585. Memorandum of Discussion at the Department of State-Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, Pentagon, Washington, September 30, 1960, 11 a.m.1

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

4. The Situation at Guantanamo Bay (State Initiative)

Mr. Merchant said he thought in light of Castro’s recent two public references to our base at Guantanamo,2 that this was a good time to exchange our current views on that base.

He said that earlier this morning in the Department of State we had been talking about the possibility of enlisting OAS support in making a public statement that Guantanamo was important to the whole concept of hemispheric defense. Mr. Mallory of ARA thought that perhaps this statement could come out of the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB). In any event, he (Mr. Merchant) thought this idea was worth exploring.

Admiral Burke thought that the Colombians and Peruvians on the IADB would certainly support this kind of a statement.

General Twining thought that Mr. Merchant had a good point.

Generals Twining and Lemnitzer and Admiral Burke agreed to take a look at this possibility. Admiral Burke said that he would get his people to talk to Mr. Mallory and see how this could be done. He observed parenthetically that Mexico would not support this kind of initiative.

Mr. Merchant said he would get Mr. Mallory in touch with Admiral Burke’s office.

General White observed that he would like to see the U.S. come out some time in a situation like this and say, “We need this for the U.S.” He deplored our tendency always to link our position with others but agreed that perhaps Guantanamo was not the issue on which to make this point.

Mr. Merchant said that maybe we would have to put the Guantanamo issue in “those cold turkey terms”, but this was not yet the time to do it. He stated that the real problem is that the Latin American countries are too scared of and too vulnerable to their own Castro left to act decisively against Castro. We have nursed them along and after [Page 1079]all we got a pretty good result out of San Jose. But given the weakness of these Latin American governments, we have to pull them along multilaterally.

Mr. Merchant said he hoped that the Chiefs had their contingency planning for the defense of Guantanamo up to date, even though it is State’s feeling that Castro will probably not attack the base militarily. State feels that Guantanamo is too valuable to Castro as an emotional issue on which to keep the propaganda pot boiling, that Castro will just continue to talk about it.

General Twining asked what State’s position was in the event that Castro did attack Guantanamo militarily.

Mr. Merchant said there was no question about what we should do.

Admiral Burke said that if he attacks, we could defend the base and then we ought to go and take Santiago again.

Mr. Merchant said that if the Cubans attack, that if they make the first move, i.e., fire the first shot, then all bets are off for in effect we are at war with the Castro regime.

Admiral Burke said that at no cost to the Department of State the Navy had several movie cameras ready for action at the border of the base in order to document any type of action there.

Mr. Merchant said there had been talk of the Cubans setting up a peaceful mass march of women and children toward the base. He assumed that the Marines would close the gates before these demonstrators arrived.

Mr. Vallon pointed out that the Cuban line was to press for the return of Guantanamo to Cuba through legal means.

General White wondered jocularly whether it was time to turn Cuba back to Spain.

Mr. Knight asked whether the Cubans were being very careful in not stating they would attack the base.

Mr. Merchant said that was right. Castro had said in his UN speech that the Cubans wanted to get Guantanamo back by legal means. Mr. Merchant then quoted excerpts from Castro’s speech.

Mr. Merchant said that he had been told this morning that the Cubans had erected a fence outside the border of the base and had used this fence in order to make certain that the Cuban workers on the base exchanged their U.S. dollars for Cuban currency.

Mr. Smith observed that as we move economically against Cuba and come closer to denouncing economic treaties we have with Cuba there becomes a sounder justification for Cuba to denounce the treaty by which we occupy Guantanamo. He referred to current actions on tariff preferences as a case in point.

General Shoup asked, “Is this abortion the same Republic of Cuba with which we signed those treaties?”

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General White asked whether this regime in Cuba could be related back to a European political system as defined by the Monroe Doctrine.

Mr. Merchant referred to the Caracas resolution which defined international communism as a foreign system under the Monroe Doctrine. Mexico didn’t vote for this resolution nor did Guatemala which was the country under fire at that time.

Mr. Merchant said that if the Cubans jump Guantanamo we defend the base.

General White said but what about beyond the base.

Mr. Merchant said speaking personally, if they attack the base, “that is it—we are at war”. We would move on to Havana. The situation can’t remain static and we hope under those circumstances there would immediately be another government with which we could deal.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

  1. Source: Department of State, State–JCS Meetings: Lot 70 D 328, September 1960. Top Secret. The drafting officer is not indicated. A note on the cover sheet, which lists 28 participants, indicates that the memorandum was not cleared with the Department of Defense.
  2. Castro referred to Guantanamo in his speech before the U.N. General Assembly on September 26; see Document 581. Presumably the other reference is to Castro’s speech on September 28; see footnote 2, Document 583.