546. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Venezuela1

275231. Ref: Embtel 8970.2 Subj: Venezuelan Seizure of Cuban Fishing Vessel.

[Page 1138]
Cuba has circulated note at U.N. violently protesting firing upon and seizure of Cuban vessel 100 miles from Venezuelan coast and accusing U.S. of complicity. Cuban Ambassador has appointment with U.N. SecGen tonight.
FYI. As you aware there strong reasons believe Cuban vessel seized in international waters and that Venezuelans themselves know it. End FYI.
For Ambassador: Possibility additional incidents as result of continued Venezuelan naval patrols obviously of great concern. There is no reason to assume that Havana will permit future incidents, if indeed it permits this one, to pass without retaliation, and as GOV aware Cuban air and naval forces have sophisticated equipment. Moreover there is some outside possibility that repeat incident may provoke some Cuban act against U.S. Serious confrontation between Venezuela and Cuba of this nature, or risk of Cuban military action, is obviously undesirable in terms of U.S., Venezuelan or hemisphere interests.
President Leoni’s comparison of Alecrin seizure with Pueblo incident was not felicitous one. USG has maintained North Korea action in firing upon and seizure Pueblo, even if Pueblo was not in international waters as we believe it was violation of established international law. North Korea singularly unfortunate nation for Venezuela to imitate. Any case we do not wish encourage or stimulate seizures of vessels especially on high seas.
Recognizing provocation which GOV subject to and noting from reftel that Leoni probably seeking U.S. moral support, we think it important cool down Venezuelans and seek dissuade them from taking this kind of action. We especially think it important to avoid repetition of vessel seizure.
Accordingly you are asked to convey to GOV at appropriate level and in most appropriate way you think advisable, above concerns and advise them to cool it. Recognize that you are under constraints re revealing to Venezuelans that we aware seizure took place in international waters especially since Leoni told you it took place in territorial waters. Recognize also that we cannot abandon GOV in face of insurgency threat or seem convey unconcern. Hence will take tact to center Venezuelan attention on tactics used to combat Cuban threat and international repercussions of incidents such as this one which may not help Venezuelans. Obviously if there clear evidence Alecrin engaged in subversive mission and this provable Venezuelan position would be stronger. Our main concern this point is to dissuade them from seizure in international waters simply on suspicion which may later prove unwarranted and to avoid risk of confrontation and retaliation mentioned above.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–4 VEN–CUBA. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Drafted by Vaky; cleared by Petersen; cleared in substance by Fitzgerald, Meeker, and Henry Bardach (EA); and approved by Oliver.
  2. Document 545.