482. Memorandum From Samuel E. Belk of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Gray)1
Since the Council discussed the Cuban situation last Thursday,2 the subject of the Guantanamo Naval Base has become an open point of friction between the U.S. and Cuba, and there seems to be little hope that, barring bold U.S. initiatives, the situation will not become increasingly and rapidly worse. Now that this new issue has been handed to an already aroused Cuban public, it is possible that U.S.-Cuban relations have been ushered into a crisis stage.
(The following two paragraphs are tailored to be used as a Council Briefing Note if so desired)
- On the assumption that Fidel Castro and/or his associates retain power over the forthcoming period and continue to take drastic “reform” measures, I wonder if it is not accurate to assume that the situation in Cuba now calls for utilizing the lessons of Suez? One thing that has always impressed me is the rapidity of developments when nationalist passions are running high. Suez was nationalized in less than a minute without a single agency or department in Washington having predicted it. In the light of our knowledge of the Castro regime, I think we had best be prepared for any eventuality, especially (a) an announcement that the Cuban government has abrogated the treaty providing for our presence at Guantanamo, (b) an outright attack on the base and (c) attacks on American citizens. Even at the risk of seeming to be excessively alarmist, is it not possible that decisions of hemispheric importance may have to be made in the period between the March 17th and March 24th meetings?
- If time is of the essence in this situation, there are several
priority decisions that probably should be made today:
First: How shall the U.S. respond
if the treaty providing for U.S. presence at Guantanamo is
abrogated by the Castro regime?
- Shall we, as a preventive measure, offer to negotiate a new treaty now before the Cubans demand it?
- Shall we continue to wait and be forced to negotiate or fight after the Cubans have set the stage?
- Shall we begin preparations to evacuate the base now on the assumption that the situation will not become better; thus making Cuba a hazardous location for such an important facility?
- Shall we abide by OAS advice?
Second: How shall the U.S. respond
if Cuban citizens attack Guantanamo?
- Shall we meet force with force? If so, how long are we prepared to hold out before world opinion? Are we willing to risk a majority vote against the U.S. in the UN General Assembly? Would we not possibly harm irreparably our relations with other Latin American countries, especially it the conflict became a protracted one?
- Shall we offer to negotiate when the attack comes on the condition that Cuban forces withdraw?
- Shall we take the issue before the OAS and abide by its decision as to what course the U.S. should follow?
Third: How shall the U.S. respond
in the event of serious attacks against U.S. citizens?
- Shall we take a preventive measure now by recalling all U.S. citizens and imposing travel restrictions in the anticipation that acts of violence might occur?
- Shall we send in U.S. forces to protect them?
- Shall we threaten to send U.S. forces unless the Castro government guarantees their safety?
- Shall we request the assistance of OAS representatives in Cuba on behalf of U.S. citizens?
Shall we seek the advice of the OAS?
(End Briefing Note)
- First: How shall the U.S. respond if the treaty providing for U.S. presence at Guantanamo is abrogated by the Castro regime?
- A proposal which might be worthy of a fourth decision falls into a separate category. It is unconventional and radical, but it might prove to be the means of altering—in one way or another—present U.S.-Cuban relations. It is that the President might consider sending a letter to Castro saying that he personally is concerned over the deterioration of U.S.-Cuban relations and believes, under the serious circumstances which clearly exist, the time has come to abandon traditional channels for an attempt to solve our differences on a higher level. Accordingly, the President would propose that Castro meet with the President’s personal emissary who, with Castro’s consent, would arrive in Cuba within ten days seriously to discuss U.S.-Cuban relations privately with Castro.
- It is difficult to imagine that Castro would turn the President down. If he did, he would be even less popular with other Latin American states and we, for our part, would know more about the man and the problem we are dealing with. Such an approach at least would get us out of the present situation. It might open up a better era; [Page 854] it might also usher in a worse one. If the latter, we would be required to take—either with or without the OAS—drastic measures. In such a case, we would be in a stronger position for having made an honest attempt to seek accommodation with Castro before making an attempt to remove him from the scene or forcing him to reform.
- There was a time, just following his successful take-over of the Cuban government, [less than 1 line not declassified] and there are many who believe there is much to be salvaged if the right tactics are used. Like so many other new nationalistic leaders—Nasser, Mboya, Nkrumah, Touré, etc.—Castro does not respond readily to conventional diplomacy. Being unconventional has become their political trademark. In this way they are much like the Russians who understand the new leaders perhaps better than most.
- If the foregoing argument for sending an emissary sounds feasible,
there are a number of things an emissary should attempt to clarify
to Castro. A partial list
- U.S.-Cuban attitudes toward the Guantanamo Base.
- U.S. expectations that Cuba will compensate for seized U.S. properties.
- U.S. belief that the Communist threat has been heightened by certain Castro policies.
- Status of U.S. Citizens.
- Cessation of anti-U.S. propaganda.
- Non-involvement of U.S. in clandestine activities against Cuba.
- Possible U.S. assistance for Cuba if Castro is reasonable on the above-mentioned issues.
- A synopsis and analysis of the proposed sugar legislation is attached. The legislation was approved at the White House yesterday at a meeting of high-ranking government officials and legislative leaders.3 The legislation was given to Congress by the Department of Agriculture last night and the text of the bill and the attached synopsis were released by the Department of Agriculture today at noon. The new legislation contains only two provisions which basically alter the present arrangement. Please note 3–c and 4 of the attached synopsis.