3. Telegram From the Department of State to Secretary of State Vance in Cairo1

36308. Tosec 020074. For the Secretary from Todman. Subject: My debriefing of Bingham on his Havana trip.2

1. I met with Representative Bingham at length on February 16 to debrief him on two meetings he had with Castro totalling 8 hours as well as with Rodriguez and other senior Cuban officials.

2. Bingham’s strongest impression, and he will pass this to the President during an appointment he has on February 22, is that Castro is personally eager to normalize relations with us, but Bingham is uncertain whether this would be fully supported by doctrinaire and militant elements of his regime. Bingham thinks now is a uniquely favorable time to move because Castro of course is very much on top. Bingham also believes congressional reaction would be as favorable as at any time, with 15–30 members strongly opposed, 15–30 members who would carry the ball for the administration, and the strong Democratic majorities in both Houses disposed to follow strong Presidential leadership.

3. Castro was adamant that the embargo had to be lifted before the 1973 Hijacking Agreement can be reinstated or before official negotiations can begin. This agreement can only be discussed in a wider framework; otherwise it would be misunderstood by Cuban public opinion. A new hijacking agreement, once the embargo is lifted, could either preceed or follow resumption of diplomatic relations.

4. In the meantime Castro wishes to discuss fisheries issues directly with us, to have sports and cultural exchanges, and to cooperate with us and perhaps Jamaica in combatting a sugar cane blight which recently appeared in Jamaica and could spread to Cuba and our southern states. Castro would not rule out secret discussions with us on the broader issues.

5. Cubans said they would welcome lifting of restrictions on travel by American citizens to Cuba. But they are incapable of handling large numbers of tourists and already have more Canadians than they can handle.

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6. On Angola, Castro stressed Cuba’s African ties and was ambivalent about Cuban future involvement in other South African countries. Cuba would be guided by its principles but also was aware the negative effect this would have on US-Cuban relations.3 He described Cuba as being between US and African pressures. Cuban troops in Angola had been cut in half (but he did not give the peak figure except to say it was higher than Kissinger’s highest public estimates).4 Cuba is rotating its troops, but there is net reduction. They will stay in Angola as long as needed because of the South African threat. Cuba has 4,000 civilian technicians in Angola and will send more.

7. Rodriguez said Cuba had 9 American CIA agents in prison. They might be released, not as a humanitarian gesture, but as a goodwill gesture in the process of larger discussions.

8. As for Cuban political prisoners this was strictly a Cuban affair. Castro harshly said Huber Matos would remain incarcerated until the last day of his term.5

9. On Guantanamo Castro merely commented that the US does not maintain bases by force anywhere else but there.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 13, Cuba, 1–4/77. Confidential; Priority; Nodis. Drafted by Gleysteen; cleared by Luers and in S/S; approved by Todman. Vance was in Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat about the Middle East peace process.
  2. Jonathan Bingham (D–NY), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was an advocate of lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
  3. On February 16, during a discussion of U.S. relations with Angola, Carter stated, “If I can be convinced that Cuba wants to remove their aggravating influence from other countries in this hemisphere, will not participate in violence in nations across the ocean, will recommit the former relationship that existed in Cuba toward human rights, then I would be willing to move toward normalizing relationships with Cuba as well.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, p. 173)
  4. In telegram 10646 to all American Republic diplomatic posts, January 15, 1976, the Department estimated that Cuba had “over 9,900” troops in Angola. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760016–1151) Documentation on the Ford administration’s reaction to the presence of Cuban troops in Angola is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–11, Part 1, Documents on Mexico; Central America; and the Caribbean, 1973–1976.
  5. Huber Matos supported the revolt against Batista, but later turned against Castro’s regime. He was released along with other political prisoners and left Cuba in October 1979. (Telegram 4467, from San Jose, September 28, 1979; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File D790448–0162)