474. Memorandum of Discussion at the 436th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, March 10, 19601

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

Mr. Dulles then summarized the situation in Cuba. He said that the U.S. Embassy Country Team had reached the conclusion that there was no hope that the U.S. would ever be able to establish satisfactory relations with a Cuban Government dominated by Castro and his associates. The Cuban charges in connection with the ship explosion, the anti-U.S. propaganda in mass media in Cuba, and the generally anti-American actions of the Cuban Government could be a deliberate attempt to force a crisis. In this situation, any incident could result in violence against U.S. citizens in Cuba. In fact, the U.S. Embassy had already invoked the preliminary phase of its plan for the evacuation of U.S. citizens from the country. Castro is reported to be planning presentation of a demand that the Guantanamo Naval Base be evacuated within 30 to 45 days after sugar legislation unfavorable to Cuba is introduced in the U.S. Congress. Cuba might also take the Guantanamo Base question to the UN. Abusive personal attacks by the government-controlled radio against the President and the Secretary of State continue. Newspapers continue their anti-American attacks. Castro and Guevara dominate the new Central Planning Board which will control all Cuban industry. The Freeport Sulphur Company and the Bethlehem Steel Company would close down their operations in Cuba this month. The Freeport Sulphur’s Moa Bay plant remained unfinished. Mr. Dillon said the $20–$30 million needed to finish the Moa Bay plant could not be obtained because the banks would not provide the money in the absence of a certification that the situation in Cuba was the same as the situation obtaining when the original loan was made. Secretary Anderson believed that only $10–$15 million of the physical plant in Moa Bay was lacking; the rest of the $20–$30 million was working capital. In reply to a question from the President, Mr. Anderson said the plant had been started two years ago. Mr. McCone said the plant was integrated as part of the firm’s New Orleans refinery [Page 833] in the U.S. and could not operate alone. Mr. Dillon said the refinery in Louisiana could not operate independently either. He felt that Nicaro operations in Cuba might have to be closed down also, since the moratorium on the imposition on Nicaro of the new Cuban export tax would expire Sunday. We maintain that the tax is not in effect because of the contract with the Cuban Government which provides for no change in the export tax. We will not stop operations in Cuba until the Cubans move in and force the collection of the tax. Mr. Gray said he understood the Cubans had seized large Italian-owned properties. Mr. Dulles said $40 million in Italian interests had recently been seized. The President said it was difficult to figure out what Castro was trying to do. During his trip he had discussed this matter with the Latin American Presidents, [less than 1 line not declassified]. The President had asked his Latin American hosts what they would do about the situation in Cuba, especially the sugar subsidy problem. Frondizi and one other President had indicated they would notify their ambassadors in Havana to warn Castro about his activities. The President said that Castro, however, appeared to be getting away with his activities; nothing seemed to have any effect on him. Mr. Dillon said that the warning referred to by the President was issued and did have the effect of slowing down Castro’s attacks on the U.S. for a few days. Now the Cubans are saying that our military exercise in Puerto Rico is a practice for the invasion of Cuba. The President said we did not need any practice to invade Cuba.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

2. U.S. Policy Toward Cuba (NSC Action No. 2166–b–(l); NSC 5902/1; NSC Action No. 2177)2

Mr. Gray then briefed the Council on the Planning Board discussion of U.S. Policy toward Cuba. (A copy of Mr. Gray’s Briefing Note3 is filed in the Minutes of the Meeting and another is attached to this Memorandum.)

Mr. Dillon remarked that any threat to the safety of U.S. citizens in Cuba would probably develop overnight. The Country Team report that there was no hope of satisfactory relations with Cuba, while new, was merely a confirmation of our basic current policy toward Cuba. Our objective is to bring another government to power in Cuba. This objective is not being realized at the present time because there is no apparent alternative to the present government in the event Castro disappears. Indeed, the result of Castro’s disappearance might be a [Page 834] Communist take-over. If Castro were successful in his effort to provoke us into intervention, the result would help the USSR, since American intervention in Cuba would be considered in many parts of the world as a counterpart of Soviet intervention in Hungary. It was becoming more and more likely that the law we originally planned to recommend to Congress on sugar would not be passed; and indeed we may not now want it passed. It had been planned to recommend an extension of the sugar subsidy without change except for the provision that the President would have authority to make changes at his discretion. Congress will probably now want to go further than this recommendation. Mr. Dillon reported that up to the present time he had felt we should be careful not to take actions which would have a serious effect on the Cuban people, but now he believed we need not be so careful about actions of this kind, since the Cuban people were responsible for the regime. If Castro continued his present activities, the results would be catastrophic throughout the hemisphere, whereas a set-back to the Cuban economy as a result of Castro’s actions might be a desirable development, since it would show that Communist-type activity does not pay. Our legal position with respect to the Guantanamo Naval Base was firm. The only basis for attack on our position would be the argument that the treaty was imposed on Cuba and that it was a very old treaty. However, if the matter were brought to the UN, we would be in a difficult position because our posture is that we do not wish to keep a military base if the indigenous country does not want our base. There was a certain similarity between Guantanamo and Bizerte, where the French case is based on legalities and our position is that the problem is a political one. However, we are standing on legal grounds with respect to Guantanamo, even though our position is a difficult one.

Admiral Burke believed we had a legal right to stay in Guantanamo, which was a very useful training base. Guantanamo differed from Bizerte in that we had been established in Guantanamo for a long time and there were no Cubans living inside the base area. Cutting off the water supply would be the only means of Cuban attack against the Guantanamo Base. If the water supply were cut off, we could continue to support the base by means of Navy tankers, perhaps even by installing plants which manufacture fresh water from sea water. Admiral Burke reported incidentally that we had attempted to obtain water by drilling on the base, but had been unsuccessful. In fact, we had feared for a time we might strike oil. The 230 marines on the base would be able to hold it against a Cuban armed attack. In Admiral Burke’s view, Castro may want to provoke our intervention in order to lower U.S. prestige in Latin America so that other Latin American revolutions could be created. The Latin American military men to [Page 835] whom he had talked favored a strong U.S. stand, felt that the U.S. had exercised a great deal of restraint so far, and insisted that we should not allow ourselves to be pushed further.

The President said a certain amount of pro-Castro sentiment had been expressed by small groups in the countries he had recently visited. His host Presidents had labelled this sentiment as Communist-inspired. On the trip he saw displayed some signs favorable to Castro, but was aware of no demonstrations. The Latin American Presidents had counselled further forebearance by the U.S. in the hope that the members of the Organization of American States would finally see the potential danger in Cuba and take concerted action. The Latin American Presidents, however, had no idea as to how the situation in Cuba should be handled. The President had suggested to them that they should not condone a situation which might result in frightening U.S. business away from Latin America. To some extent each country is restrained from action against Castro by a vociferous Communist element.

Mr. Gray asked whether the Council should keep the situation in Cuba under constant surveillance and whether it was the consensus of the Council that, for the time being at least, our present policy toward Cuba should continue to be pursued. The President said he did not wish to endanger the lives of Americans living in Cuba. We would be forced to take action other than diplomatic action if U.S. citizens were in danger, and we ought to know what action we would take in such a contingency. We might finally have to use force if U.S. citizens were exposed to mob violence. Admiral Burke thought we needed a Cuban leader around whom anti-Castro elements could rally. Mr. Dulles said some anti-Castro leaders existed, but they are not in Cuba at present. The President said we might have another Black Hole of Calcutta in Cuba; and he wondered what we do about such a situation. Mr. Dillon felt it would be necessary to face that situation when it arrived. Admiral Burke noted that we had plans for immediate evacuation of the 10,000 Americans in Cuba, as well as military forces to put these plans into execution. Secretary Douglas was somewhat pessimistic about the possibility of evacuation, saying that someone was bound to get hurt during such an operation. The President remarked that we could blockade the island and say it is quarantined. Mr. Gray asked whether State and Defense should be directed to review contingency plans regarding Cuba. Mr. Dillon said plans were being reviewed constantly, but the difficulty was that all the contingencies could not be foreseen in advance. Admiral Burke believed Cuba could be blockaded within two to three hours after the order was given. Mr. Patterson asked whether economic measures as such had hurt Castro. Mr. Dillon believed that economic measures against Castro would not have much effect in a short time. Moreover, Castro would probably be able to [Page 836] counteract economic sanctions by receiving what he needed from the Soviets. The President said he could not do this if we blockaded the island. Admiral Burke suggested that we should intensify our propaganda to persuade the OAS and the Cuban people to support our policy. The President agreed, adding that we could do almost anything if we had the support of the OAS. Mr. Dillon pointed out that the State Department was constantly endeavoring to secure the support of the OAS. The President agreed with the suggestion of Secretary Anderson that the Inter-American [Development] Bank should be used as a method of gaining the support of OAS countries. He added that we should endeavor to think of all possible ways of influencing Latin American countries to favor our policies in Cuba. [2 sentences (4 lines) not declassified] The President said the Argentinians had been very bitter about Guevara. Secretary Anderson said the following story was going the rounds: When Castro wanted to take over the Cuban Bank, he had asked at a meeting of his supporters whether there was an economist present. Guevara had raised his hand and Castro had appointed him head of the Bank. On the way out of the meeting Castro had said to Guevara “I didn’t know you were an economist”, and Guevara had replied, “Oh, I thought you said a Communist.”

Mr. Gray said the subject of Cuba would be brought before the Council frequently. The President said Cuba ought to be brought before the Council at each meeting in the immediate future in order that the Council could see what the new developments were.

The National Security Council:4

Noted and discussed the subject in the light of the above-mentioned intelligence briefing, and the views of the NSC Planning Board as presented orally by the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
Noted the statements by the President that:
Every effort should be made to influence the other members of the Organization of American States to recognize the dangers involved in the Cuban situation and support action with respect to them.
The responsible departments and agencies should keep current plans to deal promptly with likely contingencies which might develop with respect to Cuba, especially those involving the safety of U.S. citizens and the Guantanamo Base.
The developments with regard to the situation in Cuba should be reviewed by the Council each meeting for the immediate future.
[Page 837]

Note: The action in b above, as approved by the President, subsequently circulated for information and guidance.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

Marion W. Boggs
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Prepared by Boggs on March 14.
  2. Regarding NSC Action No. 2166–b–(l), see footnote 3, Document 410. Regarding NSC Action No. 2177, see footnote 9, Document 423. Text of NSC 5902/1, “U.S. Policy Toward Latin America,” February 16, 1959, is scheduled for publication in volume V.
  3. See Document 472.
  4. Paragraphs a and b and the Note that follow constitute NSC Action No. 2191. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Records: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)