337. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Sugar


  • House of Representatives
    • Speaker Sam Rayburn
    • Congressman Harold D. Cooley
    • Congressman John W. McCormack
    • Congressman W.R. Poage
    • Congressman Charles B. Hoeven
  • Department of State
    • Secretary Dean Rusk
    • Asst. Secy. for Econ. Affairs Edwin M. Martin

Secretary Rusk opened the conversation by stating that the Administration accepted a 21-month extension of the sugar bill, wanted it enacted as soon as possible, but felt it of great importance that the bill, as submitted by Congressman Cooley,1 be amended to give the President discretionary power with respect to that portion of the Cuban quota which might otherwise have to be allocated to the Dominican Republic.

The Secretary based this letter request primarily on the serious potential threat to United States and hemisphere security which is presented [Page 755] by the present situation in Cuba. He indicated that it was essential to take vigorous action to prevent the Castro regime from continuing its efforts to upset peaceful and friendly regimes in Latin America and from becoming a more serious military threat to the United States. A number of steps were under consideration to this end. To be effective it was essential that we have at least understanding and in some cases active cooperation from the other members of the Organization of American States. It was also necessary to have their cooperation and sympathy if we were to succeed in other measures which we wish to take in Latin America in order to establish more firmly regimes in those countries which are friendly to the United States and able to resist Communist infiltration from whatever source it may come.

To many of these Latin American countries, led by Venezuela, the Dominican Republic presents an equally serious threat to their stability. Failure of the United States to see the problem of Trujillo as a threat equally as serious as Castro will deprive us of the support and sympathy which we need. The attempt on the life of the President of Venezuela, which was organized in the Dominican Republic with Trujillo’s help, stands out as an illustration to them of his threat.

To these people it is incomprehensible that the United States should be willing to punish Castro by not buying sugar in Cuba and then turn to the Dominican Republic to replace much of it. It is a windfall and a reward when they think only punishment is justified.

From a United States standpoint, we are also concerned about the current political activities of Trujillo. His propaganda machine, which is well financed, is extremely active and a cause of concern to our intelligence agencies. His publicity has become violently anti-American and sympathetic to many Soviet interests. There is evidence that his regime is in contact with Soviet bloc and Castro representatives.

Congressman Cooley inquired whether it wasn’t true that the Latin American countries had not supported us in the Organization of American States on action against Cuba and wasn’t it desirable that they evidence this support before we take the action they want vis-a-vis the Dominican Republic. The Secretary agreed that we had not gotten all we had asked for, yet it had been a step ahead and had been helpful. We did not think we could go to them for support on the measures we now contemplated taking, much more radical in nature, without having given them in advance evidence of our good faith and intentions with respect to the Dominican Republic. He pointed out that, while the OAS had not adopted resolutions specifically embargoing purchases of goods such as sugar from the Dominican Republic, it had taken a number of concrete measures in the trade field, whose spirit they felt would be abrogated by United States windfall purchases in the Dominican Republic.

[Page 756]

Congressmen Cooley, McCormack and Poage pressed a number of questions with respect to what we expected to happen in the Dominican Republic if Trujillo was upset. Their great fear was that this prevented an opportunity for a Castro-sponsored regime to take over. The Secretary replied that our purpose was not to upset Trujillo, though failure to purchase sugar above and beyond the quota may well contribute to this end. If for this and other reasons, and there was evidence of extensive discontent, Trujillo were upset, our best guess was that a military regime would take over for a period. There were a substantial number of citizens who were anti-Trujillo and would cooperate, we thought, in any such regime. However, the brutality and repressions of the dictatorship had prevented these groups from effective organization. We felt there were military leaders who could continue a stable regime and put down any attempt of a Castro-type take-over, though, of course, we could give no guarantee as to the future course of events.

Congressman Cooley indicated that he had been discussing the problem of Dominican Republic sugar with a number of people in recent days, including Messrs. Bowles, Berle, Governor Munos Marin of Puerto Rico and others. The three Congressmen had just returned from lunch at the Venezuelan Embassy during which the Venezuelan and Colombian Ambassadors had expressed strongly their views. Everyone he had talked to had agreed with the Secretary that our Latin American policy would be seriously prejudiced by continued United States purchases of former Cuban quota sugar from the Dominican Republic. He was, therefore, sympathetic to the idea of giving the President discretionary authority. However, he thought it would be desirable in order to secure an orderly transition and prevent a Castro-type take-over if Trujillo could be persuaded that now was a good time for him to retire to some quiet part of the world. He was known to have a substantial fortune abroad. If he stayed on and provoked violent revolution or if he started playing with the Communists, the first target for either group would be himself and his fortune. He could be told that he could not expect to sell sugar beyond the Dominican Republic quota to United States so there were not additional gains to be made in the near future. He should leave, call elections for 60 days hence, and thus provide an orderly transition. Congressman Cooley suggested that he knew some people who were close friends of Trujillo and could carry such a message to him. They would be persuasive and he thought he might listen to them. He thought this should be done before any action was taken on sugar legislation.

The Secretary protested strongly that there was not time to undertake such a step, even if it were a wise thing to do, before enacting sugar legislation. In addition he felt that the persuasiveness of any such approach would be greatly increased if the President had already been given discretionary authority to cut off the Dominican Republic allotment [Page 757] before Trujillo was talked to. Otherwise, he could still hope that his friends in Washington could save the day for him as they had in the past. The Speaker strongly supported the Secretary on this point.

The Secretary went on to say that a similar mission had, he thought, though of an unofficial character, talked to Trujillo not too long ago without success. He did not know if this was a useful or practical idea. He would wish to consult advisers who were better informed than he on the subject of Dominican Republic situations. He could agree to explore it, but that was all.

Congressman Cooley then raised the question of the necessity of having an unallocated sugar quota available to give to a new regime, either in Cuba or the Dominican Republic, in order to provide it support. Such regimes might come into existence before the end of the calendar year and, therefore, he thought it would be desirable to have the sugar allocated on a quarterly basis so that we would always have plenty in reserve. He thought that this presented some problems to the Department of Agriculture. Mr. Martin indicated that he agreed it would pre-sent problems but that he thought if an arrangement, which was otherwise satisfactory, could be worked out, these problems could somehow be resolved.

The Speaker asked Congressman Hoeven his views on the Secretary’s request. Congressman Hoeven replied that he personally was glad to support the position presented by Secretary Rusk which seemed to him substantially identical to that which had been held by President Eisenhower previously. He felt the Republican members of the Committee would do the same and also the Republican Policy Committee. Congressman Cooley said that if the Secretary was prepared to explore the possibility of making contact with Trujillo and recommending that he depart now and with an understanding that an arrangement like a quarterly allocation could be worked out to preserve a sugar quota for a new regime, he was ready to support the Secretary’s proposal for discretionary power to the President. Congressman Poage agreed.

The Secretary then pointed out that he had said to them many things which he could not say in a public hearing. There were also things which it was awkward to even discuss in public hearings because what you did not say became significant. He, therefore, wondered if it would be possible for the Committee to report out the Bill without a hearing. Congressman Cooley said that this was the way he preferred to handle it. He had talked to several of the Democratic Congressmen and he thought they would go along with him without the necessity of hearings, especially if he could pass on what the Secretary said during their discussion. Congressman Hoeven was not so sure, feeling that it was desirable to provide information to some of the newer members of the Committee on the issues involved. It was left that Congressman Cooley would discuss [Page 758] the need for a hearing with the Committee when it organized but that in any case he would limit the hearing to an executive session, probably with the Secretary only appearing. He expressed the view that it would not be useful for anybody below the Secretary to talk to the Committee. The Secretary said this would be quite agreeable with him.

Congressmen Cooley and Poage pointed out there were also problems on the Senate side and that it would be useful in their judgment if the Secretary could have a quiet talk, similar to the one they had, with two or three of the leading Senators, like Byrd and Ellender. The Secretary agreed to do this.

Congressman McCormack then asked a number of questions about Trujillo’s relations with the Soviets. He said if he were to reverse the position he took last year, he would have to have evidence that there had been a change in the situation and that the evidence which would interest him most would relate to the Trujillo relationships with the Soviets. The Secretary agreed to get further information on this point and present it to the Congressman.

The Speaker in closing asked the Secretary to send him a letter with the text of the amendment the Department proposed in the bill.2 He would then transmit it to Congressman Cooley as Chairman of the Committee. Congressman Cooley agreed to this procedure.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. Confidential. Drafted by E on February 25 and approved by S on March 5.
  2. H.R. 3738, 87th Cong., introduced by Representative Harold D. Cooley (D.-N.C.) on February 2
  3. A copy of Secretary Rusk’s letter to Rayburn, February 21, is in Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAM 15.