272. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Release of Captain Villa

You will recall the case of Captain Villa who was captured by the Cubans when they seized the Johnny Express in December 1971. You met Mrs. Villa and one of their daughters at Key Biscayne just after the seizure and promised to do all you could to secure the Captain’s release.

We have been working on this through a variety of channels. Two weeks ago, William Jorden, my assistant for Latin American Affairs, discussed the matter in detail with Panama’s General Torrijos. The General promised to send a trusted aide to Cuba to argue with Fidel and get Villa out of jail.

We were informed by phone last night that the Torrijos’s assistant had gone to Cuba and had returned to Panama with Captain Villa. This has been confirmed by CIA. We are informed that Villa is in good health.

We do not yet know whether Villa can be returned to the United States immediately, or if the Cubans have insisted on some kind of token confinement for a short time in Panama. We are following this up.

But the main point is that Captain Villa is now out of Cuban hands and will soon be joining his family. I thought you would want to know.

  1. Summary: Kissinger informed President Nixon that Cuba had released the U.S. captain of the Johnny Express, a merchant ship seized in December 1971 after the vessel had allegedly been involved in attacks on the Cuban coast.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files, Box 781, Latin America, Cuba, Vol. IV, 1972. Secret. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” At the bottom of the document, Nixon wrote, “K[issinger:] (1) Inform his family (through [Nixon’s friend Charles “Bebe”] Rebozo), (2) Agree to ‘token’ confinement in Panama, (3) If he is released be sure we handle it in way that I meet his family again & point up our follow through.” In a March 5 memorandum, Scowcroft informed Jorden of Nixon’s notations on the memorandum and asked Jorden to monitor the case. (Ibid.) In a March 5 memorandum to Kissinger, Jorden noted that Villa would be required to remain confined in Panama “for a reasonable time” but that his detention there would be “the equivalent of house arrest.” (Ibid.)