22. Memorandum From Senator Frank Church to
President Carter1


  • Visit to Cuba

President Castro asked me to pass on to you the following messages:2

1. He understands that the process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States has to be slow and that “a spectacu[Page 57]lar thing can’t be done over night.” He expects to continue to work in the direction of normalization.3

2. He recognizes that the Panama Canal problem is of number one priority to President Carter in this part of the world and that the President “can’t do both at once.”

3. He is pleased at what the President has done so far.

4. He said that it is difficult for Cuba to find ways to show its own good faith. For example, he said Cuba has no surveillance plane operations that it can stop in response to President Carter’s actions. If the embargo were lifted, they could not respond because they have never imposed an embargo on the United States. He hopes the President will realize his difficulty in responding to gestures from the United States.

5. He repeatedly said that the number one world problem, as he saw it, was furthering detente between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He said that he has never been asked by the Soviets to talk to others about such problems but feels it very important to try to convey the Soviet view of such problems.

6. Castro wanted you to know that Cuban involvement in Africa had no anti-American purpose and that he preferred to send doctors, not troops. He views the purpose of the Cubans there as giving stability to the government of Angola. They sent forces in after Angola had been invaded by South African forces. He cannot believe that South Africa, which has always been so cautious on such matters, would have sent forces without the complicity of Kissinger.4 He suspects the French want to get control of the Gulf oil facilities. He implied that once the French threat has been removed from the area5 and Namibia has achieved its independence thus removing another threat of involvement by South Africa, that would then permit the withdrawal of all Cuban forces. He believes his purpose is not inconsistent with the objectives in Africa of the Carter Administration.

He stressed that the Soviets had not sought Cuban intervention in Africa and Cuba was in no way acting as a proxy for the Russians.

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7. On terrorism, he said that he felt that President Carter was a religious and moral man of good will and thought that he was doing what he could to bring about an end to terrorist activities. He appreciated being informed of possible terrorist activities when the U.S. learned about them and felt that such cooperation was in the interest of both countries.

Recommendations for Action:

1. Look for opportunities to further cultural, sports, educational and scientific exchanges with Cuba. There are many mutual interests that could be pursued through such exchanges.

2. Allow a Cuban press office to be established in the U.S. (Prensa Latina) in exchange for the opening of U.S. press offices in Cuba.

3. Relax the restriction on financial transactions with Cuba. For example, a tourist cannot now pay for his hotel bill in Havana with a U.S. check since Cuba cannot cash the check.

4. Consider the possibility of meeting with Castro at the United Nations General Assembly meeting this fall.

5. Expand anti-terrorist activities.

6. Look for ways to cooperate on controlling the international drug traffic.

7. Explore ways to ease the embargo on trade.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, 1977–1981, Box 184, PRC 029 Cuba, 8/3/1977. No classification marking. Carter initialed the first page and wrote in the upper right corner, “cc Cy, Zbig.” A cover page contains a note to Church suggesting that his public account of Castro’s position on the political prisoners was too inflexible. Church was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  2. Senator Church visited Cuba from August 8 to August 11 to discuss U.S.-Cuban relations with Fidel Castro. A full account of Church and Castro’s meeting is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country, Box 11, Cuba, 8–9/77.
  3. On August 11, during Senator Church’s visit, Castro announced that some U.S. citizens could leave Cuba accompanied by their Cuban wives and children, thus fulfilling a U.S. human rights objective outlined in Document 19. (Memorandum from Church to Brzezinski, August 16; Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, 1977–1981, Box 184, PRC 029 Cuba, 8/3/1977) See also Jon Nordheimer, “Cuba Agrees To Let 84 Americans Leave With Their Families,” The New York Times, August 12, p. 15)
  4. South African forces covertly intervened in the Angolan Civil War in 1975 in an exercise known as Operation Savannah; Cuban officials had cited the incident as a reason for their subsequent decision to also intervene in Angola.
  5. France supported separatists from the Angolan Province of Cabinda during the Angolan Civil War.