293. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Meeting with Che Guevara, Cuban Minister of Industry
- Under Secretary George W. Ball
- Senator Eugene McCarthy
- Thomas C. Mann, Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs
- R. E. Woods, Staff Assistant to the Under Secretary
Senator McCarthy outlined the main points of his December 16 conversation with Che Guevara, Cuban Minister of Industry. The meeting was arranged directly with the Senator by Lisa Howard and took place in her New York apartment.
The Senator said he believed the purpose of the meeting was to express Cuban interest in trade with the US and US recognition of the Cuban Regime. Mr. Ball agreed this was plausible, saying that because of the state of the Cuban economy, the Cuban Regime was interested in reviving its trade relations with the US to obtain convertible currency. Further, he felt that Guevara probably recognized that any dealings with the US would add respectability to the regime in the eyes of other Latin American States.
Guevara told Senator McCarthy the Alliance for Progress would fail because it merely underwrites vested interests and the status quo. He said that Venezuela and the Central American States in particular needed revolutions. Chile was one state that was undertaking reforms that might make a revolution unnecessary. He noted that Chile would recognize Cuba if it were not for United States pressure.[Page 700]
Guevara did not attempt to conceal the subversive activities which Cuba was undertaking. He explicitly admitted that they were training revolutionaries and would continue to do so. He felt that this was a necessary mission for the Cuban Government since revolution offered the only hope of progress for Latin America.
Guevara attacked United Statesʼ overflights but not in particularly belligerent terms. He said that Cuba had the means to shoot down the planes, but had not taken any action against the United States. He insisted that there was no juridical basis for the overflights and that such a juridical basis was not furnished by OAS approval. Guevara mentioned only one specific “violation of sovereignty”, this being when a US helicopter landed “over the line” (presumably at Guantanamo). He said that in this case, after some talk of firing upon the helicopter, it was permitted to leave Cuban territory.
Guevara said he knew the CIA was in Cuba. He stated that most of Cubaʼs enemies worked for the oil and power companies. He said the regime could identify them and they in turn knew they would be shot if they resorted to sabotage.
Guevara took issue with a statement that Ambassador Stevenson had made that the US was not withholding shipments of drugs to Cuba. Mr. Mann commented that drug shipments may have been cut back and that this was one area in which the Cubans could score on us. Mr. Ball said there was no reason why we should not sell drugs or medicines to Cuba, and Mr. Mann said he would look into the matter.
Guevara told the Senator that while conditions in Cuba were not good, there was no question of the regime collapsing. On the question of refugees, he said Cubans who did not like life on the island were free to leave. Mr. Mann commented that this was not true. Guevara also said the regime did not want any refugees returned to Cuba.
On relations between the Government and the Catholic Church, Guevara said they were good but that Party members could not belong to the Church. He mentioned in passing that they had more problems with Protestants than with Catholics.
On free elections, Guevara said these had not taken place because the revolution had not fully evolved. As to what form of government might eventually develop in Cuba, Guevara said—with pointed reference to Senator McCarthy—there was no interest in a bicameral congress or in anything along the lines of the Supreme Soviet in the USSR. He commented that the latter had no real power.
Mr. Ball asked if any references were made to Cubaʼs relationship to Moscow. It was mentioned that Lisa Howard had made the point that better relations with the US would give Cuba a more desirable position vis-à-vis Moscow. Mr. Ball said he believed the USSR was becoming fed up with Cuba but felt compelled to continue supporting it [Page 701] because of its symbolic importance as the first country to go communist without pressure of the Red Army.
Mr. Ball emphasized the danger of meetings such as that which the Senator had had with Guevara. There was suspicion throughout Latin America that the US might make a deal with Cuba behind the backs of the other American States. This could provide a propaganda line useful to the Communists.
Mr. Ball pointed out that Guevara could not move about without a great many people knowing where he was and whom he was seeing.McCarthy agreed, mentioning the large number of police cars that had gathered when he met Guevara. Mr. Ball asked that McCarthy get in touch with him if any further contacts with Guevara were contemplated. Meanwhile it was essential that nothing be publicly said about the McCarthy–Guevara meeting although there was danger that Guevara himself might leak it.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL CUBA-US. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Woods on December 18.↩