24. Telegram From the Department of State to the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba1

278223. Subject: Highlights of Cuban Section Chief’s Calls at Dept.

1. Earlier in week Sanchez-Parodi informed CCA he had letter from Castro to Secretary and wished to call on Undersecretary Habib to deliver it. (Letter was simply reply to Secretary’s September communication to Castro expressing satisfaction over departure of AMCITS and families. Copy pouched to USINT).2 At same time he indicated wish to come in for chat with Asst Secretary Todman.

2. On Nov. 17 Sanchez-Parodi called on both Messrs Habib and Todman. He expressed concern to both over that morning’s New York Times and Washington Post stories quoting high-ranking U.S. officials [Page 60] as indicating that “alarming Cuban build up in Africa” meant process of normalization could go no further.3 Sanchez-Parodi asked if U.S. going back to pre-February position in which withdrawal from Angola was precondition to any U.S.-Cuban dialogue. This was puzzling, he said, since U.S. had earlier indicated it willing to negotiate with Cuba on basis of equality and without preconditions.

3. Asst. Secretary Todman emphasized that we were not returning to pre-February situation. U.S. continues to see value in dialogue. However, we have all along indicated that Cuban involvement in Africa was matter of concern to us and would be factor in pace and even possibility of normalizing relations. Recent Cuban increase in Africa cannot but affect prospects for improving relations. Talking is one thing, but actual forward progress in relations is another.

4. Undersecretary stressed that Sanchez-Parodi should report to his government how seriously U.S. views Cuban military activities in Africa. Our own position is that African problems should be solved by Africans without interference from external forces. Cubans would note, for example, that U.S. had not intervened in any way in Somali-Ethiopian conflict.

5. Sanchez-Parodi remarked that Cubans were in both Angola and Ethiopia at request of governments there. While there were small numbers of military personnel in Ethiopia, there were no combat troops in any country save Angola. He said he was puzzled by U.S. estimates of Cuban troop strength. At time when there had been many more Cuban troops in Angola than are there now, U.S. estimates had been very low—actually about half true number. Now, when there are fewer troops than at peak of deployment, U.S. estimates are very high.

6. Undersecretary indicated that in any event it was principle of outside intervention which concerned us and that certainly there were more Cubans in Angola now.

7. Sanchez-Parodi said Cuba was making no effort to hide that and in fact had announced that additional technicians will be sent during months ahead.

[Page 61]

8. Undersecretary closed conversation by saying we appreciated expeditious handling of first contingent of AMCITS in Sept. We understood USINT had asked for exit permits for second contingent and we trusted Cubans would handle as expeditiously.

9. In conversation with CCA Director Smith who escorted him out of building, Sanchez-Parodi expressed puzzlement over references in press to what being described as Cuban promises to U.S. to reduce troop strength in Angola. So far as he aware, he said, no such promises had ever been made. In 1976 letter to Swedish Prime Minister, President Castro had indicated intention to reduce and in fact reduction had begun. Conditions had changed, however, and reduction had been halted and even reversed.4 He believed Cuban officials had indicated to us Cuba’s continuing hope and intention to resume reduction “when conditions permitted,” but that, he stressed, might not be for several years. Meanwhile, he said, making it a precondition in such a public manner would not be helpful.

10. Comment: Tone of conversations was cordial and both sides referred to continuing usefulness of communicating through Interests Sections. At same time, seriousness with which USG views Cuban involvement in Africa was confirmed to Sanchez-Parodi. For his part, he predicted strong reaction in Havana. Will appreciate USINT’s reporting and interpretation that reaction.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country, Box 11, Cuba, 10-12/77. Secret; Immediate; Exdis.
  2. A copy of Vance’s letter is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 13, Cuba, 5–10/77.
  3. In a statement to the press on November 17, Hodding Carter remarked that the Cuban intervention in Africa “will have an impact on the pace and even the possibility of normalizing relations.” “In light of the military activity,” he added, “it appears we have gone as far as we can at this time.” (John M. Goshko, “Expanded Cuban Presence Decried by U.S.,” The Washington Post, November 18. p. A22) The New York Times reported that “high-ranking Administration officials” had concluded there was “no possibility of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Havana under these circumstances.” (Hedrick Smith, “U.S. Says Castro Has Transferred 60’s Policy of Intervention to Africa,” The New York Times, November 17, p. 1) Wayne Smith, Director of the Office of the Coordinator of Cuban Affairs, later asserted that the official who spoke to the Times was Brzezinski. (Smith, The Closest of Enemies, p. 123) Brzezinski, in his memoirs, stated that he had cleared his comments with President Carter. (Brzezinski, Power and Principle, p. 180)
  4. The text of Castro’s message to Palme on Angola is in telegram 2985 from Stockholm, May 25. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760203–0184)