283. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1


Cuba Policy


United States policy toward Cuba is enmeshed in the workings of the inter-American system and has broad implications for our relations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

The essence of that policy, the diplomatic and economic isolation of Cuba, is written into the sanctions adopted ten years ago by the Organization of American States (OAS) acting under the provisions of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty). The policy is also codified in a complex and thorough body of U.S. executive and legislative prohibitions.

OAS sanctions are binding treaty obligations for its member states and have constituted the foundation of our policy over the years. They are now under heavy assault.

A majority of countries has now concluded that the cost of maintaining sanctions outweighs their benefits. The range of reasons indicates that the dimensions of the “Cuba problem” are far wider than Cuba’s limited influence in the hemisphere:

—For those countries where left-wing nationalism or third-world identification is dominant (Argentina, Mexico and Peru among others) the sanctions symbolize U.S. hegemony in the hemisphere. They are pressing to dismantle the policy in order to signal a new era of more equal relations between the U.S. and Latin America. The effort to include Cuba in next March’s meeting of Foreign Ministers is part of their strategy and will be difficult to resist.

—Several former strong supporters of sanctions (including notably Colombia and Venezuela) now see the policy as a relic overtaken by détente and the fading of the Cuban threat, as well as a bar to greater Latin American unity.

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Some of the smaller nations (such as Costa Rica and Ecuador) fear that the erosion of the policy is undermining their own security which they see as linked to the integrity of the Rio Treaty. They want Cuba’s situation in the hemisphere “regularized” to preserve the treaty as a viable instrument for collective action.

—Only Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile and perhaps Brazil continue to resist any change in the status quo without pressure from the United States.

Fidel Castro still perceives Latin American rejection of United States leadership as the ultimate guarantee of his revolution. Since 1968 he has pursued that objective primarily through selective diplomacy directed at establishing state-to-state relations rather than by the promotion of continental revolution. His strategy now seeks relations and trade with “independent” governments as a means of legitimizing his revolution, while diminishing U.S. influence and weakening the OAS.

The Soviet Union has brought Castro along during these last six years to an acceptance of the necessity to institutionalize the Cuban revolution, to integrate it further into the Soviet system and to follow the Soviet lead in discarding revolutionary adventurism as a policy for Latin America. The USSR evidently hopes Cuba’s growing acceptance by other Latin American countries will help legitimize the Soviet role in Cuba and through expanded trade (particularly in Venezuelan petroleum) might relieve some of the economic burden it now carries.

From our own standpoint maintenance of the sanctions has been increasingly complicated by their effect on the third-country operations of American corporations. Our controls on trade with Cuba involving U.S. subsidiaries is regarded in a number of Latin American countries as a direct challenge to national sovereignty. Opposition to the policy has also been growing in the Congress and among opinion makers in this country.

U.S. Strategy

The U.S. has two basic interests: to limit Castro’s influence in the hemisphere and to prevent the Cuban issue from disrupting our effort to build a new and more cooperative relationship with Latin America. The policy of isolation has served the first of these well but now poses a threat in terms of the second. We have followed a dual track of protecting the policy within the OAS while seeking to separate the issue from the new dialogue. We have succeeded so far in postponing the issue and by a few careful concessions (notably licenses for automobile exports from Argentina) keeping it within the multilateral framework. Our strategy at this point is to control the timing of OAS consideration of the Cuban problem so as to be able finally to shape the process by which it is resolved.

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The Situation Now

Cuba’s isolation in the hemisphere is rapidly coming to an end. Seven countries now have full ties with Cuba (Mexico, Argentina, Peru and the English-speaking states of the Caribbean). Panama, urged on by Castro’s call to demonstrate its independence, could follow suit in the next few days or weeks. Costa Rica has been pressing for an OAS committee of inquiry to establish whether a basis still exists for sanctions. Colombia and Venezuela are insisting on OAS action this year. We have reached tentative agreement with the last three countries to hold off any substantive OAS action until late in the year, but with Panama’s defection could well be forced to accept a committee of inquiry at an earlier date.

We can probably no longer prevent some kind of OAS action to modify or lift the sanctions. When the OAS meeting on Cuba is convoked we will be faced with a majority against continuance of the sanctions. It may be possible to keep together a blocking third to prevent formal lifting of the sanctions under the treaty, but the registration of majority sentiment would make the sanctions unsustainable as an OAS obligation. The OAS itself as an organization has neither mandate nor machinery to enforce the sanctions.

Issues and Choices

In developing a strategy to deal with the Cuban issue as it is evolving we keep in mind that the procedural choices we make now within the OAS will go a long way toward determining how much influence we ultimately have on the outcome. The options in the OAS context are roughly as follows:

To try to maintain the sanctions in the formal sense by insisting that a two-thirds vote is required to lift them. We might possibly succeed with the juridical argument and could probably put together a blocking third. This course would continue to offer some justification for maintaining our current policy. The cost would be very high in terms of the OAS as an institution, of the new dialogue and even perhaps of our bilateral relations with Venezuela and Colombia among others. We would probably be forced in any case to relax trade controls as they apply to U.S. subsidiaries in third countries.

To structure a form of optional sanctions in which each member state would decide whether to continue its own sanctions. This would meet the minimal requirements of Mexico, Peru and the other “progressives.” It would also maintain a possible residual bargaining chip for later use with Castro in the bilateral context. Unless we modified our own sanctions as they apply to third parties, however, we would still face mounting conflicts. In addition, optional sanctions would give Castro a free hand to pick and choose among the Latin American states—to [Page 763] pursue his objective of a Latin American bloc outside the inter-American system. This course would leave the U.S. with little influence over how Castro fitted himself into the Latin American scene.

To acquiesce in lifting the sanctions entirely. This response would terminate the issue in all its hemispheric manifestations and reduce Castro’s leverage somewhat. It would also end his isolation and, in time, unravel the legislative and administrative controls we have imposed to that purpose—controls which continue to hurt the Cuban economy badly.

In some measure the choice we make among these alternatives depends on our calculation of the possibility for an eventually acceptable bilateral arrangement with Cuba. The intelligence reporting indicates that Castro hopes for a rapprochement with the United States that would at least give him access to spare parts and other supplies from this country. His regime is now sufficiently self-confident to contemplate a reconciliation on a businesslike basis. However, we would foresee no substantial Cuban concessions, political or otherwise.

Next Steps

We will want to examine in depth over the coming month the implications of these choices and prepare a new strategy in the light of recent developments both in Latin America and the United States. An important step in the process will be the Secretary’s consultations with the Brazilian Foreign Minister at the UNGA with whom we are committed to keep in touch on this issue. In the shorter term if our agreement to hold off until toward the end of the year comes unstuck we must be prepared to deal with the Costa Rican proposal for a Committee of Inquiry. That device does have the attraction of permitting a delay in addressing the substantive issue for several months while we develop our strategy.

  1. Summary: The Department prepared background material on Cuba policy for use in briefing President Ford on foreign affairs.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Latin America, 1974–1977, Box 2, Latin America—General 1. Secret; Nodis. Sent to Scowcroft under an August 15 covering memorandum signed by Barbian for Gammon. Additional Department of State and Department of Defense briefing material on Cuba policy was sent to Low under an August 17 covering memorandum from Davis. (Ibid., Latin American Affairs Staff Files, Box 11, President Ford—Briefings, August–September 1974)