229. Notes on Meeting1

Secretary Rusk Presided

Those present—Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, George Ball, Attorney General Kennedy, General Maxwell Taylor, McGeorge Bundy, Assistant Secretary Thomas Mann, Ralph Dungan, Ambassador Thompson, Jack Valenti, Bill Moyers, Bill Bundy, John McCone.

John McCone—Currently interrogating the seven juveniles on the boat. Have freed the juveniles but are still in custody of immigration authority.

Rusk —We ought to send the children back to Cuba now.

McCone—We are flying in a U–2 cover each day. No change in the photographs of two days ago.

Rusk —We have a stake in what we do with these fishing boats. We may set a precedence for our own boats in other waters. Suggests a stiff fine for the Captain plus seizure of the boat.

McNamara—In talking with Katzenbach, he favors leaving jurisdiction to Florida rather than the Federal courts.

[Page 568]

McConeCastroʼsʼs broadcasts are mild not nearly so hysterical as was anticipated.

McGeorge Bundy—We ought to have a set of recommendations of what Florida can do. If we release all but the Captains, we will be in a stronger position.

Kennedy—Maybe it is better to release the Captains and keep the boats. This is the first time in five years Cuban boats have been in these waters.

Bundy—Do we want Castro to have his hand on our water? Should we ship in our own water?

McNamara—Yes, but it ought to be a voluntary thing and not something we do under pressure. It will cost us about $2½ million a year to supply our own water. This will pose no problem for us.

McCone—I suggest that we go in now and cut the water pipes and say that we donʼt want Castroʼs water. We will supply our own water.

Rusk—Thatʼs an attractive idea. We need to reply on our own supply before Castro turns the water back on.

Bundy—Thatʼs good because if there is a desire on the part of Castro to escalate we cauterize that desire now.

Ball—Why not say that since the water company has failed to perform, we no longer have an obligation to hold to our contract. Therefore, we will supply our own water.

Rusk —Should we not take out some of our dependents quietly. Also, we ought to review the role of Cubans working on the base. We need to thin down the number of Cubans working on this base. If there is the slightest sign of sabotage, we must move very quickly to get rid of the Cubans.

McNamara—We can move dependents out quickly at any time. No need to do this now unless it is a military requirement or we want to put political pressure on Castro.

Bundy—If we begin to use our own water we ought to move deliberately in Florida.

Rusk—We donʼt accept the relationship between the boat arrest and turning off the water.

Kennedy—We donʼt know the motivation behind this.

Bundy—We know from interrogating the defectors that the Cubans were told to go to these waters to see if fish were running down there.

Unidentified Man—We are told that American boats were shrimping in these waters while the Cubans were fishing for red snapper.

McNamara—Should we have someone in charge of getting all the facts in this expedition and assessing it? We need to know the full description [Page 569] of what they are doing, what they had in their boats, and everything about them.

Ball—I assume that someone has made a study of all the harassments that Castro can make against us in Guantanamo Bay.

Mann—We should move now to deny them the $5 million in foreign exchange. These Cuban employees would not be able to take this money back to Cuba.

Bundy—But if we use our own water and then deny them the foreign exchange, this is another move upward that we are making.

Mann—I disagree. I think it is important to show them that we are not going to stand meekly by. The American people are tired of being pushed around.

McNamara—I think we should try to enforce arms embargo in Venezuela to keep Castro from shipping arms there.

Mann—This takes time and our prestige in Latin America is too important to wait and to come back simply with a “we donʼt need the water” is weak. We donʼt have to turn off any employment unless of sabotage. We can let them buy food and clothing on the base.

McNamara—It seems to me that the breaking of the water contract is the first step. After that, we have a whole series of alternatives.

Rusk—We have very little left that we can do in the way of legal actions against Cuba. The Venezuela arms cache is one thing we can do. If they provoke this boat incident in order to escalate, we want to keep the monkey on their back. So let us make it clear that we are going to stay in Guantanamo Bay.

Mann—I firmly believe we want to take the foreign exchange step.

Rusk—Perhaps we should start cutting back on employment though not in the third generation employees.

McNamara—But we must keep in mind if they couldnʼt use their foreign exchange, Castro will keep them out of the post himself.

Bundy—Our basic problem is that we have used up all of our possible legal moves.

McNamara—I still think that we need to move swiftly on the Venezuela arms embargo.

Rusk—It would be very helpful on that if we could first clear up the Panama situation. We couldnʼt do much on the Venezuela problem until Panama quiets down. This is the worst possible time for bilateral action.

Mann—I think it is not wise to merely respond by using our own water. We want to do much more than that. The water shipped in is not good water anyway. We need to say to the world that Castro got the worst of the bargain.

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Rusk —I think that we can take the nettle out of Castroʼs hands by cutting the pipes. We could say “unless water is turned on in 24 hours we consider the contract broken and we will not be obligated.”

Ball—There is some virtue in keeping this a civil breach of contract.

Taylor—The Joint Chiefs are of the opinion that this is the first step in a series of moves. Therefore, we want to now make moves of our own to strengthen our military.

Kennedy—(In response to a request from Rusk for his opinion) People merely donʼt understand the boat situation now… It is very confusing.

We need a clear statement of facts on the boats.
We need a clear statement on what are the legal facts.
We should release the men and handle this like a normal case—the way a regular case is handled.
Then when Castro turns on the water, we tell Castro we donʼt want the water.

Rusk—Let us put together a general scenario of the full picture of this situation. The boat, the law, and the precedence. (There was general agreement to give Castro 24 hours to turn on the water, and if he didnʼt, we would consider the contract breached and we would use our own water.)

Rusk—1. We should handle the boat, the Captains, and the seamen in accordance with legal procedures.

Unless we have assurance water will be turned on, we will consider the contract broken.
Difficulty is we have used up all of our unilateral initiatives. Request steps to take up the OAS in Venezuela arms situation.
There are other steps:
Fire all Cuban employees
Refuse to let the employees take dollars into Cuba. We would set up bloc accounts.

We merely need to know if the Cubans and the Russians have escalation in mind.

Taylor—There are three facts involved in military moves here:

Armor from Fort Hood
Marines from Camp Pendleton

This kind of movement would alert the public and the world.

The President thinks that merely saying that we would use our own water is not at all a decisive and strong move. He wants this group [Page 571] to go back and explore every possible move that we can make that is firm and decisive.2

Merely saying to the Cubans that we are going to use our own water is a mild slap on the wrist. He wants the Russian Ambassador informed so he can inform Khrushchev that Castro is an irrational man and we cannot long tolerate his actions. He also wants our allies informed.

The Attorney General left the meeting before it was over, and the President wants to get from him his recommendations.

The President wants every man in the room to spend the rest of this day in hard study in every possible action that is available to us, short of war.

He instructed this group to meet again at 4:00 p.m.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Office of the President File, Panama. No classification marking. Drafted by Valenti. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room at the White House. A note on the first page indicates that the President saw the notes.
  2. The President joined the meeting at about 10:05 a.m., according to the Presidentʼs Daily Diary. (Ibid.)