304. Paper Prepared in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs1


I. Background

In June 1963 President Kennedy approved a covert policy and an integrated program of action toward Cuba. Three basic considerations underlay the program: first, the United States did not contemplate the use of military force against Cuba; second, the United States wished to exert maximum pressure by all means available to it (short of military intervention) to prevent the consolidation of the Communist regime; and third, dissident elements in the military and in other power centers of the regime could be encouraged to bring about the eventual [Page 720] replacement of the regime and to eliminate the Soviet presence in Cuba.

The program which was approved consisted of six interdependent, mutually reinforcing courses of action: (1) the covert collection of intelligence to meet both strategic and operational requirements; (2) propaganda actions to stimulate low-risk simple sabotage and other forms of active and passive resistance; (3) exploitation and stimulation of disaffection in the Cuban military and other power centers; (4) economic denial actions in support and extension of overt efforts; (5) general sabotage and harassment, designed to achieve economic and psychological impact and to be conducted by either external, CIA-controlled assets or by internal assets in being or to be developed, initial emphasis to be placed on external operations with a shift to internal assets as soon as feasible; and (6) support of “autonomous” anti-Castro Cuban groups to supplement and assist in the execution of the foregoing courses of action.

Of these six components, the first four are still in operation. Although there was agreement when the entire program was approved that, if results were to be achieved it would be necessary to continue the program for a considerable period of time (18 months), even in the face of difficulties, the fact is that actions under Course 5 (CIA controlled sabotage and harassment) were suspended in January 1964 after only five hit-and-run operations had been carried out in the period August-December 1963. In terms of purely Cuban policy, the raids probably had had a net positive effect. The decision to suspend was taken essentially on broader grounds, including concern about disturbing the emerging détente between the US and the Soviets (whose support Castro normally invokes against direct US pressures against him), the desire to avoid measures which might prevent or delay Soviet troop withdrawals from Cuba, the desire to have “clean hands” in moving towards OAS action on the Venezuelan arms cache case, and the belief that other less costly measures, particularly economic, would be effective. A tactical factor was the embarrassment caused us by the Cuban capture of a CIA infiltration team in December 1963 and the subsequent revelations by members of the team. It is important to note that this incident occurred in connection with an infiltration and that this kind of operation continues to be approved.

Operations by “autonomous” groups were permitted to proceed, and the first effort occurred in April 1964. In late 1964-early 1965, however, these too were closed out because they were producing more problems and risks—including complications in US-USSR relations and in the Vietnamese situation—than results. An important special factor during most of the life of the autonomous operations was the concern that they would provoke Cuban action against US surveillance overflights. The immediate motive for abandonment of the autonomous approach [Page 721] was the highly embarrassing attack on a Spanish merchant vessel in September 1964, which illustrated forcefully the lack of US control over groups not directly responsive to CIA.

Thus, there are no paramilitary efforts being mounted against Cuba at present. The CIA proposal is, in effect, an attempt to seek a reversal of the early 1964 decision with respect to their own operations. There is no intention to resurrect the autonomous approach. The basis of the CIA proposal is the belief that the present state of the Cuban question counsels a resumption of CIA-controlled paramilitary activity.

II. Current Situation

The Castro regime is almost certainly more firmly entrenched now than at any time since its accession to power. Its control, however, is not absolute. The economy, although still operating at a relatively low level and hampered by disorganization and inefficiency, has been moving forward in the past two years. The prospect is that modest advances will continue through 1965, with the outlook highly uncertain beyond this year. Politically, the regime certainly has problems, but it appears capable of dealing with them, short of the disappearance of Castro. Security measures have become increasingly effective, but there are, from time to time, evidences of uneasiness and over-reaction to internal or external threats, real or imagined, on the part of the regime. The great bulk of the population is apathetic. Although the average Cuban is probably unhappy with his lot and skeptical of significant, early improvement of it, he is almost certainly becoming more and more resigned to the permanence of the regime. Internal active opposition to the government has grown increasingly weaker. Morale among anti-regime elements within and outside Cuba is low, and there is growing reluctance among these groups to take the risks involved in acts of resistance. This prudence is heightened by the absence of visible, effective external pressures.

The pressures, largely economic, which we have placed upon the regime have probably had moderate success in delaying—but not in preventing—the movement toward internal consolidation of the Castro government. If maintained at their present level, they will probably become more and more difficult to maintain and less and less effective.

Moreover, these pressures have not induced the regime to abandon its subversive efforts in Latin America. The great bulk of the evidence shows that Cuba has been trying to make those efforts more effective at a time when our own subversive measures against it have been sharply reduced. There are, moreover, several indications of increased Soviet activity in fostering “national liberation movements” in Latin America. The Soviet endorsement of the harder line set forth by [Page 722] the November 1964 meeting of Latin American Communist Parties in Havana has been translated, according to reliable reports, into concrete and substantial financial assistance to the Venezuelan FALN. It is not possible to say whether this apparent Soviet decision to become more heavily involved in Latin America arises from the need to meet Chinese Communist pressures, from an assessment that the general situation in the Hemisphere affords more opportunities than heretofore, or even from an intention to place heavier pressure on us in Latin America in response to our policies in Vietnam. No matter what its origin, the evidence of heightened Soviet activity in Latin America is clearly relevant to any consideration of the effects on US-USSR relations of US policies toward Cuba and toward subversion in Latin America.

The situation in Latin America from the US point of view remains fragile, and subversion, whether from Havana, Moscow or Peking acting independently or, in the case of the first two, together, remains a constant serious concern. It is certainly true that, in contrast to 1961, the image of Cuba in Latin America has been dimmed and that, moreover, this may have resulted in part from the comparatively low-key US policy toward Cuba in the past two years. Nevertheless, a Communist Cuba which will be able to show that it is progressing economically and is consolidated politically cannot help but be impressive in Latin America. When such a regime is able, at the same time, to continue to carry out acts of subversion with impunity, in part because it is under the protection of the USSR, the negative effects for the United States are magnified in Latin America. The weakening or even the disappearance of the Communist government in Cuba would certainly not solve US problems in Latin America, but its continuation and its gradual entrenchment seriously prejudice US objectives and programs.

The US actions in the Dominican Republic have probably had mixed effects on Latin American views on US policy toward Cuba. On the one hand, those elements in Latin America which have advocated a “hard” US line on Cuba and Communist subversion were probably encouraged by the US intervention and hoped that it foreshadowed a “tougher” attitude in keeping with their opinion that the problem of subversion should be attacked at the source. They would probably welcome US moves against Cuba. On the other hand, most of the sectors which opposed or were made uneasy by the US action in the Dominican Republic as a retrograde step in US-Latin American relations would probably tend to fear that a more aggressive US stance toward Cuba was part of a general administration policy of “cracking down” in Latin America. Therefore, their response probably would be unsympathetic. Although the Cuban regime has by no means been able to restore its image in Latin America as a result of the Dominican affair, it probably has made some gains in at least the short term in left sectors of the Hemisphere.

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Within the United States, interest in the Cuban problem is at a very low ebb. The administration is not under significant domestic pressure to “do something”—beyond what it is now doing. In part, this attitude seems to be founded on the belief that matters are going reasonably well for us in Cuba. If this belief begins to wane, if events elsewhere in Latin America go against our interests and especially if such setbacks could be attributed in any way to Cuban activities, this acceptance of current administration policy could change, especially in 1966. An influential general factor here would be the results of our Vietnamese policy.

III. Advantages and Disadvantages of Paramilitary Activities As a Means of Pressure

A. Principal Advantages

Paramilitary activities have a considerably better chance of creating within Cuba the political, economic and psychological effects we have sought—and therefore of reducing the Cuban regimeʼs ability to project itself externally—than the principal other means of increasing pressure available to us, i.e., the intensification of overt economic denial measures.
They provide an unmistakable signal to all concerned of our continuing opposition to the Cuban regime.
They can be justified, if necessary, in appropriate quarters as a response to the harder Cuban-Soviet line in Latin America, particularly in view of the long stand-down which can be presented as an unsuccessful attempt by us to elicit a similar slackening of Cuban subversion.
They may exacerbate Cuban-USSR relations, should Soviet response to Cuban requests for support be considered inadequate by Havana.
The risk of capture of participants is not appreciably greater than that involving infiltration/exfiltration teams, whose operations remain authorized.
It is possible that the resumption of paramilitary activities might inhibit any Cuban plans to become further involved in Vietnam (e.g., the dispatch of volunteers).
US involvement in the activities is to some degree deniable because of the personnel and techniques involved.
The activities take advantage of an existing capability, which over time is degraded through disuse.
Those elements in Latin America which are concerned about Cuba and Communist subversion would probably welcome the [Page 724] resumption of activity as a sign of our determination to get rid of Castro.

B. Principal Disadvantages

It is impossible to predict with any assurance whether and to what degree paramilitary activities will in fact bring about the results hoped for within Cuba. The regime may be able to utilize the activities as a means of rallying political support against “imperialist aggression” and as an excuse to the Cuban people, the Soviets, and others (including Latin Americans) for its failures. Moreover, the erosion of the will to resist and the improvement of the security apparatus may have progressed beyond the point of no return.
There is no serious possibility of cloaking US involvement, whether or not missions go awry and personnel are captured.
If we decide it is necessary to suspend the activities in mid-course, the effects will probably be sharply negative and perhaps irreparable.
The resumption of paramilitary activities will probably stimulate uncontrolled exile groups to attempt to launch raids from US territory.
Such activities may strengthen rather than weaken Soviet-Cuban ties, particularly in the context of the Soviet-Chinese Communist conflict.
Subversive efforts in Latin America may be intensified in retaliation, and our own “dirty hands” may reduce our ability to obtain Latin American and other support for counter-action.
Paramilitary activities increase the risk of Cuban action against surveillance overflights.
They will probably reinforce the fears in some sectors in Latin America that the administration is embarked on a course of direct action throughout the Hemisphere.

IV. Conclusions

Under present levels of external pressure, the Cuban regime probably will become stronger and better entrenched.
The regime remains committed to the “export of revolution” and, in concert with the USSR, is attempting to make Communist subversive activities in Latin America more effective.
The stronger the regime becomes, the greater are the difficulties and dangers for US policy in Latin America.
In spite of the improvement in its position, the regime still confronts economic and political difficulties which constitute vulnerabilities and which indicate that we have not yet run out of time.
Increased pressure, either in the form of additional overt economic measures or of a resumption of paramilitary activities, offers some unmeasurable prospect of halting and in time reversing the trend in Cuba.
Of the two types of pressure, paramilitary activities provide a better chance of success.
In the past paramilitary activities, after a relatively brief trial, have been considered to be too costly politically in relation to their return and to the availability of other means of pressure believed at the time to be promising.
In order to maximize the chances of success, and to avoid the perhaps irreparable damage of suspension in mid-course, paramilitary activities have to be carried on steadily and progressively over a considerable period of time.
A decision to embark upon paramilitary activities carries with it an acceptance of their objective, a coup from within the power structure, the timing and nature of which we might well not control.
Under present circumstances, we have three gross policy options with respect to Cuba:
We can continue our present policy in full awareness that, barring some fortuitous development, we will probably lose ground in terms of both our Cuban and our Latin American objectives.
We can increase pressure, by either resuming paramilitary activities or taking additional economic measures (which are less costly, less risky and less effective), in the hope—whose realization cannot be assured—that we can arrest and eventually reverse the forward movement of the Cuban regime.
On the grounds that our present policy is no longer productive and that a policy of increased pressure is too uncertain, costly and risky, we can move toward accommodation and try to bring about a Titoist evolution of the Cuban regime, accepting in the process the probability of serious damage to our long-term interests, particularly in Latin America.
Of these options, a policy of increased pressure on Cuba provides the best protection for our position in Latin America.
Because it has a better chance of being successful than other available means of increasing pressure and in spite of the substantial costs and risks it clearly entails, the resumption of paramilitary activities against Cuba meets the needs of our Cuban and Latin American policies.
The resumption of these activities will certainly have positive and negative effects on the achievement of national objectives in areas of foreign policy beyond Latin America, and the net result of these effects must obviously be assessed.
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V. Recommendations

ARA recommends that, provided that the benefits to our Cuban and Latin American policies are not clearly outweighed by disadvantages elsewhere,

You support the resumption of a sustained program of paramilitary activities, it being clearly understood that each operation will be subject to the authorization of the 303 Committee.
If you decide that the broad national interest would not be served by resumption,2 you authorize in principle the initiation of additional measures of economic denial, it being understood of course that these measures would be subject to your approval.3

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, ARA/CIA Weekly Meetings Reports, August 12, 1965. Secret; Sensitive. Prepared by Crimmins and forwarded to Thompson and Rusk.
  2. For Ruskʼs response, see Document 306.
  3. At the ARACIA meeting on August 11, John Hart from the CIA responded that the Senate paper “stated well the things the Agency wanted to get across.” He took exception to the view that paramilitary operations were merely a “pinprick;” he believed that none of these efforts had been really carried through. He also noted that Cubans “over-react” to these operations and therefore the disruptive effect was greater. Hart assured Vaughn renewed operations could be undertaken without “undue publicity” and fully under CIA control. (Memorandum from Carter to Hughes, August 12; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files,ARA/CIA Weekly Meeting Reports)