551. Letter From President Eisenhower to Prime Minister Macmillan1

Dear Harold: The expression in your last letter2 of sympathy and support with respect to the Cuban problem was especially heartwarming. It was a great comfort to know you were with us at a time when difficult decisions had to be made and we found ourselves forced, by the course Castro has elected to follow, to engage ourselves and our prestige more directly and publicly than heretofore to resolving this challenge to our security and vital interests.

Because the Cuban problem so profoundly affects not only the security of the United States but is also related to the security of the Free World as a whole, it might be well to review the dimension of the problem as we see it and what we are trying to do about it, although I am sure you and Selwyn have followed the matter closely.

Since Castro took over Cuba a year and a half ago, our policy toward Cuba can be divided roughly in three phases. The first phase might be called the testing phase. Although the known radical and anti-American background of the Castro brothers, and especially their previous involvement in Communist-front causes, gave cause for deep skepticism, the evidence was not altogether conclusive and it could not be foretold how these youthful leaders would react under the sobering responsibilities and opportunities which were theirs. More importantly, at that time there were with Castro’s Government Cubans of ability and moderation who had joined with Castro in pledging that Cuba would have a democratic, elected government, that it would respect Cuba’s international obligations and that, within that framework, it would carry out certain reforms which, in principle, we could all agree were not only popular but needed in Cuba. There was thus some chance that this moderate, experienced and democratic element would check the extremists and this chance had to be tested not only for our own satisfaction but because the great popularity which Castro then enjoyed throughout this Hemisphere and the world gave us no alternative but to give him his chance.

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Our first actions, therefore, were directed to give Castro every chance to establish a reasonable relationship with us. As a first gesture, we extended quick recognition and I immediately appointed a new Ambassador to Cuba who was singularly well regarded by Cubans and Latin Americans and who could have established a fruitful relationship with Castro if anyone could. When Castro came to the United States under private auspices in April of last year, he was not only well received by the public and the press, but our own Governmental contacts with him then were calculated to make cooperation possible if he had any disposition for it. We sharply curbed all inclination to retort and strike back at his early diatribes against us, leaving the way open to him to climb off of this line and get down to the serious business of running the affairs of his country responsibly.

Before the first six months had ended, it was clear Castro had failed this test and by Fall I was reluctantly forced to the conclusion, as a basis for our Government’s actions, that there was no reasonable chance that Castro and his lieutenants would cooperate in finding a reasonable modus vivendi with us. The story of the cancellation of elections, of the ascendancy of the Communist oriented group and purge of the moderates, of the executions and the hounding of all anti-Communists, of the abortive Cuban-supported efforts to overthrow various Caribbean governments, and of the shrill anti-American diatribes is too well known to require details. We were directly affected when Castro, choosing the Agrarian Reform Law version advanced by the extremists, authorized the expropriation of extensive American properties without acceptable provision for compensation. When this was implemented, it turned out that not even these unsatisfactory conditions were observed but our people’s properties were seized without even a pretense of observing the Castro regime’s own laws; so far as I know the promised bonds have not even been printed. This naturally aroused widespread disillusionment and indignation in this country but, in the longer view, it was perhaps not so serious and irrevocable as the increase of Communist influence in Cuba. With the moderates gone and the Prime Minister equating anti-Communism with treason to his revolution, our intelligence increasingly indicated that the Communists began permeating Cuba’s life and government. The Communist Party was the only party allowed to operate, its members infiltrating every key government and military department. I imagine that Cuba today is the only country outside the Bloc whose security chief is a Communist.

Despite these developments, it was not feasible for us immediately to take a hard line towards Castro. The second phase of our policy towards him, which acquired the popular misnomer of “policy of restraint,” has covered roughly the last year. Its primary objective and effect was to make clear to the Cuban people and to the world that the deteriorated situation was of Castro’s making, not of ours. We are [Page 1002] deeply committed, especially in this Hemisphere, to the policy of non-intervention, and our standing in the world is probably due more than to any other single factor to the instinctive realization of all people that, while we offer aid and leadership, we respect the rights of weaker nations and do not seek to impose our will upon them. We could simply not afford to appear the bully. In this, of course, we realized that our own sources of information as to what was actually happening in Cuba were vastly superior to those available to the public, especially in the Latin American Republics, and that Castro continued to enjoy an undeserved degree of popular hero-worship. It took time and effort on our part for the process of disillusionment in other countries to catch up with the process here.

The third, and more active phase, of our policy is the one on which we are now embarking. The critical element is the degree to which Cuba had been handed over to the Soviet Union as an instrument with which to undermine our position in Latin America and the world. The Soviets, at first, showed some measure of caution as to the degree of their commitment to Castro. The Latin American Communist Party leaders were instructed at the Soviet Party Congress in Moscow last year to give full support to Castro, but Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership did not commit themselves openly to Castro until Mikoyan’s visit last January, a year after Castro came to power. The trade and credit agreements reached then exposed fully the intent of Castro, despite Cuba’s formal commitments under the Rio Treaty and the Charter of the Organization of American States, to orient himself toward the Soviet Union.

It is interesting to speculate about the degree to which the Communists are committed to Castro in the context of the current Soviet-Communist Chinese ideological struggle. We have noted that the Bloc leaders and the Communist theoretical publications have gone out of their way to endorse Castro while largely ignoring of late other positive neutralists. Khrushchev chose, perhaps significantly enough, the Indian Parliament this Spring to endorse Castro.3 He singled out the Cuban Revolution again at his press conference in Paris at the close of the Summit.4 It would appear that the Communists see in Castro a reconciliation of Khrushchev’s views on peaceful co-existence and the Chinese Communists more aggressive line. In distinction to other neutralist leaders, Castro fully incorporates the Communists in his regime, carries out a precipitate revolution against the existing social order, and is far more internationalist in his pretensions to spread his revolution to surrounding countries than the usual type of nationalist whom the Communists court. If the Communists could find other leaders [Page 1003] who met Khrushchev’s standards of “peaceful coexistence” and Mao’s of a Communist revolutionary we would be in very serious trouble indeed. I have been told that Mikoyan on returning to Moscow from Cuba, was exuberantly rejuvenated, finding that what was going on in the youthful and disorganized Cuban Revolution brought him back to the early days of the Russian Revolution.

As it appears to us, the Castro Government is now fully committed to the Bloc. We cannot prudently follow policies looking to a reform of Castro’s attitude and we must rely, frankly, on creating conditions in which democratically minded and Western-oriented Cubans can assert themselves and regain control of the island’s policies and destinies. We fully recognize, of course, that the pre-Castro regimes of Cuba are discredited and have lost their appeal. Moreover, any solution to the Cuban problem must hold out to the Cuban people the promise of democratic government and reform without the extremism of the present government, which has mortgaged itself to the Soviets and to how far the Soviet leadership is willing to go to support it. It is encouraging, in this respect, that ever increasing numbers of the moderates who are committed to reform have left Castro and are organizing an embryonic resistance movement. Although it is still too early to hope that the Cubans themselves will set matters right, it would, of course, be preferable that they do so rather than force us and the other American Republics to take more drastic action.

As we enter this new phase, our primary objective is to establish conditions which will bring home to the Cuban people the cost of Castro’s policies and of his Soviet orientation and also to establish a climate in which those who recognize the necessity of eventually beneficial relations between Cuba and the United States can assert themselves. This objective underlays the action which I took this week5 in eliminating all but a fraction of the Cuban sugar quota for the balance of this year, although there are, of course, ample economic reasons why the United States should not rely heavily as a source of supply for an important commodity on a country whose government has made clear its intent to orient itself towards the Communist Bloc. Nor, in the face of Castro’s hostility, ties with communism, and treatment of our property and other rights could we justify in effect subsidizing his revolution with the premium price we pay for Cuban sugar. I anticipate that, as the situation unfolds, we shall be obliged to take further economic measures which will have the effect of impressing on the Cuban people the cost of this Communist orientation. We hope, naturally, that these measures will not be so drastic or irreversible that they will permanently impair the basic mutuality of interests of Cuba and this country.

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We also look to some form of action in the Organization of American States. This has been and remains a most difficult problem. By now, the Governments of most of the other Latin American Republics seem to be recognizing that Castro and the degree to which his movement has become an instrument of the Communists represents a very real threat to them. Yet they remain reluctant to step forward on the issue, in great part because of concern about provoking leftist and deluded elements in their countries but also because, unable to exact [exert?] decisive pressure themselves and preoccupied with domestic problems, they have little eagerness to side with us against a sister Latin American country. Nevertheless, especially if a solution can be found to the emotionally-charged problem of the Dominican Republic, whose regime is universally hated in Latin America, there is room for hope that we will get some support in facing up to the Castro dictatorship.

In the immediate future there are a number of problems in which your help could be most useful. The most important of these, perhaps, concerns the United Nations. It is highly probable that Cuba, recognizing its lack of support among American Republics, will attempt to bypass the Organization of American States and present to the Security Council or to this Fall’s General Assembly some sort of charge against us and that they will receive Soviet support. We should be well prepared for this, and shall rely heavily on your cooperation. You will recall that when Guatemala made a complaint in 1954 (although the cases have more dissimilarities than similarities) there were some divergencies between our two governments. We have always held that, under the Charter, we were obligated in the first instance to seek bilateral settlement and go to the Organization of American States, before the United Nations considered the case.

Another and more immediate problem concerns tankers. As you know, Castro’s insistence on displacing Free World petroleum with Soviet oil led to the taking over of British and American refineries, despite the fact that the companies had in effect previously extended substantial credits to finance continued petroleum exports to Cuba. It appears that the Castro Government now has a commitment from the USSR to supply the oil, but that the latter is having substantial difficulties in finding tankers to move it on this long haul. We think that there is every reason discreetly to discourage the use of Free World tankers to bring Soviet oil to refineries which have been taken from our companies and yours and, more importantly, that a petroleum shortage in Cuba would not only raise questions there about Castro’s capabilities but also crystalize doubts about the reliability of the USSR. Your help, not only with respect to British tankers, but in influencing other tanker-owning countries would be invaluable.

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We are also reviewing our arms export and war matériel policies with a view to tightening them up. We have been deeply grateful for the cooperation of your government in the past in this field, all the more so because we realize fully the difficulties which a restrictive policy has caused. However, I am deeply concerned about the quantities of arms which the Castro Government has on hand as a result of the imports which have been made to add to what was taken over from the previous government. There is not only the threat that this increasing stockpile, which may include items being supplied by the Bloc, will be used in movements against other Latin American Governments but the danger that indiscriminate issue of arms and equipment when the Castro Government is threatened or falls will result in civil war or chaos. This would confront us with a most difficult problem. We shall notify your government very shortly of the details of our arms policy, and would be grateful if it were possible for you to take parallel action and help us to obtain the concurrence of NATO and other supplying companies.

Before signing this long—although I think necessary—exposition of our Cuban policy, I should like to reiterate my full endorsement of the trip I understand you are contemplating making to Latin America later this year. In relation to the Cuban problem, I can scarcely think of anything more useful than the very fact of your presence and evident interest in Latin America to impress on the leaders there what is involved in Cuba is a challenge to the unity and security of the Free World, not just a quarrel on property or economic questions between us and Cuba.6

With warm regard,

As ever

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Secret; Presidential Handling. Transmitted in telegram 248 to London, July 11, which is the source text. The telegram was drafted and approved in S/S and cleared by Goodpaster. The letter, which had apparently been drafted several days before, mentioned neither Khrushchev’s statement of July 9 nor his letter to Castro of July 10.
  2. Reference is to Macmillan’s letter to Eisenhower of July 2 which dealt primarily with the question of basing U.S. Polaris submarines in Scotland. Macmillan also noted: “I have been thinking a lot about our new troubles with Castro. Chris and Selwyn are I know in close touch about this, but do let me know if there is anything you think we should do. We will to try to help you in any way we can over what might develop into a really serious Russian threat.” (ibid., Staff Secretary Records, Macmillan)
  3. For text of Khrushchev’s address to the Indian Parliament on February 11, 1960, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. XII, No. 6, pp. 3–5.
  4. For a transcript of Khrushchev’s press conference in Paris on May 18, 1960, see ibid., No. 20, pp. 7–11.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 544.
  6. In a July 22 letter to the President, Macmillan wrote:

    “Let me first tell you how deeply interested I was by your long letter about Cuba and Castro. I am sending you a separate detailed answer. Castro is really the very Devil. He is your Nasser, and of course with Cuba sitting right at your doorstep the strategic implications are even more important than the economic. I fully understand and share your apprehensions. Do let me know if there is any particular point where we are in a position to help, without embarking on measures which are only suitable in times of emergency. The tankers, for instance, we can only control by taking powers similar to those we take in wartime. However, I feel sure Castro has to be got rid of, but it is a tricky operation for you to contrive and I only hope you will succeed.” (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File) For Macmillan’s more detailed reply, see Document 566.

  7. Telegram 248 bears this typed signature.