5. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom) to the Secretary of State1
- Sale of Arms to Cuba
Ambassador Smith ended several days’ consultation in the Department yesterday and will be returning to Habana next week. (Tab A). You will recall that the Cuban Presidential elections are scheduled for June 1 and that opposition to the regime of President Batista has been strong over the past year, including the presence of an armed band in eastern Cuba under Fidel Castro and support to revolutionary activities being given by Cuban exiles here in the United States. Batista has suspended constitutional guarantees in Cuba six times in the past year. However, he has told Ambassador Smith that he will not renew this suspension at the time of expiration of the current 45-day period on January 27. This assurance was given to Ambassador Smith on January 52 and resulted from the Ambassador’s many conversations with Batista in which Ambassador Smith has stated that the United States regards the present government as the duly constituted government of Cuba, has pointed out the strong feelings in the United States on the part of both public and Congressional groups regarding developments in Cuba, and has kept Batista generally informed of the steps being taken by our Department of Justice against illegal activities of Cuban exiles in the United States.
On his return to Habana, Ambassador Smith wishes to continue this general position, and in order to make the lifting of suspension of the constitutional guarantees effective and to be in a position to suggest further steps that might be taken by Batista to assure acceptable elections next spring, he wishes to be able to meet certain requests made by the Cubans to purchase military equipment in this country. Just prior to his departure Ambassador Smith was asked by the Foreign Minister3 regarding the status of 20 armored cars (described in Tab B).4 These cars were ordered in June 1957, and delivery was [Page 9] promised by the Department of Defense between March 4 and June 4, 1958. In addition seven other Cuban requests to purchase arms in this country are pending, the current status of which is described in Tab C.5
In considering this problem a number of factors have been weighed. ARA believes that there is no alternative to dealing with the presently constituted government in Cuba, however much we may disapprove of certain acts of that regime. American investments in Cuba amount to $774 million and there are some 5,000 Americans residing in that country. The security of these people and of this property would certainly be in jeopardy if we took any other course. Furthermore we believe that if we work with the present regime, while holding a tight rein on the manifestations of cooperation with it, we stand the best chance of encouraging acceptable elections and an orderly transfer of the government to a successor to Batista. This course of action, if it includes delivery of the armored cars, will most likely be subject to criticism by certain groups in the United States. We feel that we must face up to such criticism if it develops in view of the considerations mentioned above.
That Ambassador Smith on his return be authorized to continue his efforts and that he be authorized, if he deems it appropriate, to tell Batista that the original schedule for delivery of the armored cars is still in effect and that delivery can be expected between March 4 and June 4. If later developments lead us to conclude that it would be unwise to make this delivery, the physical transfer of the cars could, of course, be stopped. It is also recommended that the Ambassador be authorized, if he finds it advantageous, to advise Batista that other requests to purchase arms in the United States are being approved.6[Page 10]
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/12–1957. Secret. Drafted and initialed by Little, cleared with Wieland, and initialed by Rubottom.↩
- These assurances were given on January 11; see footnote 2, supra.↩
- See supra.↩
- Tab B, not printed, is a memorandum of conversations held on January 16 by Weldon Litsey (ARA/REA) with Department of Defense officials regarding the proposed sale of the 20 armored cars to Cuba.↩
- Tab C, not printed, is a an unsigned memorandum of January 7 discussing the seven pending requests for sale of military equipment to Cuba.↩
- The memorandum was sent to Murphy, Macomber, and Berding for concurrence. Murphy neither initialed nor commented on it. Macomber initialed his concurrence and added the following comment: “This will cause some adverse comment on the Hill. However if it is thought necessary H will not object, provided we can notify the committees in advance”. Berding initialed his concurrence and remarked, “There are, of course, certain adverse public relations possibilities in connection with this action, but P concurs with the recommendation in the belief that, if care is taken, these possible effects can be minimized or overcome”. Dulles initialed his approval of the recommendation on January 21.↩
- Secret. Drafted by Stewart. Copies were sent to the Embassy in Havana, to S/S, and to MID/C.↩
- See footnote 2 above.↩
- Not found.↩