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


  • NSC Discussion of Cuba, March 10, 1960


We understand that Mr. Gray has requested that Mr. Allen W. Dulles include Cuba in his briefing of the NSC on March 10 and that Mr. Gray intends to follow this up by posing certain questions relative to our actions in Cuba. This follows immediately on a letter which Admiral Burke (Tab A) sent to Mr. Merchant 2 recommending that the United States follow a policy of collective action through the OAS coupled with covert support of anti-Castro elements in Cuba and, should this fail to bring a solution in time, that the United States be prepared to take military measures. It is understood that Admiral Burke’s recommendations were subsequently endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for submission as a proposal to the National Security Council3 but that, as the result of the position taken on behalf of the Department by Mr. Merchant in reply to Mr. Gray’s query, the latter has agreed that Admiral Burke’s proposals not be taken up by the NSC Planning Board at this time.4
You will recall that the Department’s position at the discussion of the Cuban problem at the NSC on January 145 and previously has been that it would be inadvisable for the NSC through the Planning Board to develop a special policy paper on Cuba, essentially because [Page 829]
The President has already approved a basic paper on Cuba (Tab C)6 which remains valid and which the Department and agencies concerned are seeking to implement as effectively as possible with a rather detailed political, informational, economic, and covert program. The substance of the policy and implementing programs have been briefed to the NSC (January 14) and the JCS (January 8).7
There is no disagreement between the Departments and agencies concerned about our basic approach towards Cuba—that the Castro regime is a threat to our security interests and the achievement of our objectives in Latin America, that there is no reasonable hope that the Castro regime will voluntarily reverse the policies which run counter to our interests and objectives, and that consequently we seek a change in Cuba with the minimum damage to U.S. prestige and interests in the hemisphere and elsewhere in the Free World. The achievement of this policy objective does not require new policy determinations but carrying out by the agencies immediately concerned—at this time primarily State, CIA and to some extent USIA—of highly intricate and delicate operations in daily coordination with each other in the current highly fluid situation. While the Department has and will continue to give appropriate briefings on our activities with respect to Cuba to the NSC, the OCB, and the JCS, it is not desirable that these bodies set up rigid operational guidelines with respect to our diplomatic, economic, informational, and covert activities, and it would probably be counter productive for the Departments and agencies concerned to subject their operations to review and concurrence in the NSCOCB.
In view of the fact that any action tending to cause a change in Cuba is subject to being construed in Latin America and elsewhere as “intervention,” it remains highly important that our approach to the Cuban problem and our plans to achieve the desired result be held as strictly as possible on a “need-to-know” basis and especially the circulation of papers within the Government tending to imply that the United States seeks a change.


That this position again be sustained in any discussion within the NSC concerning the possible development or consideration of a plan for Cuba by the NSC Planning Board. Should the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mr. Gray, or others suggest the need for a further formulation of basic policy towards Cuba, it might be suggested that they be invited to go to the President with you for a discussion. In the event that their suggestions are essentially operational you might suggest that they take these up directly with the Departments and agencies concerned. ARA would be prepared to participate in briefing or discussing the Cuban situation with any member of the NSC who desires further information.

[Page 830]

Attached, for convenience, are a copy of the reply which Mr. Merchant has sent to Admiral Burke (Tab B)8 and suggested answers to questions we understand Mr. Gray may raise at the NSC (Tab D).

[Tab D]


Suggested Answers to Questions Which Might Be Raised at NSC March 10, 1960


Question—What are basic U.S. interests in Cuba?

Answer—Our basic security problem is that the Castro Government is pursuing policies, including calculated hostility to the United States and close association with the Communists, which run counter to every one of our stated policy objectives for Latin America (NSC 5902/110). Castro’s program is to establish firmly in Cuba a government hostile to the United States, follow a neutralist if not pro-Soviet foreign policy, incorporate pro-Communists if not Communists in key positions, and follow the path of complete state management of the economy. If successful, Castro would undoubtedly further intensify his efforts to bring into power governments responsive to his leadership in other Caribbean and Latin American countries and it is not unlikely, in view of the instability of a number of governments in the area and of the sympathy which Castro still wakes among radical-nationalist as well as pro-Communist elements that he might succeed in at least a few countries. In this event, we would be in very serious difficulties in our Latin American relations. All other dangers—except the possibility that Cuba would be made available clandestinely or otherwise to hostile forces for operations directly against U.S. military security—are subsidiary to this main danger.


Question—Is there any prospect of satisfactory relations with the Cuban Government, as now constituted, which will allow us to protect our interests?

Answer—Our experience with and assessment of Castro indicates that the odds that Castro would genuinely modify his position are so long that they would not form a safe and reasonable basis of policy. We must look to elements which are opposed to Castro’s policies but acceptable to the Cuban people.


Question—What do we do if Castro asks us to evacuate Guantanamo or if we are attacked there?

Answer—Although Castro has thus far not raised the Guantanamo issue except in the form of a few references in his speeches, there are intelligence reports that he has requested a study to be prepared as to the procedure to be followed to terminate the agreement. We are not prepared to accede to any request that we evacuate the base. If Castro should attack the base or—as is more likely—seek to harass the base by cutting off the water supply, strikes, demonstrations, etc., we would take the necessary action within the base perimeter to maintain its integrity and security and understand that the Navy has up-to-date contingency plans for this purpose.


Question—Should we begin to take overt political and economic measures against the Castro Government in retaliation for Castro’s actions against U.S. persons and property?

Answer—Before such actions can be decided upon, it is necessary (a) to assure the understanding if not support of the other American Republics in order to prevent action being taken against us in the OAS and determine whether we could effectively handle the resultant Cuban complaint in the United Nations, (b) explore the possibility of taking multilateral action through the OAS rather than unilateral U.S. action, (c) remove, insofar as possible, the impediment of bilateral and multilateral treaties obligating the U.S. and Cuba not to take such actions, and (d) as in the case of the Sugar Act, obtain from Congress the necessary authorization which the President does not now have to take certain economic measures. Efforts to prepare the ground in all of these fields have been actively underway for some months.

The timing, and the degree to which the U.S. would actually apply political and economic sanctions, will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. On the one hand, we have our reputation as well as our property interests to safeguard, and will probably have to use some degree of political and economic sanctions not only to compensate our expropriated property owners but also to avoid domestically and internationally any feeling that the Government is not strong-willed enough to resist Castro’s attacks and depredations. On the other hand, we must carefully calculate the effect of any such measures to assure that they will in fact strengthen and not weaken the hands of Cubans who are opposed to Castro. We cannot expect patriotic and self-respecting Cubans, no matter how distasteful Castro’s policies may be to them, to side with the U.S. if we go so far along the lines of reprisals that the quarrel no longer is between Castro and the real interests of the Cuban people but a quarrel between the U.S. and their country. We must remember, also, that a Cuban thrown out of a job [Page 832] because of U.S. reprisals is likely to become anti-U.S. and pro-Castro while one out of work because of Castro’s own mistakes is likely to become anti-Castro and pro-U.S.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/PNSC Files: Lot 62 D 1, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Top Secret. Drafted by Hill and concurred in by Gerard Smith. The source text is neither signed nor initialed by Rubottom.
  2. Document 466.
  3. See Document 468.
  4. The exchange between Gray and Merchant has not been further identified. Regarding the Planning Board meeting of March 8, see supra .
  5. See Document 423.
  6. See Document 387.
  7. See Document 419.
  8. Tab B was a draft reply from Merchant to Burke which was revised slightly and sent to Burke on March 10; see Document 475.
  9. Top Secret. Drafted by Hill.
  10. Text of NSC 5902/1, “U.S. Policy Toward Latin America,” February 16, 1959, is scheduled for publication in volume V.