487. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, March 18, 19601

SUBJECT

  • Cuba; Dominican Republic

PARTICIPANTS

  • The Secretary
  • Senator George A. Smathers
  • R. R. Rubottom, Jr., Assistant Secretary

The Senator, who had called by appointment made at his own request, began by recalling that he had served with the Secretary when they were together in the House and that they had many friends in common, and that he had a very high regard for the Secretary. The Senator said that he had known Mr. Rubottom for several years and they were close friends and that he had respect for him.

The Senator said that he had come primarily to express his concern about the situation developing in Cuba and the Department’s policy respecting that country. He had read in the paper that morning that the Department was considering the return of Ambassador Bonsal to his post in Habana, and he wanted to make clear his opinion that this would be a mistake. He had detected a pattern in our policy toward Cuba which made him wonder whether some of the junior officials in the Department were more tolerant than they should be of the Castro regime which, in his opinion, was completely anti-U.S. and certainly heavily communist infiltrated. If we were not alert to this problem, we would have a communist country only 94 miles from our shore.

The Senator said that he was equally concerned with the appearance of our exceptionally tough policy toward the Dominican Republic. He said that he had no brief for the Trujillo dictatorship but that it was clear that the Dominican Republic, as well as Trujillo personally, were clearly anti-communist and had always been friendly toward the United States; whereas we were not clamping down tightly on arms shipments to the Castro Government, we were preventing any shipments at all to Trujillo.

The Secretary interjected with surprise at this point since, he said, the policy of the Department was to prevent any arms shipments to either of those countries. When Mr. Rubottom inquired regarding any specific cases, the Senator said that he had seen some airplanes which were being readied for shipment to Cuba in a hangar at the Miami [Page 865]airport during a visit there around the middle of January. Mr. Rubottom said that he was unaware of any airplanes going to Cuba and asked for details. (Senator Smathers later said that he understood that these planes were still in the hangar in Miami.) The Senator said that he had been under rather severe criticism in his home State because of the statements he had made following his recent trip to the Dominican Republic in which he had reported the Generalissimo’s willingness to hold free elections in a year. He acknowledged that he might have been mistaken in making such a declaration, adding that he had visited the Generalissimo with former Ambassador William Pawley, who had encouraged him to do what he did.

The Senator said that he had visited most of the countries of South America on his recent trip and that he had discussed the Cuban problem with the Presidents and other officials in each country. They had inquired why the United States was so restrained in its dealings with the Castro Government, declared the Senator. He believed that the time had come for us to adopt a tough attitude toward Castro since this would gain us respect throughout the hemisphere and elsewhere in the world.

The Secretary pointed out that he, too, had discussed the Cuban problem during the recent trip of the President and that he had heard expressions of approval of our policy toward Cuba. The Secretary said that the return of Ambassador Bonsal was designed to have a senior, experienced official on the ground during these perilous times and that the move should not be interpreted any other way.

The Senator reiterated strongly his view that the Ambassador should not be returned to his post since it would be interpreted as “appeasement” of Castro. He said that he would attack this move on the floor of the Senate and he hoped that the Secretary and Mr. Rubottom would not take this as anything personal.

The Secretary made quite clear to the Senator that the Department and he, personally, were just as concerned about the orientation of the Castro Government as the Senator.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversations: Lot 64 D 199, March 1960. Official Use Only. Drafted by Rubottom on March 28 and approved in S on March 30.