45. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann) to Secretary of State Rusk 0


  • The March 1960 Plan1

Attached for your consideration is a list of my conclusions concerning the March 1960 plan which has been under discussion. If my conclusions are accepted, there can, of course, be no certainty we will not be faced with the necessity, perhaps before this year is out, of using armed force. If this should become necessary we would, I believe, be far better off to do whatever has to be done in an open way and in accordance with the American tradition after preparing public opinion both at home and abroad. If you should decide not to press at this time for a collective decision to recognize a rebel government in Cuba, we might explore, in a very general and tentative way, the possibility of getting agreement in principle that something along this line will be done if conditions within Cuba seem to offer a more solid basis for such action at the time the Foreign Ministers Meeting2 is held. I am intrigued with the thought that a great many of the impediments to dealing with the Cuban situation would be cleared away if a rebel government could be recognized.

Finally, I thought it would be desirable for Mr. Berle, before he leaves for Brazil, to have a pretty clear idea of your views on the substantive points so that he can speak confidently and effectively.



The March 1960 Plan

What is proposed is the landing of a brigade of approximately 800 men from bases in Guatemala and Nicaragua, supported by an air strike from the same bases either simultaneously with the landing or 24 hours [Page 96] preceding it. Naval craft, with some “contracted” United States nationals aboard, would transport the brigade and supply logistic support. It is planned that the brigade, if unopposed and if surprise were achieved, would be able to consolidate their position and hold a beachhead for a limited number of days. If internal support does not materialize, it is planned that the brigade could either march directly to nearby mountains or be withdrawn from the beach to other nearby beaches from whence they could move into the mountains. Once in the mountains they would operate as a guerrilla unit.

My conclusions regarding this proposal are as follows:

(1) The military evaluation of this proposal is that “ultimate success will depend upon political factors, i.e., a sizeable popular uprising or substantial follow-on forces.”3 It is unlikely that a popular uprising would promptly take place in Cuba of a scale and kind which would make it impossible for the Castro regime to oppose the brigade with superior numbers of well armed troops.

(2) It therefore appears possible, even probable, that we would be faced with the alternative of a) abandoning the brigade to its fate, which would cost us dearly in prestige and respect or b) attempting execution of the plan to move the brigade into the mountains as guerrillas, which would pose a prolonged problem of air drops or supplies or c) overt U.S. military intervention; a JCS staff officer has estimated there is at least a 10% chance that U.S. forces would be required unless alternative (a) were adopted.

(3) Execution of the proposed plan would be in violation of Article 2, paragraph 4, and Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations,4 Articles 18 and 25 of the Charter of the Organization of American States,5 and Article 1 of the Rio Treaty, which, in general, proscribe the use of armed force with the sole exception of the right of self-defense “if an armed attack occurs.”

The Castro regime could be expected to call on the other American States (Article 3, paragraph 1 of the Rio Treaty) to assist them in repelling the attack, and to request the Security Council (Chapter 7 of the UN Charter) to take action to “maintain and restore international peace and security.” The chances of promptly presenting both international organizations with a fait accompli are, in my opinion, virtually nil. It would therefore be extremely difficult to deal with Castro demarches of this kind. We could not disassociate ourselves from our complicity with Guatemala [Page 97] and Nicaragua; and if we tried to do so, both Ydigoras and Somoza are in possession of sufficient information to implicate the United States in the eye of reasonable men.

(4) Since the proposal comes closer to being a military invasion than a covert operation of the Guatemala type, account must be taken of the possibility that the execution of this proposal would attract to Castro additional support within Cuba. More important, a majority of the people of Latin America would oppose the operation, and we would expect that the Communists and Castroites would organize and lead demonstrations designed to bring about the overthrow of governments friendly to us. At best, our moral posture throughout the hemisphere would be impaired. At worst, the effect on our position of hemispheric leadership would be catastrophic.

(5) Time is running against us in Cuba in a military sense since it is probable Castro soon will acquire jet aircraft, since he may acquire missiles and since Castro needs time to train his army and militia. Nevertheless, Defense does not currently consider Cuba to represent a threat to our national security. If later it should become a threat we are able to deal with it. If so, new developments which make Cuba an immediate threat to our national security might increase our chances of obtaining hemispheric support for collective action.

(6) The intelligence community was, and probably still is, unanimously of the opinion that time is running against us in Cuba in the sense that a declining curve of Castro popularity is offset by a rising curve of Castro control over the Cuban people. Nevertheless, it is not impossible that rifts between leaders in the Castro regime, mounting economic difficulties and rising resentment with terrorist methods will lead to the eventual overthrow of the Castro regime by the Cubans themselves, aided only by the more “conventional” type of covert activities now being carried out. In any case, time is not currently running against us in terms of Latin American public opinion; there has already been a significant decline in Castroʼs popularity in Latin America, a trend which we have reason to hope will continue, assuming Castro continues to employ the same methods. If one looks at the Castro problem in the context of the struggle between the East and the West for Latin America, if one assumes the success or failure of the Castro policies to achieve a better life for the masses will significantly influence future hemisphere thought and action, and if one assumes that discipline and austerity will be hallmarks of Castroism, the political advantages to us of letting Latin America see for itself the practical results of applying communist theory in a Latin American country could well give us a decisive advantage in the ideological hemisphere struggle ahead of us.

(7) I therefore conclude it would not be in the national interest to proceed unilaterally to put this plan into execution.

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(8) I also conclude that in spite of the difficulty maintaining or re-creating our Cuban “asset”, we should consider proceeding as planned only if we receive strong support for collective action by the two-thirds majority required by the Rio Treaty. The chances of obtaining this agreement within the time limits imposed on us by the plan are not good. The attitudes of Quadros, Lleras, Betancourt and Frondizi may well be decisive. Mexican support is not expected. Venezuelan support would certainly be conditional on simultaneous action against Trujillo.

(9) To determine whether Latin American support will be forthcoming it will be necessary discreetly to make soundings. There is no chance of obtaining Latin American support for a resolution authorizing the use of armed force against Cuba. Our best chance of getting support would be to propose a resolution for the collective recognition of a rebel government. The Latin Americans would understand the relationship between recognition of a rebel government and the Cuban “asset” in Central America without being told, i.e. that the recognition of the government would give at least a color of legality to support the proposed operation. A possible resolution along this line for Cuba is at Tab (A)6 and a possible resolution on the Dominican Republic is at Tab (B).

(10) The resolution at Tab (A) would be subject to the juridical objection that the rebel government does not control significant portions of Cuban territory and to the objection that not all members of the revolutionary junta are resident in Cuba. To this we would have to answer that the rebel government speaks for the guerrillas in the mountains who have been fighting for months. In any case, we will be much better off in the UN and the OAS if we are debating this issue than if we are debating the issue of whether the proposed operation constitutes an armed attack. It would offer the additional advantage of converting our posture from covert to overt, a posture which is in keeping with the American tradition.


Alternative Proposal

(11) Assuming you do not wish to engage in soundings to determine whether there is support for a resolution along the lines suggested at Tab (A) or having made the soundings we do not receive strong support from the American community, we should determine whether there would be support for collective action, short of the use of armed force, directed to the insulation of Latin America from Cuba and steps to control and, if possible, eliminate Castro-communist subversion. A draft resolution along these lines is at Tab (C).

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(12) If the March 1960 plan is abandoned, it will be necessary to determine what use is to be made of the brigade, including the feasibility of their introduction into the mountains of Cuba as guerrillas. This would require further study.


Search and Seizure

(13) Consideration has also been given to the feasibility of reducing the future military risk by interception on the high seas of arms, including jets and missiles, destined for Cuba. This has been abandoned as impracticable because of staff opinion that this would be clearly illegal and because of the probability that our friends and allies would be no more amenable now to a search and seizure procedure than they were during the Guatemalan venture. Furthermore, this procedure would have the disadvantage of bringing us head on into conflict with the Soviet Union.


Other Considerations

(14) Outside the scope of this list of conclusions are non-ARA questions such as estimates of probable reactions of our NATO Allies and the Sino-Soviet Bloc.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, General 1/61-4/61. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Mann.
  2. Reference is to a memorandum prepared in the CIA entitled “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,” which was approved by President Eisenhower on March 17, 1960. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1958-1960, vol. VI, pp. 850851.
  3. Reference is to the projected but still unscheduled Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics. The seventh such meeting was held in San Jose, Costa Rica, August 22-29, 1960. The eighth meeting was not held until January 22-31, 1962, in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
  4. See Document 35.
  5. For text of the Charter of the United Nations, see A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941-1949, pp. 95-110.
  6. For text of the Charter of the Organization of American States, signed at Bogota, Colombia on April 30, 1948, see ibid., pp. 230-242.
  7. None of the draft OAS resolutions attached to the source text is printed.