviet satellite. Moreover, there are some 8,000 Americans in Cuba, about one quarter of them outside metropolitan Havana. Their lives, as well as the substantial American investment in the country, are of major concern to the United States. From a political point of view we must reckon with Castro’s effect upon other Latin American countries.

To protect American lives and interests and to remedy the situation which exists poses a delicate operation for various reasons: (1) the precipitous disappearance of Castro might result in worse leadership; (2) we must insure that a successor government comports itself in our interests and therefore we cannot alienate the Cubans themselves or do anything upon which Castro might capitalize and consolidate his position; (3) our actions in Cuba will affect our relations elsewhere in Latin America. In summary, a scalpel is called for; not a meat axe.

In this connection there have been two topical developments: (1) the current intensive efforts of the Cuban Government and the trip of Foreign Minister Roa to promote an economic conference in Havana in April of the underdeveloped countries; the Department has instructed our Ambassadors to impress upon the governments to which they are accredited that it would not be in our interest nor in theirs for them to participate. (2) Ambassador Bonsal has been instructed to deliver a harsh note to the Cuban Government on January 11 protesting the illegality of a series of actions which the Cubans have taken against American interests.2

Mr. Merchant then called on Mr. Rubottom. Mr. Rubottom said that since his landing in Cuba the Department has tried unsuccessfully to pin a definite label on Castro in order to take stronger action against him. For all practical purposes Castro could be in the employ of the Soviet Government and that is the approach the Department must take toward Cuba. Secretary Herter last July3 agreed that we could no longer work with the Cuban Government. (As illustrative of this point Mr. Rubottom read the six NSC criteria or points3 which embodied the ideal characterization of a government in Latin America with which the United States could work. Castro’s regime met none of them.)

The plan to take definitive action against the Castro Government was delayed some three months because important American interests thought there was a change in the climate. The situation, however, crystallized with a firm negative in October. At that time moderates in the government were eliminated and Castro made his vicious all-night speech on October 20.4 On October 27 Ambassador Bonsal made a stiff protest to the Cuban Government.5

[Page 733]

Thereafter, a set of policy decisions were developed which the President approved at the end of November.6 Certain operational plans were put into effect: in the communications media which involved propaganda directed against the regime inside Cuba and throughout the hemisphere, and in support of those who might one day take over. In this latter connection some of the forces which might have served a focal point have been a disappointment. There is a group, however, the Monte Cristi, which appears to be determined, creative and imaginative (Mr. Merchant subsequently emphasized the operational nature of our cooperation with this group). We are also working with liberal leaders elsewhere in Latin America, such as Betancourt and Figueres. In other ways we are also progressing: the position of the Administration on sugar is such that we can move in massively; the British decided, at our instance, not to make planes available which the Cubans were seeking; as a result Castro hasn’t got anything like the arms he wants.

In response to Admiral Burke’s question as to whether the Monte Cristi group had a head, Mr. Rubottom replied that there was a head in Cuba and one on the outside.

Admiral Burke asked whether Castro would move on sugar in a few weeks and questioned whether, indeed, Castro’s main programs were not going the way he wanted. Mr. Rubottom stated that he did not think that Castro would move on the sugar until the crop came in in March or even as late as May. He stated that Castro had many economic problems, but that if he took the Peron route he probably would remain in power for some time.

General Lemnitzer commented that the Cubans were shopping around the world for arms, but that they needed money. Mr. Rubottom said money would be their Achilles’ heel untilately [ultimately?]. Admiral Burke said the Cubans could import oil and arms from the Soviet Union. Mr. Rubottom stated he thought it was doubtful whether the Russians would want to move in at this stage.

Admiral Burke commented that the Cubans were in debt with respect to oil in the amount of $30 million. He wondered about this. Mr. Rubottom said that the oil situation had been discussed with representatives of Standard Oil of New Jersey7 which had the largest oil holdings in Cuba and that he felt that the companies should decide this question themselves, without the decision being limited to the U.S. Government. He added that the companies are likely to demand stiffer terms, but pointed out that the Cubans could easily obtain oil [Page 734] from the USSR, since Soviet oil is already going to Uruguay and Brazil. He said that he had told the oil companies that we would not object if they decided themselves to take a tough line on payments.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

  1. Source: Department of State, State–JCS Meetings: Lot 70 D 328, January 1960. Top Secret. The drafting officer is not indicated, but it presumably was Donhauser. Donhauser’s handwritten notation of January 13 indicates that Merchant cleared the memorandum in draft. A typewritten note on the cover sheet indicates that the memorandum was not cleared with the Department of Defense. The cover sheet lists 31 attendees at the meeting from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Department of Defense, the Joint Strategic Survey Committee, the Joint Staff, the Department of State, the National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
  2. See Document 422.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. Apparently a reference to the October 19 speech; see footnote 2, Document 371.
  6. See Document 379.
  7. Approved November 5; see Document 387.
  8. Apparently a reference to the conversation Rubottom had with Standard Oil officials on December 17, a memorandum of which is in Department of State, Central Files, 837.2553/12–1759.