Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958–1960, Cuba, Volume VI
466. Letter From the Chief of Naval Operations (Burke) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Merchant)1
Dear Livie: I am becoming increasingly concerned over deteriorating conditions in the Caribbean. I am especially concerned over the present situation in Cuba, in whose security the Navy is directly interested by reason of this island’s strategic location with respect to the sea approaches to the southern United States and the Panama Canal, and because of the location there of the Guantanamo Naval Base. Cuba appears to be in the process of falling under the domination of International Communism. Should this trend continue unchecked and a communist dominated or “front government” become a reality, a direct threat to the security of the United States would be presented. Additionally, a communist controlled state in Cuba would serve as a base [Page 814] of operations for the further spread of communistic influence in the Western Hemisphere having as its aim the isolation of the United States from Latin America.
Because of my concern, I am taking the liberty of sending you the attached paper as indicative of current Navy thinking in this matter, —namely that positive action to reverse the present trend should be initiated to the end that the communist threat is eliminated and a stable, friendly government established in Cuba. Action taken now in the case of Cuba will also facilitate and provide a foundation for any similar actions which may be necessary to prevent the spread of communism in Latin America and to stabilize other areas where unrest is appearing.
I am also sending a copy of this letter and the enclosure to Jack Irwin.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR U.S. ACTION IN CUBA2
1. The Castro Movement in Cuba is a vehicle by which international communism appears to be gaining a foothold in the Western Hemisphere. If the present trend continues, it will soon be too late for the United States to stem the Soviet incursion into this hemisphere. This situation, in its many ramifications, presents an immediate threat to the security of the United States and to that of our important neighbors in North and South America.
2. What action can be taken to prevent the establishment of a communist state in Cuba and to restore a stable, friendly government?
3. The U.S. has never renounced the Monroe Doctrine. This was reaffirmed by Secretary of State Dulles in his address to the Nation on July 12, 1954,3 on International Communism in Guatemala. In that address, Mr. Dulles stated: [Page 815]
“For several years international communism has been probing here and there for resting places in the Americas. It finally chose Guatemala as a spot which it could turn into an official base from which to breed subversion which would extend to other American Republics.”
“This intrusion of Soviet despotism was, of course, a direct challenge to our Monroe Doctrine, the first and most fundamental of our foreign policies.”
The United States is bound by treaties which commit it to seek settlement of hemispheric disputes by peaceful means, but which also provide for action in the event of aggression either from outside the hemisphere or within. Article 5 of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, signed at Rio de Janeiro, 1947,4 requires each contracting party to send to the Security Council of the UN complete information “concerning the activities undertaken...5 for the purpose of maintaining Inter-American peace and security.”
Article 6 of this treaty states:
“If the inviolability or the integrity of the territory or the sovereignty or political independence of any American State should be affected by an aggression which is not an armed attack... or by any other fact or situation that might endanger the peace of America, the Organ of Consultation shall meet immediately in order to agree on ... the measures which should be taken for the common defense and for the maintenance of the peace and security of the Continent.”
The Declaration adopted by the Tenth Inter-American Conference at Caracas, Venezuela, March 1954,6 states:
“That the domination or control of the political institutions of any American State by the international communist movement, extending to this hemisphere the political system of an extra-continental power, would constitute a threat to the sovereignty and political independence of the American States, endangering the peace of America, and would call for the meeting of consultation to consider the adoption of appropriate action in accordance with existing treaties.”
The 26th of July Movement succeeded in displacing Batista on 1 Jan 1959. Since that time the Castro regime has followed increasingly the classic strategy for establishing a communist state. The communist time table is delineated in American Embassy Havana Dispatch No. 903 dated 29 December 1959.7 The ruthless elimination of the opposition, [Page 816] assumption of dictatorial powers, suspension of elections, the “Hate America” campaign, the studied breakdown of the economy and confiscation of property, the initiation of relations and trade with the Soviet Union, the forbidding of anti-communist activity and the breakdown and reconstitution of the Armed Services and police are all typical communist maneuvers.
The majority of the Cubans are not yet committed to the acceptance of communism nor are they aware of the trend of the Revolution in this direction. The lower classes, however, continue to give full support to Castro and the Revolution.
It has not yet been proved that Castro himself is a communist. However, some of his principal deputies as well as other leaders are believed to be communists. In any case, individuals susceptible to communist influence are occupying key positions in the government as well as in all important organizations and trade unions. Two developments are noticeable. Communists are being appointed openly and are being elected (in trade unions) to key positions. Hidden communists in the 26th of July Movement are taking positions in seeming opposition to the open communists.
At present the Cuban Armed Forces are disorganized and apparently capable only of guerrilla warfare. Intelligence reports indicate that the Soviet Bloc may be supplying technicians to assist in training the new forces and supplying arms to the new government. There is no present indication that the fall of the Castro Government is imminent. If it should fall, however, the government would most probably emerge as a communist government because opposition leaders have been eliminated and there appear to be no leaders of stature remaining around whom anti-Castro/anti-Communist peoples could rally. Should Castro fall or be assassinated, mob action which would probably result would jeopardize the safety of Americans in Cuba. Finally, in the worst extreme, the possibility of direct support for Cuba by the Soviet Bloc, even to the extent of an open mutual security agreement, cannot be disregarded.
4. Three basic courses of action are open to the U.S.
- Multilateral Action through the OAS.
- Unilateral Overt Action by the U.S.
- Covert Unilateral Action by the U.S.
All subsidiary actions, such as economic pressure and moral suasion, which will assist in achieving the objective should also be taken in addition to the above.
Multilateral Action Through The OAS .
The machinery exists in the declaration and agreements of the OAS for the U.S. to request convocation of the Organ of Consultation of the OAS with subsequent investigation of the government in Cuba, and, if approval of the member states is obtained, intervention to prevent a communist take-over.
- It would be in consonance with our national policy and our treaty commitments under the OAS.
- It would strengthen the OAS and would reassure the Free World and the Latin American States of U.S. willingness to live up to commitments.
- Uncertainty of support for OAS action by other Latin American States.
- Delay in OAS action could result in a communist controlled front government being a “fait accompli” in Cuba.
- Could result in the entire problem ending in the Security Council of the UN where the Soviet Union has a veto.
Unilateral Overt Action By the U. S.
The U.S. has the capability to seize Cuba by direct military action, and after a consolidation period, cause the establishment of a friendly, non-communist government.
- It would be in consonance with the Monroe Doctrine, which is still basic U.S. policy with respect to the Western Hemisphere, and would solve the problem.
- It would serve notice to the world that the U.S. will not tolerate the establishment of a communist or communist “front” regime in the Western Hemisphere.
- It would re-emphasize to the world that the U.S. will not hesitate to act when its security is at stake.
- It would dispel any illusions by the world at large that the U.S. is unwilling and unable to act no matter what the provocation. It would also probably stop the “baiting of the U.S.” in which some minor powers throughout the world indulge.
- It would violate our OAS commitments to seek settlement by peaceful means.
- It would lead to charges of aggression against the U.S., both in the OAS and in the United Nations, with the resulting possibility of UN and OAS action against the U.S.
- It would prove that the U.S. is not willing to abide by its treaties if U.S. interests dictate otherwise.
- It could isolate the U.S. from the other American States.
- It would violate the principle of non-intervention.
Covert Unilateral Action by the U.S.
The U.S. could assist rebel groups covertly to overthrow the present government and re-establish a friendly government. Concurrently, it could take all possible measures to alert all friendly nations and the U.S. people and branches of the U.S. Government to the danger of the threat in order to discredit Cuba and bring world opinion to the side of the U.S.
- U.S. would not be charged with aggression.
- If carried out successfully, Free World and Latin American opinion would be favorable to the U.S.
- There is no certainty of success.
- The effort might well come too late.
In considering and comparing the above courses of action, the basic assumption that the United States cannot and must not permit within the Western Hemisphere the establishment of any government dominated by the International Communists is paramount. Therefore, if other courses of action fail, the U.S. must, even in the face of adverse world opinion, take unilateral action to prevent such an occurrence.
Until the situation reaches the stage where direct unilateral action by the U.S. is the only means left, it appears that a combination of those parts of courses of action A and C which have a fair chance of success should be followed in order to utilize the prime advantage given under A, i.e., the cooperation and good will of the other American States.
5. The following conclusions are reached:
- The establishment of a Communist government, or a “front” government following communist precepts, in Cuba would be a direct threat to the security of the U.S. and would endanger hemispheric security.
- The U.S. should initiate positive action to eliminate the threat before a communist or “front” government in Cuba is a “fait accompli.”
- Although the revolution still has the support of the masses, the resulting government in Cuba is following the path of international communism. Although they are not yet aware of the trend toward communism, Castro has the personal loyalty of the masses.
- American holdings are being confiscated. American lives may be endangered if stable, responsible government is not ensured.
- The Monroe Doctrine is still basic U.S. policy with respect to the Western Hemisphere.
- Procedure exists under the Declaration of Caracas to request action by the OAS against a Communist threat to hemispheric security.
- The U.S. should proceed to document the extent of infiltration of communists into key positions in Cuba and the extent of extra-Western Hemispheric Communist support of the present Cuban regime.
- The U.S. should initiate a campaign to apprise all U.S. agencies, the U.S. public, and the other American States of the threat in order to gain support for any future action that may be taken.
- The U.S. should covertly support the Cuban opposition.
- The U.S. after having gained the required support, should present its case before the OAS in order that joint action by the members of the OAS may be taken to eliminate the communist threat and establish a friendly, stable government in Cuba.
- The U.S., as a last resort, should take unilateral military action to eliminate the threat.
6. To accomplish the above, the following plan of action is recommended:
- Immediately document the communist time table and the communist take-over in Cuba.
- Use all resources and media to make the U.S. and the other
American States aware of the threat. The following should be
utilized to accomplish this:
- Intelligence briefings of:
- U.S. Government officials.
- Newspaper representatives and editors.
- U.S. businessmen operating abroad and going abroad.
- The IADB members and Latin American diplomatic personnel and military attachés.
- The Catholic Church (possibly through the Apostolic Delegate).
- Church groups operating in Latin America.
- Latin American officials visiting the U.S. and U.S. installations.
- Orientation of radio broadcasts and news reports, both government and private.
- The U.S. Information Service.
- All country teams.
- Covertly support the Cuban opposition. Select and groom trusted Cubans as appropriate to assume responsible posts in a friendly government.
- Be prepared to use force to safeguard and evacuate U.S. Nationals should the situation deteriorate to the point where they are endangered.
- When support has been gained, request, in conjunction with
other members of the OAS,
convocation of the Organ of Consultation of the OAS under the terms of the
Declaration of Caracas to:
- Seek OAS action to call on Cuba to place herself under OAS auspices “in order to preserve the revolution for the people and prevent communist take-over,” and;
- Seek OAS action to intervene by force in the event the above fails, and;
- In whatever joint group is formed to accomplish the above, keep U.S. participation to a minimum in order to force the Latin American States to assume their responsibilities to the Hemisphere and to counter accusations of U.S. imperialism.
- In the event time does not permit completion of the above, or as a last resort, be prepared to take unilateral military action to establish a non-communist government in Cuba.
- Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, Cuba 1959–1961. Secret; Personal.↩
- Delivered in fact on June 30, 1954; for text, see American Foreign Policy, 1950–1955: Basic Documents, vol. I, pp. 1311–1315.↩
- Signed at Rio de Janeiro, September 2, 1947; for text, see 62 Stat. (Pt. 2) 1681.↩
- All ellipses are in the source text.↩
- Resolution 93 adopted at the Tenth Inter-American Conference at Caracas, March 28, 1954; for text, see American Foreign Policy, 1950–1955: Basic Documents, vol. I, pp. 1300–1302.↩
- Enclosed with despatch 903 was 6-page outline that brought together “the principal indications and manifestations of Communism and anti-Americanism in the revolutionary regime of Fidel Castro.” On the basis of this data, the Embassy in Havana concluded: “The facts as revealed to date show the Castro regime as bitterly anti-American and perhaps implacably so. Some of the attitudes and actions of the regime seem clearly to reflect a Communist orientation, while others could be Communistic but could equally be due to ultra-nationalism or anti-Americanism.” (Department of State, Central Files, 737. 00/12–2959)↩