83. Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the Ambassador in Cuba (Smith) in Havana and the Director of the Office of Middle American Affairs (Wieland) in Washington, July 4, 19581

When I telephoned Ambassador Smith about 10 a.m. today, he told me that Consul Park Wollam is scheduled to leave Habana at noon today (1 p.m. EDT) and resume contact with the rebels concerning the kidnapped American citizens.

He said he had instructed Wollam to take careful notes of all conversations, fully aware of the fact that “the world” will want to know later what conditions the rebels demanded for the release of their prisoners and what conditions were met by the United States. He remarked that the rebels will certainly try to “make face” by twisting facts and presenting distorted versions of developments seeking maximum advantages for their cause. He said all possible precautions must be taken to prevent this.

I agreed, commenting that while there certainly should be no objection to explaining the U.S. position clearly so that the rebels could understand it, under no circumstance should we appear to be making concessions or complying with rebel-imposed conditions. I added that in drafting the telegram which the Department sent last night,2 we had considered calling attention to Mr. Rubottom’s testimony in recent congressional hearings concerning our discussions [Page 131] “with certain people concerning their responsibilities” but had ruled this out, at least for the time being. I commented that material of this nature should not be used except under severe pressure, and then only after careful consideration. Ambassador Smith said he understood the reference (concerning talks with the Cuban Government on violation of the MDAA) and agreed completely with our decision.

He said the Department’s press release of July 3,3 concerning our policy on arms shipments and the non-use of Guantanamo Naval Base by Cuban forces would be most helpful.

Other points the Ambassador mentioned are:

Wollam is worried by the types of persons he encountered in the rebel forces— “kids who don’t realize’ what they are doing, who can be “soaked up” and “taken over” by communists. The group Wollam contacted, (Raul’s forces) are anti-U.S.
Prime Minister Guell told the Ambassador that information received “through sources gave reason to believe Fidel Castro’s forces may soon follow Raul’s example and kidnap more Americans”. He said Fidel’s men are impressed by the effectiveness of this step in causing a cessation of bombing, and that Fidel’s forces are “not doing well on the ground”.
The Ambassador and Wollam are optimistic over the chances of obtaining the release of the Americans, but the optimism is tempered with reservations. For instance, the rebels have enjoyed a respite from bombings and probably will be reluctant to forego this protection; new conditions for release may be concocted; the rebels are isolated, young, irresponsible, emotionally and intellectually unstable and liable to sudden changes of decision.
Even if release is obtained, a resumption of a military offensive against them may lead to new kidnappings.
The Embassy has obtained walkie-talkie equipment from another U.S. agency and Wollam will be equipped with this equipment, for use if necessary in making new contact with the rebels.

In closing, the Ambassador again emphasized the need to avoid giving the appearance of granting conditions in response to rebel demands, especially in view of subsequent inquiries concerning the Government’s attitude toward the kidnappers’ demands. I fully concurred.

Wollam spoke briefly at the end of the phone call, commenting it may take “a while” to effect the release. He apparently had no doubt, however, of relatively early success.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/7–458. Confidential. Drafted by Wieland.
  2. Supra.
  3. See footnote 3, supra.