602. Editorial Note

Toward the end of October, concern was expressed within the U.S. Government that the U.S. position with regard to the defense of the base at Guantanamo was not sufficiently clear.

In a memorandum of October 25 to Under Secretary Merchant, Gerard C. Smith called attention to the record of discussion at the September 30 meeting between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Department of State officials ( Document 585). Smith particularly noted Merchant’s expressed opinion about the implications of a Cuban attack on Guantanamo, namely that such an attack would mean war. Because Smith considered such an attack a real possibility, he asked Merchant whether it would be advisable “to get Presidential focus on this point.” In a reply of November 1, Merchant told Smith that he had thought the matter over and had mentioned it to Secretary of State Herter. Merchant had concluded that “we should let my remarks with the JCS stand and not raise this subject in the White House at least for the present.” Both memoranda are in Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, Cuba 1959–1961.

Also on October 25, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Haydn Williams sent a memorandum to Secretary of Defense Gates calling attention to Gates’ correspondence with Herter regarding the defense of Guantanamo ( Documents 586 and 591). Attached to the memorandum was a draft letter from Gates to the President requesting Presidential confirmation of Gates’ instructions to the Joint Chiefs that “we will take immediate action to hold the Naval Base at Guantanamo against all forms of harassment including armed attack.” In the margin [Page 1109]of Williams’ covering memo was written the following comment, dated November 4: “Sec. Def. does not think further correspondence on this matter is necessary.” Williams’ memorandum and the draft letter are in Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD/ISA Files: FRC 64 A 2170, 680.1 Cuba)

On October 28, the President sent a letter to Herter inquiring whether the U.S. public position on Guantanamo had been made clear. No copy of this letter has been found, but it was referred to in the following telephone conversation between Herter and Gates at 10:32 a.m. on October 28:

“Telephoned Secy Gates to say he had gotten a note from the President asking whether our position has been made pretty clear publicly on Guantanamo. Gates said he did not think it had been stated publicly other than his remarks last week in Miami and a statement which Admiral Burke had made in US News and World Report but this did not receive too much notice. Mr. Gates said he made his statement categoric in a TV press interview in Miami but it had not received too wide press coverage outside of Florida. Gates said he had also said in New York in answer to a question in a closed meeting with some 100 bankers that we will defend Guantanamo and if it involves an extension of the problem we have plans to handle that also, and Mr. Gates said this had brought forth rousing applause. After further discussion, and agreement that our position on Guantanamo has not been made very clear publicly and that there is an absolutely extraordinary interest in Cuba on the part of the American people now, it was agreed it would do no harm to have the President make our position publicly clear. In the course of a general discussion in which the Secretary reported briefly on the legal study being made with regard to our Treaty dealing with Guantanamo in which in return for base rights in Cuba we turned over to them the Isle of Pines; Mr. Gates’ illustration of the intense interest in this subject as evidenced by some of the questions he had been asked such as whether articles 15 and 16 in the OAS treaty contradict the Monroe Doctrine, [sic] In the course of the conversation Mr. Gates referred to the fact that his people wanted him to write either the Secretary or the President a letter because the Secretary’s reply to Gates letter had sort of hedged a little with reference to Gates statement in his letter about instructing the JCS. The Secretary said he thought his reply to Gates indicated agreement subject only to approval by the President. Mr. Gates said he quite agreed and had no intention of writing the letter his people wanted him to write.”

At 10:55 that morning, Herter telephoned Goodpaster to say that it would be worthwhile for the President to issue a public clarification of U.S. policy on Guantanamo because “it was good to put the Cubans on notice.” Herter said he would send Goodpaster a suggested statement for the President’s consideration. At 2:50 p.m. on October 28, Goodpaster called Herter to report the President’s agreement that he should say something on Guantanamo. Although he could not fit it into a speech he was planning to give that evening, the President [Page 1110]thought he could say something very soon. Memoranda of all three conversations are in Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations. Gates’ remarks in Miami and in New York have not been further identified. Burke’s statement that if the Cubans tried to take Guantanamo by force “we would fight back” was in U.S. News and World Report, October 3, 1960.

In a memorandum of October 29 to the President, Herter reviewed some of the recent public remarks by U.S. officials regarding Guantanamo and enclosed suggested remarks for the President to make on Guantanamo at a time he deemed appropriate. (Department of State, Rubottom–Mann Files: Lot 62 D 418, Cuba (Oct–Dec) 1960)

These remarks were amended slightly and released to the public by the White House on November 1. The text of the Presidential statement is in Department of State Bulletin, November 21, 1960, page 780.