607. Memorandum From the Secretary of Defense’s Deputy Assistant for Special Operations (Lansdale) to the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Douglas)1


  • Cuba

Here are some thoughts on Cuba for your consideration. They result from the discussion in the special group last Thursday2 and from subsequent meetings with persons responsible for present operations.

As you pointed out, it does not appear that our present course of action will bring the effective results we desire. The present plan is based on the assumption that the Cuban people would rally to anti-Communist forces in sufficient numbers to bring about a change in government. Communist security tactics, such as creating a peoples’ militia, and the continued support of Castro by a majority of Cubans, block the success of planned actions. Thus, it appears to be time to take another hard look at our plan.

If our present plan now seems to be doomed to failure, then what must be done for success? It is suggested that the following must be done:

Re-assess the Cuban situation in realistic enough terms so that a full, fresh decision can be made.
Make the decision and commit sufficient U.S. resources for success.
Act to provide sounder political grounds for U.S. operations; we should construct our position on the popular side.
Isolate Cuba to permit us to have the most favorable conditions possible in solving the problem.
Bring a viable government to power in Cuba, on terms acceptable to the U.S.

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Assessment. A new assessment of what Cuba means should consider our enemy, the Castro opportunists and the Communists. It seems clear that the Communists are determined to make Cuba their cold war base for obtaining further territory in the Western Hemisphere. They are actively making it a secure base. In so doing, the Communists reap collateral benefits.

The improved Communist techniques employed in an area so geographically remote from Bloc territory are certainly not lost upon the political leaders of the Western Hemisphere, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia who must think of their own alliances in realistic terms. A Communist Cuba on the U.S. door-step is a hard fact which says that a Communist alliance is feasible anywhere. Only effective action by the U.S. can change this conclusion. Lack of effective action also leads to the exploitable conclusion that the U.S. is afraid of the nuclear attack threatened by Khrushchev.

Decision. The U.S. should conclude that the present Communist-controlled regime in Cuba is absolutely intolerable for the U.S. The U.S. should then decide to commit sufficient resources, used energetically, to bring about a desired change in Cuba. Among U.S. resources used should be an NSC special team composed of the most highly competent Americans possible, to plan, organize, and run this operation. It demands the best we have.

The Political Basis. Our present course of action in Cuba, including economic sanctions, is not at the heart of the problem. We need to be in the position of supporting the Cuban people in attaining their own objectives, not making war on them. This need will be even more emphatic if overt U.S. force is used. Ideally, our actions should have the warm, understanding, and sympathetic approval of the people of the Free World, including the campesinos and peons of the Western Hemisphere. This can be done.

There are a series of political actions which can isolate the Communist leaders from the people, give dynamic goals to the Cuban people in terms acceptable to us, and enlist the support of world opinion—if done soon, competently.

  • First, and easiest, we need to call world attention to the significance of Cuban refugees in a strong enough manner to make the world choose the anti-Castro side. There should be an organized, non-governmental drive to aid these refugees. Emphasis in publicity should be on helpless victims of terrorism, children and the aged. Ex-Batista schemers, with their dirty hands, should be kept out of this program. Leading Cubans who fought the Batistas and who feel that Castro and the Communists have betrayed Cuba should be brought to the fore to organize and run the Cuban refugees, with dedication to return to a [Page 1117] free Cuba. The refugees should be in one, unified organization—which means that its stated aims should be broadly humanitarian enough to attract the consolidation of presently diverse Cuban groups.
  • Secondly, we should create sound, unified Cuban political leadership for the liberation of Cuba. These must be the cream of those opposed to Castro and the Communists, the outstanding thinkers and doers. They must be unified and disciplined in their actions, and U.S. moral pressures and support should be applied to assure unity. This Free Cuba directorate should have clearly stated objectives—a Cuba free of foreign Communist domination, eradication of dictators, and for a definite program in accord with the original aims of the peoples’ Revolution (our own Revolution can be tied in as a common bond). This leadership should create a Free Cuba movement, recruiting the support of the refugees, develop underground support in Cuba, direct the planning, organizing, and operation of liberation forces, and carrying out an aggressive campaign in the Free World, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, to arouse the sympathies of the people towards the plight of Cuba. These actions could raise funds, volunteer manpower, political support as necessary, and particularly provide a good, pro-Liberation propaganda base.
  • Thirdly, Castro and the Communists must be branded as the enemies of the peoples’ Revolution. To do this, the Free Cuba movement must restate the aims of the Revolution and bring charges against present Cuban leaders for the way they have killed those aims. This psychological operation should be aimed both at world opinion and at the campesinos inside Cuba. Every bit of Cuban, Latin American, and Yankee ingenuity should be used to press this campaign home. There are many experienced experts in the Western Hemisphere who could be recruited to make this a telling campaign.

Given this political and psychological basis, the U.S. would have the organized means and reasons for Cuban liberation in terms permitting strong enough U.S. help to assure success.


Isolation. After establishing the Cuban plea for help, and strengthened by the legal position the U.S. can affirm by the Monroe Doctrine and by OAS resolution, then the U.S. should act to cut the supply line from the foreign Communists. A blockade should be imposed, preferably as an OAS combined action, but unilaterally by the U.S. if necessary. Communist leadership inside Cuba should be isolated further by publication and dissemination in Cuba of prescribed lists of these leaders and advisors.

Takeover. The Free Cuba movement will have to move into Cuba for the liberation. This will have to be an effective force, with outstanding political and military leadership and organization. The U.S. [Page 1118] will have to help ready this force, help its re-entry, help it take-over Cuba, and help it re-establish a viable Cuba with whom we can be friends. This joint political-military-economic action will require a joint U.S. effort by the best political, military, and economic people we have, working as a team to advise and support the Free Cubans, if we are to defeat the Communists in a manner retaining the respect and friendship of the free people of other countries. Covert operations should be an integral part of this effort.

Recommendation. It is recommended that you bring this to the attention of the President, after consultation with the JCS, the Department of State, and the CIA.3

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, Lansdale Files: FRC 63 A 1803, Cuba. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Signed by Lansdale and stamped, “Dep Sec has seen.”
  2. November 3. In an attached handwritten note to Erskine, November 7, Lansdale wrote that he had accompanied Douglas to a meeting of the 5412 Committee the previous week to discuss Cuba. Lansdale and General Bonesteel, “whom Gen. Lemnitzer has selected as his personal representative for this,” later went to the Central Intelligence Agency for an operational briefing on Cuba. Lansdale also told Erskine that there was “considerable concern topside (White House and Defense) on the adequacy of what we are doing.”
  3. The source text does not indicate whether any action was taken on this recommendation.