208. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Schlesinger) to the Political Warfare Subcommittee of the Cuban Task Force0

Our mission is to redefine the conflict in Cuba in a way which will transform current opinion not only within this hemisphere but in Europe, Africa and Asia.

A current widespread view (e.g., Manchester Guardian, London Observer, Le Monde, Fair Play for Cuba Committee) is that the conflict is between the Castro regime, which, for all its excesses, is at least dedicated to the welfare of the Cuban people, and a crowd of emigres, whose aim is to bring back the old order to Cuba. Our job is to work out ways and means to combat and destroy this view—to show that the essential conflict in Cuba is nothing more or less than between the totalitarian (or communist) and the libertarian (or social democratic) wings of the Cuban Revolution. This means putting over (a) the true character of the Castro regime and the betrayed revolution; and (b) the progressive character of the Revolutionary Council and its determination to rescue the revolution. Particularly relevant to all this is the terrorism within Cuba in the period since the landings.

The President has expressed an urgent and recurrent interest in this particular phase of the Cuban task force. We should therefore come up with something as concrete and immediate as possible.

We might well start by considering this problem in terms of target areas. For purposes of a first approximation, I would suggest the following targets: (1) Europe, Asia, Africa; (2) Latin America; (3) the United States.


Europe, Asia, Africa. Most of the world outside the hemisphere still regards Castro as essentially a left-wing nationalist, no doubt aggressive and emotional, but still basically a man devoted to national self-assertion and propelled into communism only by the short-sighted and imperialistic policies of the United States. Castro is perceived, in short, as a Latin American Nasser, wildly irritating in the short run but nonetheless the victim of Wall Street and the United Fruit Company, striking out in understandable resentment against ancient enemies. If he has become totalitarian, it is because Washington has left him no alternative. His Cuban opposition consists of middle and upper class businessmen and landowners who object to the whole idea of social revolution.

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How do we deal with this? (a) We must refute the notion that American policy drove Castro into the arms of the USSR. This can be done by simple chronology: Castro took the communist turn in the course of 1959; the first trade agreement with the bloc took place in February 1960; the first massive American reprisal—the sugar action—took place in the summer of 1960. (b) We must continue to demonstrate the increasingly communist character of the regime. (c) We must get out as promptly as possible the stories of the post-landings terrorism.

How are these things to be done? There is no particular advantage, I would think, in floating these things through the American press. From the viewpoint of the rest of the world, this would discredit the testimony from the start. The points should be made initially in the foreign press—through the correspondents of foreign newspapers in Washington and also directly through our Embassies to key journalistic figures in London, Paris and elsewhere. Two basic presentations perhaps should be involved: (1) a careful chronology showing that Castroʼs commitment to communism preceded rather than followed US economic retaliation; (2) a compilation of paraphrased reports from neutral embassies in Habana concerning post-landings terrorism. Conceivably there should be a background briefing in Washington developing these points; and London and Paris should be asked to carry the ball locally. This should not be done in the form of public statements, and the case should be made to rest as much as possible on undisputable facts and on neutral reports.

We should also try to send to Europe anti-Castro figures of unchallengeable progressive credentials: for example, Rojas,1 who as Castro Ambassador to Great Britain went around the country in 1959 delivering hot pro-Castro speeches, might now come back to explain the betrayal of the Cuban Revolution. Figueres2 and Haya de la Torre3 could, of course, do powerful jobs in Europe and the underdeveloped world.


Latin America. In Europe our main target is essentially an elite audience—politicians, editors and opinion-makers. In Latin America, most elite opinion is probably pretty well convinced by now of the main propositions; those still unconvinced are probably beyond intellectual persuasion. This means that in Latin America our main targets are popular groups—intellectuals, students, labor, campesinos.

These groups will be particularly resistant to any overt US campaign or, indeed, to official campaigns of almost any sort. The best approach will be through unofficial and indigenous agencies—the League of Democratic Parties, which should be transformed as soon as [Page 492] possible into a serious operation; the San Jose Institute of Political Education; the local offices of the Cuban Revolutionary Council; the labor movement; the universities. The USIA should expand its Latin American activities, but its role should be essentially to supply indigenous groups with necessary material rather than to go into exhortatory and polemical utterances on its own. Radio Swan should be liquidated as soon as possible in its present form.

If the Cuban Revolutionary Council is to be effective, it must end any possible remaining doubt about its commitment to the social and libertarian goals of the Cuban Revolution. This will enrage a lot of rich Cubans in Miami, but their resentment is a burden which will have to be borne. It is far more important to send into circulation throughout Latin America a collection of authentic Cuban progressives who can make clear where it matters that our objection is not to social reform but to the establishment of a Soviet outpost in the hemisphere.


The United States. A job remains to be done here. We should not be lulled into complacency by the Gallup poll showing that the President has achieved new heights of public approval. It is equally important to note that, according to the more recent Gallup poll, the American people are 65-24 percent against armed intervention in Cuba and only 44-41 percent for indirect help to the anti-Castro forces. It would be foolish, I think, to underestimate the recent shock to liberal and church opinion or the potential impact of the Fair Play for Cuba group.

Again official government hand-outs are not going to be effective. What we need is the establishment of a Fair Play for Cubans Committee under liberal sponsorship. Such a committee would have as its main function the redefinition of the conflict; it would spell out exactly what the Castro regime is doing to human freedom in Cuba; and it would support the progressive aims of the Revolutionary Council. In time, it might even serve as a source of funds for the progressive anti-Castro front.

We should also make a particular effort to get the stories of Castro terrorism into the hands, not of the New York Journal American, but of liberal newspapers and columnists. In particular, Manuel Ray should be encouraged to make as many public appearances as possible in liberal, labor and student circles; his recent appearance at Harvard was, I understand, a great success.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.4
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Papers of Arthur Schlesinger, Cuba 1961, Box 31. Confidential. The Political Warfare Subcommittee was headed by Schlesinger and was subordinate to the interagency Cuban Task Force, which was chaired after May 5 by Richard Goodwin.
  2. Sergio Rojas Santamaria.
  3. Jose Figueres, former President of Costa Rica.
  4. Victor Haya de la Torre, head of the APRA, the Peruvian Social Democratic Movement.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.