4. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Todman) to Secretary of State Vance1

Your Meeting with Cuban Community Leaders Friday, February 25, 3:00 PM


  • US

    • The Secretary
  • Cuban Community

    • Dr. Carlos Prio Socarras Ex-President of Cuba PHONETIC: PREE-oh ADDRESSED: Dr. Prio
    • Mr. Erneldo Oliva, Deputy Commander Bay of Pigs
    • Mr. Alfredo Duran, Chairman Democratic Party Florida
    • Mr. Manuel Reboso, Commissioner City of Miami
    • Mr. Alberto Cardenas, President Ford’s Latin campaign manager in Florida
    • Mr. Manuel Arques, President Miami Cuban Chamber of Commerce

Photographers will be present briefly at the beginning of the meeting.


Welcome—Dr. Prio because of his past position and others because of importance in contemporary life of Cuban community.

Style—we will approach bilateral talks with Cuba cautiously and as adversary.

Human Rights—top objective will be to bring about greater family visits and release of political prisoners.


The Cuban exile community accepts normalization of relations with Cuba as inevitable. But it will be a traumatic moment for most. The visitors will be polite, apt to jump to far-reaching conclusions, and will express [Page 7] gratitude toward the US, but grave reservations about any dialogue with Castro. The group is far from homogeneous. Dr. Prio is the most senior and may grand-stand. His son-in-law, Alfredo Duran, will smooth things. Our objective is to calm the emotions of the Cuban community, solicit their cooperation, advice, and help. The fact that you are meeting with them about policy before it is implemented is unprecedented. This is your main advantage in what could prove to be a difficult encounter. You should stress the benefits of normalization to the community: the only way to bring about increased family visits and the only hope of freeing political prisoners.


Half of the middle class of Cuba moved to the US during the 1960’s. Whole families or individuals got away in the early part of the decade, including a good portion of Cuba’s managerial and professional elite. Many remained in Cuba for patriotic or private reasons. There are few Cuban families in the US which do not have respected and loved close relatives in Cuba. The massive 1968–73 airlift, financed by the US, brought over almost 300,000 Cubans. Towards the end these were mainly the old and infirm; from the outset, the airlift excluded males of military age.

The attitude toward normalization among 650,000 odd Cuban community in the US ranges from outright hostility by the elderly, to a 50–50 split among those under 30 years favoring or opposing. The Cuban community is distinguished for being hard-working and law abiding. But on the fringe there is a political tradition of violence and extortion, sometimes mixed with organized crime. This fringe has produced a string of terrorist acts in the name of a continuing struggle to overthrow Castro.

It is probable that immediately following the meeting and after they return home, the Cuban leaders will stress to the press how they warned you of the dangers of negotiating with Fidel and try to disassociate themselves from any appearance of endorsing a possible US dialogue with Cuba. But they will be grateful for the courtesy of having been consulted. Their pride and responsibility, especially among the Democrats, will have been engaged.

Both the Cuban community here and the Cubans in Havana will regard your Friday meeting as the opening shot in starting bilateral contact with Cuba.

All of the Cuban leaders have agreed to attend your meeting except Andres Rivero Agüero, President-elect of Cuba in 1959 who never took office. He was one of Batista’s proteges. The Cubans have agreed not to leak the meeting to the press. We doubt this is possible.

We shall be sending up separate contingency press guidance.

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1. Normalization

Cuban Exile Position: Castro has attached himself umbilically with Moscow. He is surrounded by those who have been trained in Russia or who are emotionally attached to Russia and world revolution. Fidel Castro may have a streak of Cuban nationalism in him, but this is balanced by undying hatred of the US.

U.S. Position—Your Talking Points

—For the past 18 years, government-to-government relations have been hostile; friendship between the peoples is unchanged.

—Castro cannot be overthrown except by military force and the US public will not support this.

—Cuba has exchanged its close relationship with the US for dependence on the USSR; we can only reverse this historical trend if we offer Castro an alternative.

—The process of normalization will be difficult and slow; no firm US decisions have been taken.

2. Cuban Political Prisoners

Cuban Exile Position: The release of other political prisoners should be a precondition to any resumption of relations.

U.S. Position—Your Talking Points

—Release of Matos and other political prisoners is a realistic prospect only if the process of normalization gets under way, and as a unilateral gesture by Castro.

—If we insist on release of political prisoners as a precondition, the negotiations will never get started and prisoners like Matos will end their lives in jail.

3. Reunification of Cuban Families

Cuban Exile Position: Castro will be slow and parsimonious about permitting family visits. But most Cubans want to revisit their homeland, and liberality by Castro on this issue would be significant.

U.S. Position—Your Talking Points

—The division of Cuban families is the greatest human tragedy of the hostile US-Cuban relationship.

—We can only correct this injustice by reestablishing a new relationship with Cuba.

—Castro is unlikely to permit visits by those who are outspokenly against his rule, or who have participated in organizations dedicated [Page 9] to his overthrow, but he probably will permit visits both ways for Cuban families if US-Cuban bilateral relations stabilize.

4. Fisheries

Cuban Exile Position: The US can simply arrest violators of our fishery laws. However, Cuban exiles recognize the constraints of international law and are prepared to accept the need of direct US-Cuban discussions.

U.S. Position—Your Talking Points

—We have to talk about fisheries issues immediately under our international law obligations.

5. Hijacking Agreement

Cuban Exile Position: It was airport security measures, and not the 1973 Agreement with Castro, which cutdown hijackings. However, the exiles are prepared to accept direct US-Cuban discussions.

U.S. Position—Your Talking Points

—The expiration of the 1973 Hijacking Agreement between Cuba and the US also concerns us. We need to discuss it with the Cubans soon.2

6. Style

Cuban Exile Position: Kissinger was devious. There should be no repetition of the backstairs diplomacy that Kissinger conducted with Castro.3 The Cuban Community should be kept authoritatively and accurately informed of all significant developments.

U.S. Position—Your Talking Points

—We plan to be tough in the negotiations, to treat the Cubans as adversaries.

—We will give away nothing of legitimate concern to the Cuban Community.

—The Cuban Community in the US will be consulted and their advice sought regularly.

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7. Terrorism

Cuban Exile Positions: In dealing with Castro ends justify the means. Is terrorism worse than what Castro inflicts on Angola and his threats to Latin America? However, Cuban exiles agree in principle that terrorism is morally wrong and will discourage it.

U.S. Position—Your Talking Points

—Terrorism against Cuba has become a serious foreign policy problem in the past few years.

—Such activity must end. It is alien to our political tradition and will not be tolerated.

—The FBI has been asked to increase its efforts to stamp out this scourge.

8. Further Collaboration

Cuban Exile Position: Would welcome as close and frequent consultations as possible.

U.S. Position—Your Talking Points

—The State Department would like to keep in touch individually or collectively with those present about the evolution of US-Cuban relations.

—We want their support and understanding.

—Agree to further meetings, perhaps at a lower level.

—In return we expect a realistic, hard, and honest representation of our position to the Cuban Community.4

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840116–1687. Confidential; Nodis. Drafted by Gleysteen, Keane, and Jacobini. Luers initialed for Todman. Sent through Habib. Vance initialed “CV” at the bottom of the page. Biographic sketches of the Cuban community leaders are attached but not printed.
  2. See Document 1.
  3. Kissinger initially pursued a policy of normalization with Cuba without keeping the exile community informed. When the embargo against Cuba was eased in 1975, the Department reported that some exiles characterized the move as “a betrayal of not only their cause but the cause of freedom in general.” (Telegram Tosec 100210/203733 to Kissinger, August 27, 1975; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750296–0480)
  4. No record of the meeting has been found. According to press reports, the exiles declared “they were unanimously opposed to any United States negotiations with the Cuban government of Fidel Castro.” (David Binder, “Exiles Tell Vance They Are Opposed to Any U.S.-Cuban Parley,” The New York Times, February 26, p. 3)