566. Letter From Prime Minister Macmillan to President Eisenhower 1

Dear Friend: This is the more detailed reply2 to your letter3 about the Cuban problem. I need hardly say that we fully share your concern at the way in which Castro has allowed his country to become ever more open to communist and Soviet influence.

British material interests in Cuba are of course not on anything like the same scale as yours although we have always had a valuable export trade with Cuba. We have recently been obliged to protest strongly against the illegal take-over of the Shell refinery there—and I fear we have to face a severe deterioration of our trade relations. Of course, we have a direct political interest in the smooth development towards independence of the British West Indies. We are therefore deeply concerned at the introduction into the area of what is rapidly becoming a quasi-communist satellite state. For these reasons, and above all because of the obvious menace which a communist controlled Cuba would represent to the security of the Western hemisphere and so to the whole free world, I was very much interested to learn your views on how this problem should be handled.

As I think you know, we too had hopes, at an earlier stage, that Castro would succeed in carrying out the intention, which he himself sometimes expressed, of preventing Cuba from falling into communist hands. We are now inclined to agree with the view expressed in your letter that Castro and his Government are now so fully committed to the course they have chosen that the only hope for an improvement in the position must lie in the replacement of his régime. But it is not easy to see how this can be done.

We have been encouraged to see the signs of a growing opposition to Castro’s policies, both inside Cuba and in Latin America as a whole. Of course, this is only in an embryonic stage. All the same, it is significant that among some of the very classes which were principally responsible for bringing Castro into power there should now be so deep a disillusionment over the way in which he has deviated from the principles of his own revolution. We had hoped therefore that if this feeling was allowed to develop undisturbed by outside pressures, there was a fair prospect of it eventually growing to such great proportion [Page 1032] that with the encouragement of the United States and the other member countries of the Organisation of American States, it might have led to the downfall of the Castro Government and its replacement by something less dangerous. It is true that in waiting unduly long there was a risk of the communists so effectively consolidating their position that they would be even harder to dislodge than was already the case. On the other hand Castro’s spendthrift economic policy, his continued denial of the ordinary freedoms, and his refusal to allow the peasants to own the confiscated land all seemed likely to lead to great internal dissatisfaction.

For these reasons, we watched with admiration the patience with which you were for many months prepared to endure the great provocations which faced you in Cuba. We were also aware that as you make clear in your letter, any departure on your part from a policy of non-intervention would be widely misunderstood. This would be especially the case in Latin America and the Caribbean, where, however clearly your devotion to this policy may be appreciated elsewhere, suspicions of your intentions have persisted as a result of the very size and proximity of your great country, and of recollections of some aspects of United States policy during the past century. These suspicions are of course actively fostered by the agents of the communists—and by those of Castro himself.

Of course we fully understand that in view of the very rapid deterioration of the position which has taken place since Mikoyan’s visit you should now have seriously to consider the possibility of hastening the process of disintegration in Cuba. I must confess to some doubts as to the success of the new policy. Although better off than many Latin American peoples, the mass of Cubans are poor and accustomed to hardship. Having tasted the flavour of revolution they are likely, so it seems to me, seriously to react against a deterioration in the conditions of their life only if they can be confident that this is in no way the work of “counter-revolutionaries” or of the United States Government against which they have been encouraged to feel so much resentment. There does seem to be some danger that if, as a result of the measures which you have taken, or may take in the coming months, conditions of economic hardship are created, many Cubans who might otherwise have gradually drifted into opposition to Castro will instead be inclined to regard him—and themselves—as martyrs. Alternatively, if the impact of these measures is mitigated by a great effort on the part of the Soviet bloc, we can be sure that in their propaganda the communists in Cuba will make full use of the opportunities which this will give them. Furthermore, everything that I hear of the state of feeling in the other Latin American countries confirms [Page 1033] the importance of avoiding any action which might create the impression that the United States was actively intervening in Cuba and arouse all sorts of latent suspicions.

I hope you won’t think from what I have said that we disagree with the fundamental principle underlying your policy. On the contrary, we fully agree that everything possible must be done to bring home to the Cuban people the dangers into which Castro is leading them, and to create conditions suitable for the growth of an opposition capable of replacing his régime. It may be that the steps you are taking will have this result and I very much hope that they will. But I cannot help wondering whether, if there were a good chance of further important defections taking place and of it becoming known in Cuba that an increasingly powerful movement was growing up in and outside the country, bent on restoring the revolution to its intended course, it might not be wiser to let the yeast rise of its own accord. Or at least for them to be very unobtrusively supported from the United States.

However, you must clearly play the hand in this affair and we will certainly help you in any way we can. In the United Nations we have already given you our full support in ensuring that the Cuban complaint was diverted into the Organisation of American States in the first place. We will gladly continue to give support of this kind. Similarly I entirely endorse your view that the present situation calls for a continuation, and perhaps a tightening up, of the existing restrictions on the export of arms to the countries in the Caribbean area. We shall be glad to join you in your efforts to secure the acceptance of this policy by other arms supplying countries whom we are able to influence. But I’m afraid the problem of tankers for the carriage of Soviet oil to Cuba is not easy. There is a considerable excess of tanker tonnage in the world at present, and much of it is in the hands of owners whom we cannot influence or even advise. I am told that it would not be possible in the way you propose so effectively to curtail the supply of oil to Cuba as to cause any really serious dislocation there. We—and you—would then be in the position of incurring the maximum odium with the Cubans and perhaps encouraging them to turn still further to the Russians without achieving the aim which you have in mind. As I told you in my message of July 22 we have no legal power to compel tanker owners not to carry oil to Cuba.

It would, however, make it easier for us to help if we had a rather clearer understanding of your actual intentions. I know, and fully sympathize with, your purpose—the unseating of Castro and his replacement by a more suitable régime—but I am not very clear how you really mean to achieve this aim. After all, we have been through it [Page 1034] ourselves and know the difficulties and dangers. Meanwhile, it is good to know that our officials are in close touch on all the details.4

Yours ever,

Harold 5
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Secret.
  2. Regarding Macmillan’s initial reply of July 22, see footnote 6, Document 551.
  3. Document 551.
  4. In a July 29 letter to Macmillan, Herter wrote that the President had asked him to thank the Prime Minister for his “very thoughtful and helpful letter with respect to Cuba” and to indicate that the President would soon be sending a more substantive reply. Text of Herter’s letter was transmitted in telegram 670 to London, July 29, along with instructions to the Ambassador to deliver the letter to Macmillan. (Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/7–2960)
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.