169. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1

SUBJECT

  • Venezuelan Announcement of Cuban Origin of Discovered Arms Cache

On November 3 the Venezuelan Government discovered a large arms cache buried on a beach of the Paraguana Peninsula in northwestern Venezuela. A careful examination of the weapons revealed them to be of Cuban origin. The Venezuelan Government has advised us that it plans to make the evidence public on November 28.

When we learned the Venezuelans had conclusive evidence that the arms cache was Cuban and planned to announce it, we urged President Betancourt to do two things: (1) as a minimum to present the evidence to the OAS and (2) as a highly desirable maximum to combine the disclosure with an appeal to other governments of the Caribbean area for cooperation in multilateral surveillance under Resolution II of the 8th Meeting of Foreign Ministers (Punta del Este) to detect and thwart further attempts by the Castro regime to export arms and men for subversive purposes. President Betancourt agreed to report the incident to the OAS but he was decidedly cool to the suggestion of an appeal for surveillance cooperation. His coolness is attributable to domestic political considerations, particularly the December 1 national elections and the implications of having publicly to request foreign assistance.

The Venezuelan intention to publicize the Cuban origin of the arms cache, read in conjunction with previous statements made by President Kennedy and me (compilation enclosed)2 about insuring that the Castro regime does not export arms and men in this hemisphere, makes it important that we comment promptly and publicly on the announcement. Even though the public statements which President Kennedy and I made were quite clearly referring to Cuban military action against other American Republics, they are susceptible of being interpreted as applicable to this type of incident.

A contingency press statement is enclosed. Depending on the terms of the Venezuelan announcement, it may need some adjustment, although I anticipate that the changes will be minimal. It is designed to emphasize Castro’s growing interventionist activities in the hemisphere [Page 353]and to call for greater cooperation in watching for and thwarting these activities, without generating a sense of alarm. The statement makes clear our willingness to cooperate in surveillance but leaves the initiative to the Latin Americans from where it must come if we are to obtain their participation.

In keeping with the objective of calling attention to Cuban subversion without causing alarm, I plan to have the Department Press Officer volunteer the statement at the regular noon press briefing following the Venezuelan announcement.3

Dean Rusk4
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 12 CUBA. Confidential. Drafted by Bowdler. President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22.
  2. The enclosures are not printed.
  3. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, December 16, 1963, pp. 913-914.
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates Rusk signed the original.