316. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Oliver) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Kohler)1


  • Travel to Cuba


As I am certain you know, one of the continuing concerns of this Bureau has been with the implementation of the Departmentʼs controls on the travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba. The Under Secretary spoke to me a short time ago on the general subject of travel controls.2 He said that although he agreed with the position we had taken in several recent instances, such as the Cheddi Jagan case, he thought that possibly ARAʼs position on travel to Cuba was unnecessarily severe.

With this in mind, I thought it might be appropriate to outline to you our problems and views on this subject.

Our Current Practice on Cuban Travel:

Restrictions exist on the travel of American citizens to North Viet-Nam, North Korea and Communist China, as well as to Cuba. Under the current implementing rules (Tab A),3 exceptions to these restrictions relate to such categories as professional journalists, medical and public health specialists, and graduate scholars needing to do research in Cuba connected with their specialties. Other cases—including those involving humanitarian factors—are considered on a discretionary basis.

Journalists and scholars, of course, constitute the bulk of applications for waivers to our travel restrictions. As I understand it, SCAʼs position is that journalists, for example, constitute a mandatory exception, but it is supposed to be necessary for applicants to show (1) that they are established journalists who earn the greater part of their living through this profession and (2) that they are going to Cuba only [Page 745] for reporting purposes. In determining the application of these two factors to each case, SCA normally requests the views of our Coordinator of Cuban Affairs (ARA/CCA). Until recently, if that office interposed strong objections to an application, SCA either accepted these objections or deferred a final decision on the validation of the applicantʼs passport until CCA had had an opportunity to present its views in detail.

The celebration of Cubaʼs National Day on July 26 this year and the LASO (Latin American Solidarity Organization) conference which began on July 31 resulted in a flood of applications for journalist travel to Cuba. Our present concern over the handling of those applications arose when it became clear that ARAʼs role, as outlined above, was being seriously eroded to the point where, in a number of the most doubtful cases, passports were validated despite the fact that CCA had raised strong objections, in some cases without informing CCA of the action taken. I have attached (Tab B)4 a summary of several case examples.

ARAʼs View on Cuban Travel:

Our concern with the present way in which these applications are being handled does not stem from any innate desire on the part of this Bureau to be simply “hard-nosed”. As a general rule, I personally believe that “the truth will out” and that any increase in the flow of information or opinions eventually will work to our advantage. However, I hardly need point out that the way in which we carry out the various aspects of our policy toward Cuba directly affects our relations with other Latin American countries. The application of our own restrictions on travel to Cuba is no exception to this rule.

It is part of our basic policy, and that of the OAS, to isolate Cuba, not only to cut down the movement of subversives, but also for political, economic and psychological reasons. This policy was reiterated strongly by the OAS Foreign Ministers at their meeting in Washington September 22–24, 1967. In connection with the recent LASO conferences, we made strenuous efforts to encourage Latin American governments to inhibit travel to that meeting. As a result, even Mexico, which has never broken relations with Cuba, cooperated with us with surprising effectiveness.

However, because of our leadership in the area of Hemispheric policy toward Cuba, the Latin Americans continually search for, and are quick to point out, any inconsistency, real or imagined, in our words and deeds. We are constantly enjoined by them to “practice what we preach”. The presence of so many U.S. enthusiasts for the Castro regime [Page 746] who have been authorized by the Department to travel to Cuba inevitably raises questions in the minds of other Latin American governments.

All of this does not, of course, argue for no travel to Cuba. But it does I hope point up the fact that this Bureau has a central responsibility in determining the scope of our waiver policy; that our interest stems not simply from the fact that Cuba is within the geographic zone of this Bureau but more importantly, that U.S. actions on the matter of Cuban travel affect ARAʼs responsibilities elsewhere in Latin America.

I do not intend that we in ARA become simply “no sayers”. But at the same time we must put forward our views when the situation warrants and, to do this, we need to be certain that full consideration will be given to them. I regret to say that as the system of considering applications for waivers now operates, we do not believe our views are being given the consideration due them.

I have seen enough of human institutions to know that a policy is sometimes changed without admitting it, by lowering the intensity of its administration. On the whole I think this is a poor way to make foreign policy. If a change in our policy on travel to Cuba is desired, then the Department ought to face up to that possibility, instead of fudging on operations under existing policy.


Cuba has announced that early next year it will host a conference of “artists, scholars and writers” and that a conference of journalists is scheduled for July 1968. I can assure you now that we intend to cooperate as fully as possible with all interested offices to make certain that within existing USG policies toward Cuba, our travel regulations are applied in such a way as to serve our own best interests. At the same time, I hope that we can look forward to an improvement in the present method of reviewing applications for waivers in order to ensure that ARAʼs views on each case are taken into account.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/CCA Files: Lot 73 D 191, Misc. Correspondence, FitzGerald, Oct–Dec 1967. Confidential. Drafted by FitzGerald (ARA/CCA) and Oliver.
  2. No record of this conversation has been found.
  3. Attached but not printed, Tab A, the Department of Stateʼs July 11, 1966, Press Release No. 163, restated the Departmentʼs guidelines relating to travel ban exceptions, added a new category of applicants, and restated the main criteria that such travel “be in the national interest of the United States.”
  4. Attached but not printed.