5. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom) to the Secretary of State 1


  • 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]
Tab A

Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Middle American Affairs (Wieland) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom)7


  • Conversations With Ambassador Smith Regarding Cuban Situation

Ambassador Smith arrived on January 14 for consultation principally to discuss the appropriate steps already taken and to be taken in an effort to influence President Batista to hold elections acceptable to the Cuban people on June 1.

The Ambassador reported that President Batista promised him early this month (January 12),8 that he would restore constitutional guarantees around January 27, when the present 45-day period of suspension terminates. Ambassador Smith and the Department share the feeling that restoration of guarantees is a necessary step before other moves can be made to induce the Batista regime to hold proper elections.

Assuming that President Batista will restore guarantees and not suspend them until after the elections, Ambassador Smith felt that the United States should give him additional bargaining power in his discussions with Batista by authorizing the sale of 20 armored cars to the Cuban Government. The Cubans have shown particular interest in acquiring this equipment. It was agreed that excessive brutalities by certain Cuban officials should be curtailed, some of the more violent and sadistic officials of the army and police be removed, and/or a strict order come from the President calling upon the armed forces to apply the law impartially and in a strictly legal manner. A general amnesty would be desirable, to include political prisoners and possibly the bulk of the forces fighting with Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains. The opposition, of course, would have to respond to these moves with a high degree of responsibility since the revolutionary forces therein are also partly responsible for the violence which today besets the country.

[Page 11]

At all times during the various discussions, the extreme difficulty of reaching the desired objectives was recognized, but it was felt that the only logical solution of the Cuban crisis would be achieved by an orderly transition of power based on elections, the conduct thereof and results being acceptable to a majority of the Cuban people.

In discussions, in which you participated, it was recognized that a powerful bargaining point would be removed if the United States told Batista at this time that he could have unconditionally 20 armored cars. The United States already has cooperated with the Cuban Government by launching an investigation into the activities of ex-President Carlos Prio at Batista’s request, and indictment is said to be in the offing. However, public and congressional opinion against sale of arms, especially heavy equipment, to a dictatorship is strong. The first anniversary of the delivery of a number of tanks to the Batista regime is nearing, and armored cars resemble tanks so greatly that announcement of their sale would immediately recall the previous sale.

It was agreed that Ambassador Smith is to have authority, subject to the Secretary’s approval, to advise President Batista that the schedule of delivery of the armored cars is being adhered to. On May 29, 1957, a letter of offer9 was sent to the Cubans and on June 4 they advised us of acceptance. At that time they were told that delivery would be effected between nine and 12 months after their acceptance of the sale offer. Earliest delivery, then, would be March 4, 1958.

However, delivery will not be made until the Department has reevaluated the situation at the time the shipment is ready, or before, if developments make such a move necessary. Sale of equipment such as armored cars would not be feasible if President Batista had not restored and left in effect constitutional guarantees, taken additional steps toward ending violence in the country, and otherwise generally created conditions conducive to an acceptable election on June 1. If these conditions were not met to our satisfaction we would cancel the sale.

Thus, at the conclusion of the discussions with Ambassador Smith, it is decided that when he returns to Cuba he may tell President Batista that we are proceeding on schedule with the delivery of the armored cars and other less controversial arms. Our hopes concerning the President’s cooperation with us to provide conditions facilitating the delivery and concerning acceptable elections will be expressed to the President by Ambassador Smith. Should President Batista fulfill our hopes appropriate cognizance would be made by the Department in a public statement. When the time arrives for the delivery of the armored cars we shall review the situation and, on the basis of the Cuban Government’s record in returning the country to some semblance [Page 12] of normalcy and holding acceptable elections, decide whether to make the armored cars available to Cuba. We already have an agreement with the Department of Defense calling for such a review, and it is applied in the case of all arms shipments to Cuba.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/12–1957. Secret. Drafted and initialed by Little, cleared with Wieland, and initialed by Rubottom.
  2. These assurances were given on January 11; see footnote 2, supra .
  3. See supra .
  4. 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.
  5. Tab C, not printed, is a an unsigned memorandum of January 7 discussing the seven pending requests for sale of military equipment to Cuba.
  6. 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.
  7. Secret. Drafted by Stewart. Copies were sent to the Embassy in Havana, to S/S, and to MID/C.
  8. See footnote 2 above.
  9. Not found.