555. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Planning (Smith) to the Secretary of State1


  • Personal Thoughts on Cuba


The following ideas may be of use in the coming phase of our relations with Cuba:

We will be subjected to domestic pressures for “action”. We should lean over backwards to resist such pressures, except when a very clear advantage opens up.

The Castro regime is eased on emotional upsurges and has no seriously conceived economic or social programs. It must maintain its impetus by constant injections of new emotions.

We should never forget that new small countries can afford the luxury of acting on their emotions; great powers usually only damage themselves be giving way to emotional impulses.

Recent history suggests that intense political situations are not changed by economic pressures. This is especially true where the people involved have a relatively low standard of living.
Rapid communications, the cold war, and the United Nations forum leave very little room for big power pressure on small countries. (For example, UK relations with Egypt 1952–56.)
It now appears that Castro and the Soviet bloc hope and expect that we will intervene. The above points argue strongly against military intervention.

By the same token, we should avoid turning the economic screws too tight. Economic pressure may gratify certain groups in the US; unless handled with care, it can boomerang in Cuba.


The main thrust of US policy might well be constantly to focus Latin American opinion on the deplorable state of affairs in Cuba. The tone of American rhetoric should be sorrowful rather than angry. A flat American policy of being anti-Castro may only strengthen Castro. We should speak of difficulties in Cuba as though they were a natural catastrophe warranting the sympathy of all free countries for the Cuban people.

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Our propaganda line should be in favor of the “poor Cubans”.

We should organize to receive refugees from Cuba as the Austrians did in the case of Hungary. If necessary, we should arrange to house and feed Cubans in special camps in Florida. As the Austrians did, we should revise our immigration laws to favor refugees and urge other members of the OAS to do the same.2

We should use such a program to demonstrate the rule that when given a chance peoples generally flee toward freedom and away from communism.

Our case would be improved if Castro took military steps to block the flow of refugees. A few pictures of Castro’s men shooting refugees attempting to escape would do more to hurt Castro than a host of economic sanctions.

It might also be well to see that photographs of the executions which marked Castro’s assumption to power be given renewed circulation.

The success of the Castro regime was, to say the least, not impeded by certain US newspapers. People like Castro are intoxicated by seeing their name in headlines.

I suggest that to reverse this process the US Government use all of its influence to cut down the public use of Castro’s name. We should set the example in any government releases by speaking instead of the “Moscow oriented junta” or the “behind the scene foreign rulers of Cuba.”

  1. Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, Chron File. Secret. The source text is not initialed. Copies were sent to Dillon, Merchant, Rubottom, and six other officers in the Department of State. A note on the source text indicates that Herter saw the memorandum.
  2. Refugees from Trujillo might be included in such a program. [Footnote in the source text.]