588. Editorial Note

On October 10, the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT), Admiral Robert L. Dennison, came to the Department of State for a series of meetings, mostly on the situation in the Caribbean. At 10:30 a.m., he met with Under Secretary Dillon; the Department’s Liaison Officer to SACLANT, V. Lansing Collins; and officers in the Bureau of European Affairs. The memorandum of their conversation regarding Cuba reads as follows:

“During a conversation which also covered the NATO Fall Exercises, Mr. Dillon and Admiral Dennison discussed developments in the Caribbean. Mr. Dillon said that we did not exclude the need for us to use force at some future time. He indicated, however, that at the present time we hope to get inter-American agreement on stopping the flow of Soviet bloc arms into Cuba. In response to a question from Admiral Dennison, Mr. Dillon said it was likely that Castro would break off diplomatic relations with the United States. He then outlined our present thinking, and said that we will probably recall Ambassador Bonsal, but that we hope not to break off relations until Castro does so. We want to keep our representatives in Cuba as long as [Page 1082] possible, even though diplomatic contact as we understand it is now virtually non-existent. Mr. Dillon continued that a decision on economic sanctions would be taken this week and probably put into effect next week. We envisage the imposition of export controls under the Export Control Act, probably excluding food and medicine. We do not envisage the Trading with the Enemy Act at this time. We would first wish to consult our allies before imposing the controls. This would include the British, French, and probably the NATO Council.

“In the case of the Dominican Republic, Mr. Dillon said that we envisage imposing selective export controls. Because of our relations with other Latin American countries, such as Venezuela, we feel we must take some action against the Dominican Republic, as well as against Cuba.” (Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199, October 1960)

At 11 a.m., Dennison met with Merchant, Collins, and other officers in the Department. The memorandum of their conversation regarding Cuba reads as follows:

“Admiral Dennison inquired whether we had received a reply from the Cubans to our note protesting a recent incident in which a Cuban plane had buzzed a U.S. submarine off Key West. Mr. Merchant said that we had not. Admiral Dennison told Mr. Merchant that he had issued orders to ‘take out’ Cuban planes in similar future circumstances. He did not think that the Cubans would make any overt attempt against Guantanamo, and he was not particularly concerned about the danger of an overt attack on the base. Sabotage was a more likely threat. He reiterated, however, that if it were a question of acting in self-defense, forces under his command at Guantanamo would act without further orders in taking out Cuban positions attacking the base and he made it clear that the base could not be defended effectively from its perimeter. It would be essential to move into Cuban territory; in other words, to defend the base. Mr. Merchant thought that Castro would not be so stupid as to make an overt attack. Admiral Dennison added that he thought Guantanamo would, in any event, be useless to Castro. At this point, Mr. Merchant then reviewed for Admiral Dennison our policy of moving quietly to discourage travel by Americans to Cuba and he noted that the US population in Cuba had been reduced by about one half.” (ibid., Central Files, 737.00/10–1060)

The note under reference here was delivered to the Cuban Embassy in Washington on October 7 and is printed in Department of State Bulletin, October 24, 1960, page 640.

At noon, Dennison met with Assistant Secretary Mann, Collins, and other officers in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. The memorandum of their conversation regarding Cuba reads as follows:

“Admiral Dennison observed that it was difficult to get intelligence about the Cuban situation. In reply to Mr. Mann’s query as to what support the Admiral would like from the Department, Admiral Dennison said he would appreciate knowing about the plans for the possible withdrawal of our diplomatic representatives in Cuba and the imposition of sanctions. In respect to diplomatic relations, Mr. Mann [Page 1083] said that his Bureau is recommending the withdrawal of Ambassador Bonsal but that no break take place now. The objective of removing our Ambassador would be to show our displeasure with the Cuban government but not cut off all contacts with it. Admiral Dennison indicated general agreement with this idea. As to sanctions, Mr. Mann said that we contemplated applying the Export Control Act to Cuba soon. Such action would require the licensing of all US exports to Cuba; it is proposed to grant a general license for the export of food and medicines. In reply to a question from Admiral Dennsion about the dollar value of the exports to be brought under control, Mr. Mann indicated that we hope to cut exports to Cuba by $300,000,000, that is 50%. The value of food and medicines which could continue to go to Cuba was about $80,000,000.

“Mr. Mann stated that we had considered invoking Section 5b of the Trading with the Enemy Act. There are, however, a number of disadvantages to applying this legislation. To invoke it we must proceed on security grounds and here we would run afoul of the Rio Treaty which sanctions only multilateral action. We do hope, however, that we may be able to persuade Latin American countries to go along with sanctions in a few months. Mr. Mann then mentioned the advantages of applying the Trading with the Enemy Act, saying that it would permit us to freeze Cuban funds in the United States and prohibit financial transactions. However, the Cuban government has very small holdings in US banks and, in general, we doubt whether the advantage to be gained by applying the Trading with the Enemy Act would be worth the effort in view of the other controls we have available.” (ibid., Rubottom–Mann Files: Lot 62 D 418, Cuba (Oct.–Dec.) 1960)