486. Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, March 17, 1960, 2:30 p.m.1
- Vice President Nixon, Secretary Herter, Mr. Merchant, Mr. Rubottom, Secretary Anderson, Secretary Irwin, Admiral Burke, Mr. Allen Dulles, Mr. Richard Bissell, Colonel J.C. King, Gordon Gray, Major Eisenhower, General Goodpaster
After Mr. Herter gave a brief comment concerning use of the OAS in connection with the Cuban situation, Mr. Allen Dulles reported to the President an action plan2 provided by the “5412” group for covert operations to effect a change in Cuba. The first step will be to form a moderate opposition group in exile. This will take about one month. Its slogan will be to “restore the revolution” which Castro has betrayed. A medium wave radio station to carry out gray or black broadcasts into Cuba will be established, probably on Swan Island (south of Cuba, belonging to the United States) in two months. Concurrently a network of disaffected elements will be established within Cuba.
To a question by the President Mr. Bissell indicated the opposition would probably be located in Puerto Rico. Mexico would be better if they could be brought to agree, which is not likely. Venezuela would be even better, but it is not probable that the government could permit this. Mr. Rubottom thought Costa Rica may be a possibility and this will be explored.
Mr. Allen Dulles said that preparations of a para-military force will begin outside of Cuba, the first stage being to get a cadre of leaders together for training. The formation of this force might take something like eight months.
The President said that he knows of no better plan for dealing with this situation. The great problem is leakage and breach of security. Everyone must be prepared to swear that he has not heard of it. He said we should limit American contacts with the groups involved to two or three people, getting Cubans to do most of what must be done. Mr. Allen Dulles said [11/2 lines not declassified]. The President indicated some question about this, and reiterated that there should be only two or three governmental people connected with this in any way. He understood that the effort will be to undermine Castro’s position and prestige. Mr. Bissell commented that the opposition group would undertake a money-raising campaign to obtain funds on their own—in the United States, Cuba and elsewhere.
Mr. Gray commented that events may occur rapidly in Cuba, and force our hand before these preparations are completed.[Page 862]
Secretary Anderson stated that Castro is in reality financing his operations out of the funds of the U.S. companies that are operating in Cuba. He suggested that the Administration might take steps to bring business leaders together with elements of our government to consider what course the businesses—which are now being milked of their assets—should take. He said he had received a report that Castro is trying to inflame Cuban opinion and create an incident against the Americans which would touch off attacks on Americans in Cuba which might result in the death of thousands. The President stated that once the operation Mr. Douglas [Dulles] had proposed gets started, there will be great danger to the Americans in Cuba. Mr. Rubottom said that the “warning phase” of our evacuation plan is already in effect, and that many Americans are leaving, with almost no new ones going in.
Mr. Anderson said he thought that if we were to cut the Cubans off from their fuel supply, the effect would be devastating on them within a month or six weeks. There is some question whether other countries would join in denying fuel oil—especially Venezuela. Mr. Anderson added that if Cuba is to seize the Nicaro plant or other U.S. Government property, we could not stand on the sidelines. In response to a question by the President, it was brought out that there is no treaty on this, and that Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given. Mr. Rubottom stated that if we wanted to cut their trade drastically we could denounce our two trade agreements with them. This would of course cut into the sales by our manufacturers to the Cubans. Mr. Nixon asked what we are doing with regard to cutting off new capital, pulling out private firms and cutting off tourism. Mr. Rubottom said that much of this is occurring of its own accord.
The President told Mr. Dulles he thought he should go ahead with the plan and the operations. He and the other agencies involved should take account of all likely Cuban reactions and prepare the actions that we would take in response to these. Mr. Irwin said the main Defense concern is how we would get our people out. We have contingency planning, but it would involve military action. The President said he would like some ground work laid with the OAS to let the Latin American countries know that if the Cubans were to start to attack our people in Cuba we would be obliged to take action.
Mr. Allen Dulles returned to the point made by Mr. Anderson—that American business in Cuba wants guidance. The President said we should be very careful about giving this. Essentially they will have to make their own decisions. Admiral Burke stated that many of the American firms want to pull out, but do not want to endanger their people who are there. Mr. Nixon said he thought we should encourage [Page 863] them to come out. Particularly if they think they should get out and are simply staying there to help the U.S. Government, we should disillusion them on that score immediately.
The President said that at the next meeting he would want to know what is the sequence of events by which we see the situation developing—specifically what actions are we to take. He said our hand should not show in anything that is done. In the meantime, State should be working on what we can do in and out of the OAS. Mr. Nixon asked Mr. Herter whether support was developing satisfactorily within OAS. Mr. Rubottom’s answer indicated that the situation is not clear. The President said that, as he saw it, Castro the Revolutionary had gained great prestige in Latin America. Castro the Politician running the government is now losing it rapidly. However, governments elsewhere cannot oppose him too strongly since they are shaky with respect to the potentials of action by the mobs within their own countries to whom Castro’s brand of demagoguery appeals. Essentially the job is to get the OAS to support us.
Mr. Gray asked whether OAS support will only be forthcoming if the Cubans actually attack Americans on the island. Mr. Rubottom thought that the OAS might be brought to act prior to such an attack on the basis of Castro being tied up with international communism. The President asked whether we have to base it on the word “communism” or whether we couldn’t base it on dictatorship, confiscation, threats to life, etc. Mr. Nixon said he thought the Caracas Resolution was based on the term “international communism.”
Mr. Bissell said he understood the sense of the meeting to be that work could start on forming the opposition Council and on other preparations. Mr. Herter said that the radio station is very important. The President asked that we try to obscure the location of the radio station.
Brigadier General USA