421. Memorandum of Conversation0



  • Conversation between President Kennedy and Prime Minister Diefenbaker—Cuba and Latin America


  • The President of the United States
  • John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister of Canada
  • Livingston T. Merchant, U.S. Ambassador to Canada
  • Arnold E.P. Heeney, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S.
  • Robert B. Bryce, Clerk to the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet
  • Henry Basil Robinson, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister
  • Walt W. Rostow, Deputy Special Assistant to the President
  • Ivan B. White, Deputy Assistance Secretary for European Affairs
[Page 1154]

After an exchange of pleasantries, the Prime Minister said that unless the President desired to take up immediate specific problems, he thought it would be valuable if Mr. Kennedy could give him a review of world conditions as he saw them.

The President replied that Cuba and the Western Hemisphere constituted one of the foremost problems. The recent Cuban episode raised the question whether it is possible to conduct covert operations in an open society. The United States had placed limitations on the use of its own planes and this had impeded operations. The dilemma posed had been whether the 1300 well-trained Cubans in Guatemala, who had been there some time, would either have to be broken up as a group or permitted to return to the homeland. The operation had begun well but the air control by Cuban planes had been disastrous and the invasion group had run out of ammunition.

As far as the future of Cuba was concerned, the United States had been trying to persuade as many countries as possible to face up to the true character of the regime and to take collective action, but a number of them were reluctant to do so. Mexico, as an example, is almost neutral and when the Prime Minister inquired as to how Mr. Kennedy explained the situation in Mexico, the President replied that it was due to the influence of President Cardenas and the leftward pull exercised by his faction in the National Revolutionary Party. Likewise, Brazil was a problem. President Quadros feels that he cannot afford politically to be anti-Castro in foreign policy at the same time he is pursuing a deflationary policy at home. The President added that he was perturbed about the situation in Latin America and hoped that Canada would consider greater participation in Inter-American affairs and organizations.

The Prime Minister referred to press reports of an alleged statement by External Affairs Minister Green that Canada was willing to mediate between Cuba and the United States. He said that this statement was not made and he, the Prime Minister, wanted nothing to do with mediation. The President replied that the United States did not want it; that the problem was one of for the entire hemisphere. Mr. Diefenbaker commented that he thought the Canadians were farther away today from membership in the Organization of American States than they had been previously. The Prime Minister added that he believed Canada could exercise more influence outside than in the organization. If in, Canada would be in the position of either disagreeing with the United States or being called a puppet of the United States. The President commented smilingly that he assumed in most cases of disagreement Canada would be right. The President added while the OAS had not lived [Page 1155]up to expectations he thought it important that it be rebuilt into a more effective organization. The Cuban regime had predicted that within six months five countries in Latin America would adopt Castroism. The situation in Venezuela was shaky and Bolivia was on the razor’s edge. When the Prime Minister inquired as to whether there was any indication that Cuba was receiving nuclear arms from the Soviet Union, the President replied that there was no evidence of this except that they had planes which would carry nuclear weapons. The President added that the United States did not plan intervention in Cuba unless there was a flow of interventionist activities from Cuba to other countries in the hemisphere. One other possibility of military intervention in Cuba existed in its use as a countermeasure to measures which the Soviet Union might adopt in the case of Berlin. The President would want to talk with the Prime Minister about any plans for military intervention before such actually took place.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1884. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by White and approved by the White House on May 23. The meeting was held in the Prime Minister’s office. See also Documents 422425. Memoranda of conversation on Southeast Asia, China, the Common Market, civil defense, the Congo, Nasser, West New Guinea, space, the President’s meeting with Khrushchev, disarmament, and recruitment for a Cuban expeditionary force are in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1884. During his visit, May 16–18, the President addressed Parliament and together with the Prime Minister issued a joint communiqué. For text of the address to Parliament, see Department of State Bulletin, June 5, 1961, pp. 839–843; for text of the communiqué, see ibid., p. 843. For Diefenbaker’s account of the visit, see One Canada, The Years of Achievement, 1957–1962, pp. 169–171 and 182–184.