24. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Meeting on Cuba


  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • The Attorney General
  • The Under Secretary of State-designate
  • The Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Mr. Allen W. Dulles
  • Mr. Paul Nitze
  • General Bonesteel
  • Ambassador Hugh S. Cumming
  • Mr. Thomas Mann
  • Ambassador Whiting Willauer
  • Mr. Richard Bissell
  • Mr. Tracy Barnes
  • General David Gray
  • Colonel Cecil Shuler
  • Mr. Joseph W. Scott

The Secretary called on Mr. Mann to give a resume of activities regarding Cuba in the diplomatic field over the last several months. Mr. Mann said that several months ago he had talked with members of the Latin American diplomatic corps and had indicated to them that the United States wanted to know whether the OAS system could prevent Castroʼs exportation of communism elsewhere in the hemisphere. The reaction of most members of the corps was that they wanted to know first where the Kennedy administration and the Quadros administration would stand. A short time ago, the Colombian Ambassador suggested to Mr. Mann that he go to Colombia and talk with President Lleras, who had once been Secretary General of OAS and who could be expected to be eager to see the OAS used in an effort to stop Castro. Mr. Mann then presented at some length a procedure for lining up support in the OAS for sanctions against Castro. He mentioned that a complicating factor was the problem posed by the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. He then listed the possible lineup in the OAS which might favor effective action against Castro if properly approached. In summary Mr. Mann felt that the basic choice was whether we go it alone or multilaterally. (After the meeting, Mr. Mann made clear to some of the participants that the multilateral approach he had in mind should proceed simultaneously with the development of action plans in other fields and should in any case provide us with a realistic estimate of multilateral possibilities within about a month from the time soundings were begun.)

[Page 47]

At this point, Mr. Merchant noted that two distinctions should be made regarding possible Latin American support for action against Castro. First a distinction should be drawn between the attitudes of governments and the attitudes of peoples within Latin American countries. A second distinction should be made with regard to the difference between what governments would be willing to support publicly and what they would be willing to support only privately.

Ambassador Willauer said that one of the matters that had captured his attention from his position in the field was how the fear engendered by Castro had dried up private capital activities in all of Latin America. Not only American firms, but also local sources of capital were seeking to escape.

With reference to the distinction between governmental and public attitudes, the Secretary asked Mr. Mann whether we might be in some rather tight situations in a number of countries of the hemisphere if Moscow pushed the button, i.e., with respect to pro-Castro movements in a number of countries. Mr. Mann said this would definitely be the case and mentioned Venezuela and Colombia as examples. As a further example of this [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] mentioned that he had a private meeting with [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] had been brutally frank. [2-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] mentioned he would send the Secretary a memorandum on his talk [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].

The Secretary asked whether a systematic review had been made of possible actions under the Monroe Doctrine. He thought we ought to know what would be the legal situation under the Doctrine with regard to differing levels of action. Mr. Mann replied that a lot of thought had been given to this but as far as he was aware no systematic study had been made of it. He mentioned that Mr. Arthur Dean had recommended a young lawyer to study this problem. Mr. Mann felt that we should have outside legal advice on it.

The Secretary next asked at what point did we begin to consider that Castro had gone beyond the watershed in Cuba, adding that it seemed clear there was little hope now. Mr. Mann indicated it was difficult to name a specific point. There were a number of things that Castro had done that led to the conclusion that he had crossed the watershed. One early action on his part was his initiative in seeking ties with the Sino-Soviet bloc, which he had undertaken before we had acted on sugar quotas. Mr. Mann then listed other actions on Castroʼs part such as expropriation of land, setting up the militia, etc. He summarized by saying that history may indicate that Cuba had been one of the most rapidly communized states—faster even than those in Eastern Europe. He pointed out that Castro has complete control, something totally different from the situation in the traditional dictatorships in Latin America.

[Page 48]

Mr. Bowles asked whether we had an estimate on the economic needs of Cuba and how far the Sino-Soviet bloc would likely go to meet them. Mr. Mann indicated there was such an estimate which needed, however, to be updated.

The Secretary then called on General Lemnitzer to review the military situation in Cuba. After having emphasized the extreme sensitivity of some of the information he was about to give, General Lemnitzer estimated that the Revolutionary Army had 32,000, the Revolutionary National Police 9,000, the Militia over 200,000. He said that Cuba was an armed camp. They had received more than 30,000 tons of arms and equipment over the past five or six months. This buildup had made a decided change in the U.S. contingency plans to deal with it. He said there was no evidence of jet aircraft, missiles, or nuclear weapons; on the other hand, about 100 Cuban pilots were being trained in jet aircraft in Czechoslovakia. Their return to Cuba would add a new dimension to the problem.

With respect to Guantanamo, the General identified the critical problem for us as being the water supply. In response to a question from the Secretary he said there was no evidence of a buildup of Cuban forces around Guantanamo. He also indicated that very precise rules of engagement had been worked out for our aircraft in the area of Cuba. These included hot pursuit into Cuban airspace. The Secretary wanted to know whether the Cubans knew about this. The General said that they did not. The Secretary then asked whether the Cubans had any air-strike capability against Miami. The General replied they didnʼt have much now but when the pilots now training in Czechoslovakia return and if jet aircraft became available for them this would change the picture.

The Secretary then called on Mr. Dulles to outline the program for which he has been responsible with regard to Cuba. Mr. Dulles said that last March 17th the President had approved a covert action program to eliminate Castro. There had been three major lines of development under this program. The first was the political front, the second the psychological front, and the third was training Cubans for paramilitary activities. With regard to the political front he indicated that a vehicle had been created, the FRD, to enable the Agency to pull together as many of the disparate anti-Castro groups as possible. At one time there had been 184 anti-Castro refugee groups. He thought that on the whole the FRD was a reasonable representation of the anti-Castro political spectrum now inside Cuba. It covered the range from a little to the right to a little to the left of center. There were no Batista-ites or Communists in the FRD. The essentials of its program were the restoration of the Cuban constitution of 1940 and the original reforms announced by Castro, which had been subsequently laid aside. He then mentioned that under the mechanism of the FRD they had proceeded with psychological and paramilitary [Page 49]activities. Under the former he mentioned Swan Island, WRUL and certain radio stations in the Miami area, publications such as Avance, El Mundo, Diario de la Marina and Bohemia.

Mr. Dulles next described the paramilitary training activities going on at Retalhuleu in Guatemala. Under cover of the FRD, he said, we now have about five to six hundred highly trained Cuban foot soldiers. These have been trained by three Special Forces teams from Fort Bragg. The head trainer considered them the best-trained men in Latin America. In addition, we had sixteen B-26ʼs, four or five C-46ʼs and seven C-54ʼs. At the present time, we had six active communications teams in Cuba and were planning to put in small paramilitary teams of six to eight men whose mission would be to try to line up resistance in Cuba.

The Secretary asked what was the estimated strength of resistance in Cuba at the present time and Mr. Dulles said he thought we could count on about 1,000, who were somewhat scattered. The Secretary then asked whether we have a capability to establish a going resistance movement without use of U.S. forces. Mr. Dulles said this would necessarily depend on how many came over to the dissident side. He said that our present Cuban force in training would reach 700 to 800. He then went on to mention the difficult problem of keeping them in Guatemala. At the best, we had six weeks to two months left before something would have to be done about them.

Mr. Dulles then said that in the normal course of events the Agency would continue drops—the next ones were scheduled for January 25-26—but that policy guidance was now needed from the new administration. He mentioned that the 5412 Group had met weekly and it had heretofore been possible for him to get his guidance from that Group. He said that at the moment what he needed was policy guidance on the following matters: (1) continuance of training, (2) introduction of small teams into Cuba with sabotage and communications capability, and (3) drops of food and supplies to dissidents now in Cuba. Mr. Barnes added that guidance was also needed on infiltrating political leaders into Cuba. He mentioned Artime and Manuel Ray.

Secretary McNamara asked what size Cuban force was considered necessary to buildup enough strength to overthrow Castro. Mr. Dulles said he thought that our presently planned Cuban force could probably hold a beachhead long enough for us to recognize a provisional government and aid that government openly. Secretary McNamara then asked whether the estimate was that time was strengthening or weakening us. Mr. Dulles replied that it now was weakening us. This could change if people in Cuba got hungry, but this might be a long time off. Food was still being sent to Cuba from the United States. General Lemnitzer interjected to say that Castroʼs popularity might be going down but his grip was getting tighter daily.

[Page 50]

Mr. Bowles asked whether we knew of any cliques in the Castro hierarchy. Mr. Dulles said we didnʼt think there were any; that it now seemed to be down to the hard core. Mr. Bowles recalled the division between Trotsky and Stalin. Mr. Dulles replied that they didnʼt see any such division in the Cuban picture. He said he believed that the Castro regime had plans to export Castroʼs communism; that they already have power among the people in the Caribbean countries and elsewhere, particularly in Venezuela and Colombia.

The Attorney General said that about five days ago he had been approached by a former attorney of Castroʼs who was till close to Raul Castro, who had indicated that Raul might be going over into counter-Revolutionary efforts, principally against Che Guevara. The attorney had asked him what were the prospects for cutting off petroleum shipments to Cuba in the event of Raulʼs defection. He expected the attorney, who is now in Cuba, to return shortly with more on this.

Turning to the possibility of recognizing a provisional government, the Secretary indicated that seizing the Isle of Pines would have a number of advantages. Mr. Dulles said it had indeed a number of advantages but one major problem was how could dissidents in Cuba join up with a force landed there. General Lemnitzer said the Isle of Pines was heavily defended. Ambassador Willauer said that his first reaction had been very much in favor of trying to seize Pine Island. The head of the Special Forces team training the unit in Guatemala, however, had informed him that they would expect to lose roughly 50% of an invading force. He also brought up the possibility of a counter-attack by Castro forces from Cuba itself. The Secretary then said he was thinking about a two-step operation; first the establishment of a beachhead on the Isle of Pines and then moving on to Cuba itself. In this connection he asked whether we had a Puerto Rican ranger battalion and General Lemnitzer said we did not.

The Secretary next asked whether we anticipated any problem about restaffing Cuban personnel at the Guantanamo base. General Lemnitzer said there was no problem about this at the moment. About 1,000 Cubans lived on the base. The rest lived outside. The Secretary asked what about the possibility of putting the force now in Guatemala on the base at Guantanamo. General Lemnitzer replied that there might be some problem of concealment and an action of that sort might justify an attack against the base. The Secretary then asked in terms of contingency planning how many U.S. divisions were being thought of. General Lemnitzer in reply said two plus or maybe three.

The Secretary then commented on the enormous implications of putting U.S. forces ashore in Cuba and said we should consider everything short of this, including rough stuff, before doing so. He said he felt we might be confronted by serious uprisings all over Latin America if U.S. forces were to go in, not to mention the temptation that the commitment [Page 51]of such forces in Cuba would provide elsewhere in the world. In this connection he again mentioned the possibility of a physical base on the Isle of Pines for a provisional government which we could recognize. This he thought would be a powerful step forward. What we needed was a “fig leaf.” A Cuban provisional government on the Isle of Pines, for example, could sink Soviet ships carrying supplies to Castro with less danger than would be the case with direct involvement of U.S. forces.

The Secretary then asked Mr. Dulles if he could say offhand how much money the Cuban operation had cost to date. Mr. Dulles said that it had cost about $6 million last year and $28 million was earmarked for the first six months of 1961. The Secretary asked him whether he could use a quarter of a billion dollars. Was there a possibility, for example, of suborning a unit on the Isle of Pines. This in the long run would be much cheaper than using U.S. forces directly. The Secretary also mentioned that we should inquire into the possible usefulness of a pacific blockade with a carefully and publicly defined mission. In elaboration he mentioned the possibility of “making some international law.” Should we, for example, announce that the introduction of jet aircraft into this hemisphere by the Bloc would be regarded as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. It would then be the Blocʼs responsibility if they chose to “escalate” in the face of such an announcement.

General Lemnitzer then asked permission for General Bonesteel to show a chart of several possible courses of action in ascending scale which had been drawn up for contingency planning purposes. General Bonesteel summarized the chart and said that in his view we needed an overall national plan. The Secretary agreed and said it was clear a task force was needed to devote itself to the development of such a plan. He thought that the task force should be composed of representatives of State, Defense, and CIA. Mr. Dulles said that perhaps also representatives of Treasury and Justice should be included as needed.

Mr. Merchant commented that the inadequacies of the original March 17th plan only began to become apparent in November and mentioned that the intelligence community had brought out an estimate in the first part of December1 concluding that time was running against us in Cuba. He then mentioned that we were now working against some important deadlines. Among these were the shakiness of the Ydigoras regime, and the so-called “shelf-life” of the Cuban unit in Guatemala. The possibility of bringing the Cuban forces to the United States raised the question of how overtly the United States was prepared to show its hand. These problems were of an immediate nature, and another reason why policy guidance was needed as soon as possible.

[Page 52]

Mr. Dulles said he hoped that the 5412 Group would be continued and could resume its meetings as soon as possible. The Secretary concluded by saying he would try to work out some arrangement about this tomorrow or the next day.

(At the end of the meeting, Ambassador Willauer gave the Secretary a memorandum he had written for Mr. Merchant on January 182 which outlined a number of major issues on which policy guidance is needed. The memorandum was a reflection of views developed at the first meetings of a tripartite (State, DOD, and CIA) task force on the Cuban problem which had been chaired by Ambassador Willauer. A copy is attached to the original of this memorandum.)

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Cuba Program, Jan 21, 1961. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted on January 23; no other drafting information is given on the source text. For another record of the meeting, see Document 25.
  2. Reference is to SNIE 85-3-60, dated December 8, 1960. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1958-1960, vol. VI, pp. 1168 1174.
  3. For text, see the Supplement.