228. Editorial Note
Shortly after noon on February 2, 1964, the U.S. Coast Guard observed four Cuban fishing vessels off East Key in the Dry Tortugas. When the vessels were ordered to anchor and stand by for boarding, they were found to be 1.5–1.9 miles offshore of East Key and thus within the territorial seas of the United States. Following consultation with Department of State officials, the Coast Guard seized the four Cuban fishing vessels, and the crews were detained in Key West. (Telegram 452 to Bern, February 3; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 33–4 CUBA-US) On February 3 Florida officials asked that the Cubans be turned over to them for possible prosecution under Florida law. According to telephone notes of a conversation of that same date between Assistant Secretary Mann and the President, Mann introduced the incident as a “little item” of interest, and the Presidentʼs only comment was: “Well, it doesnʼt amount to much one way or the other, does it?” (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Thomas Mann, February 3, 1964, 7:10 p.m. TapeF64.10, Side A, PNO 5)
On February 4 the United States and Cuba traded protests over this incident, with Czech Embassy Counselor Zantovsky delivering a protest on behalf of Cuba to John H. Crimmins, Coordinator of Cuban Affairs, and the Swiss Ambassador to Cuba, Emil Anton Stadelhofer, delivering a U.S. protest in Havana. The Cuban Government claimed that the vessels were operating in international and traditional fishing waters and demanded that the fishermen be released. The U.S. Government asserted that two of the captains of the fishing vessels admitted that they were fully aware of their presence in U.S. territorial waters and that Cuban vessels had not fished in the area of the Dry Tortugas during the preceding 5 years. Crimmins told Zantovsky that “the apparent deliberate nature of the violation” “disturbed and puzzled us.” (Memorandum of conversation, February 4; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 33–4 CUBA-US)
On February 6 Cuba cut off the water supply to the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay. That night President Johnson alerted his top national security officials to the problem and scheduled a working group meeting for the next morning (see Document 229). Shortly before the meeting was to begin, Johnson asked Secretary of Defense McNamara what he knew about the water cutoff. McNamara replied: “Well, the only thing I know is I donʼt think we can do nothing here, Mr. President. I just donʼt believe we can allow them to turn off the water, and make no response other than handling these [fishing] crews [Page 567] through the courts and sending them back to Cuba. We have a whole series of options open to us, it seems to me that ought to be the function of this working group, within an hour, to lay it out for you so you can make your choice.”
Johnson asked, “Is there much we can do? I thought weʼd done nearly everything on Cuba?” McNamara replied that “there are many things we can do.” He also advised the President how the Cuban water could be replaced by wells, evaporators, and by water from a set of tanks and from water tanker ships. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Robert McNamara, February 7, 1964, 9 a.m., Tape F64.11, Side A, PNO 6) The portion of the conversation printed here was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.