166. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Ball to President Kennedy1


  • Mexican Position on Imposing Economic Sanctions Against Cuba

In a memorandum of May 172 you asked for comments on the report that Mexico has agreed with Brazil to oppose any OAS effort to tighten Hemisphere restrictions on trade with Cuba, particularly in light of the many ways we have recently been trying to be helpful to Mexico.

The Mexican position is not unexpected. In a long conversation with Assistant Secretary Martin at the end of January on a variety of possible measures with respect to Cuba, President Lopez Mateos made quite clear that Mexico would give its public support to any action against Cuba necessary to prevent a serious and direct threat to the security of the United States or the Hemisphere, as it did in the missile crisis. It was also prepared to support measures which would clearly contribute to [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] a significant diminution of his power in Cuba or in the Hemisphere, though it would strongly prefer to do so quietly rather than publicly. It was not prepared to collaborate in [Page 347] actions whose value was largely symbolic or psychological and particularly where a public position was required. He felt the domestic difficulties that such measures would cause him would far outweigh any possible contribution they might make to achieving agreed Hemisphere policy objectives.

He is particularly concerned at the present time about domestic impacts of public actions vis-à-vis Cuba because of the current necessity to secure and maintain the support of all elements of his party in the difficult task which he must complete by the fall of choosing the next Presidential candidate. This responsibility traditionally belongs to the outgoing President, and he is most anxious to perform it. He is also equally anxious to maintain the solidarity of the party behind the candidate selected. With the tensions increasing each year between the left and right wings of the party, these objectives can only be secured by avoiding public positions which would tend to alienate either group or by balancing gestures to one by gestures to the other. He is personally closer to the left and will be particularly careful not to alienate unnecessarily this source of his greatest strength. In these circumstances Lopez Mateos can be expected for the next year to be extremely cautious about taking public positions on the question of Cuba unless really major security issues are involved.

It will be exceedingly difficult for us to demonstrate that further controls on Latin American trade with Cuba will have any but a psychological effect on the viability of the Castro regime. Exports are currently limited pretty much to foods and medicine. A recent analysis is enclosed.3

It may be noted that, pending consideration by the OAS Council of the report of the Vigilance Committee on measures to limit Cuban subversive activities in Latin America, the United States has not made any proposal with respect to trade limitations, and therefore the Mexican position is not formally in opposition to any existing United States proposal. The Vigilance Committee report is expected to be submitted to the Committee this week but action may not come for several weeks.

George W. Ball
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, Cuba, Security. Secret. The source text bears no indication of the drafter.
  2. A copy is filed as an attachment to a copy of Ball’s memorandum, ibid., National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, General.
  3. The enclosure, a May 6 memorandum prepared in the Department of State, is not printed.