The Ambassador in Cuba ( Messersmith ) to the Under Secretary of State ( Welles )

Dear Sumner: You will recall that while I was home recently, I brought to the attention of the Department orally the interest which the Cuban Government, through Dr. Cortina,2 had expressed to me in establishing some closer relationship with the United States in matters of defense. This took the concrete form of indicating that the Cuban Government would be prepared to receive a military mission from the United States composed of three high-ranking officers, and the natural assumption is that one of these should be from the Army, one from the Navy, and the third man one more particularly interested in aviation. The other concrete idea advanced was that Cuba was prepared to enter into a complete arrangement for defense between the United States and Cuba which could take the form of a military alliance.

So far as the military mission is concerned, you said that you felt that our Government would be prepared to send such a mission whenever the Cuban Government asked for it. The President,3 Dr. Cortina, and I have been so occupied in our conversations since my return over matters connected with the financing that, I am glad to say, this question of the military mission and the military alliance have not been raised. I feel that the military mission and the military alliance are in some respects bound up with each other, although not absolutely so. I can see that we could send a military mission here at the request of the Cubans without necessarily the matter of a military alliance being under discussion.

On the other hand, I am not sufficiently clear as to what such a mission could do, or what the Cubans would expect it to do, to feel that I am able to talk about the matter with that precision which I [Page 98] should be able to use when the Cubans approach me again. I think the only attitude I can take when this comes up is to say we are in principle prepared to send such a mission if the Cubans desire it, but that it might be well to explore, before the Cubans make a formal request, what the mission would do and what the Cubans have in mind. It would be well for this purpose, too, for me to know what our own Army and Navy have in mind as to what the mission could do.

I am sure that what the Cuban Government had in mind in raising this question of a mission was that they felt that the psychological effect in Cuba would be good, and that it would be responsive to Cuban public opinion, and give Cuba the feeling that she was beginning to participate in defense matters—in other words I think that what they had in mind was the psychological effect in Cuba and the satisfaction which would be felt here over the presence of a military mission. I do not believe, however, that they have thought this thing through and it might be undesirable to have a mission here with all the attendant publicity without it being clear that there is something for these men to do, and something that they can do.

When the President or Dr. Cortina raise the matter of the mission with me, I will endeavor to explore their ideas further. If in the meantime, and without much delay, our own people at home could give me an idea, through the Department, as to what in their opinion such a mission could do. It would be very helpful to me here.

With respect to the military alliance, I find myself in a still more difficult position to discuss this adequately with the President and with Dr. Cortina if they raise the question again—which they have not done since my return. There is no question but what the Government of Cuba, from the President down, and the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people, feel that their interests in the present struggle going on in the world are identic with ours. It is interesting that there is such general comprehension of the situation throughout the whole Island and among all classes. It may safely be said that outside of the Communist group, and outside of the more ignorant part of the Spanish element in Cuba, there is almost complete understanding of the international problem and its implications for us and Cuba. A good part of the Spanish group, in spite of the sentimental attachment to Spain, realizes that a German victory in Europe would be to their disadvantage—even though this Hemisphere for the present were not attacked. There is a desire on the part of the Cubans to do something and to feel that they are doing something. The Government knows that its whole future is bound up with us, and, even those in the Government who may not love us very much, are for such a military alliance. In other words, the idea of a military alliance with the United States is popular and there are the beginnings of a popular demand here for it.

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The question of a military mission, as far as I know, has only been raised in this informal way by the Cuban Government with us. The question of a military alliance, however, is one which is being raised increasingly in the press, in patriotic organizations throughout the Island and increasingly discussed by thoughtful Cubans. In the Senate and in the House of Representatives there is much discussion of this and a bill has been presented, or is about to be presented in the Congress, authorizing the Government to enter into such a military alliance. I am convinced that this initiative does not come from the Government. In other words I am sure that the President and his Cabinet are not stimulating or initiating in any way such legislation at this time. I do not believe that they have even encouraged the discussion of a military alliance in the Congress. The President and Cortina and Saladrigas4 and others realize that this is a matter first for discussion between the two Governments.…

When I raised this question at home, you indicated to me that it would be desirable for the present to try to keep this matter of a military alliance in the background, and I gathered that there were reasons of general policy for this. Unfortunately we were not able to discuss this because of the pressures at the moment, and I was not able to learn what some of these reasons of general policy might be. I have given this matter very careful thought and I can appreciate, without knowing them, that there may be such considerations of general policy which may make undesirable our entering into a military alliance with Cuba at this moment. Fortunately I have not been required to discuss this matter further with the Cubans since my return, but it is a matter which is bound to come up very shortly. I feel myself unable to adequately handle the situation on the basis of the information I have.

The situation is that the Cuban Government is prepared to enter into a far-reaching military alliance with us for an indefinite period. The Cuban people undoubtedly would wholeheartedly be behind such an alliance and would welcome it. Popular opinion, which may find its expression in an act of the Cuban Congress shortly, is making itself felt. Under these circumstances, for us to discourage the Cubans is exceedingly difficult, for it may give rise to all sorts of unfortunate misunderstandings in the Cuban Government and among the Cuban people. We are approaching the position where something very important is being offered to us on a platter and where our refusal or discouragement may be most unfortunate.

I think we must keep in mind that what the Cubans seem to be prepared to offer us now is something which a few months hence we may be asking for. For us to be in the position of having refused now, or [Page 100] having shown lack of interest in, would of course not be good nor helpful. As a matter of fact, while I am not familiar with what we may have in mind in connection with this matter, I am wondering whether we must not be prepared to go ahead in spite of what these considerations may be.

What I have thought it important the Department should know, is that this question of a military alliance is something in which popular opinion and opinion in the Cuban Congress has gone even farther and has expressed itself more concretely than has the Cuban Government in this altogether informal exploratory approach it has made with us.

It is obvious that the pressure of popular opinion and the action of the Congress may push the Cuban Government forward in this matter even though the Government would wish to keep this in the background for the present on its own initiative, or at our desire. I think I should tell you that I see a position approaching very rapidly in which this matter will be raised rather definitely, and if it is, I think there is only one answer that we can make—and that is to go ahead with the most complete military alliance.

I should add, too, that I believe that the Cuban Government has been acting in complete good faith in this exploratory approach. Cortina is an intelligent man who has a very thorough comprehension of what is going on in the world. He has increasingly the ear and the confidence of the President who places great value on his counsel. It is therefore interesting that Cortina has approached this question of a military alliance with the idea that it is all the more desirable that such an alliance be completed between the United States and Cuba as soon as possible, as it will not only consolidate a situation which must exist in the interests of the two countries, but that between Cuba and the United States it will be possible to make an alliance or arrangement of so broad and definite a character that it will serve as a model for similar arrangements which we may make with others of the American Republics. In other words, he sincerely believes, in my opinion, that by entering into such an alliance Cuba is not only doing the proper thing so far as Cuba and the United States is concerned, but that she is playing a helpful role in promoting the defense arrangements in the Americas and helping us in the great task before us. I know that Cortina has acquired a great deal of authority with his colleagues and his views, therefore, in this particular matter carry great weight.

We have therefore a situation with respect to these matters of cooperation and defense which could not be better. I think you will agree that we must not cast away any opportunity now which we may be seeking later, and will have made our task more difficult by the discouraging attitude which we have taken. This matter is giving me a good deal of preoccupation for I see the time coming when [Page 101] such an alliance will be of vital importance to us, unless we should simply wish to occupy Cuba. You have a so much broader picture than I have, and I regret that I did not have an opportunity to explore this position with the Secretary and you while I was home. I have written you at this length because I believe this question is of primary importance in our whole inter-American problem, but I feel that I am lacking in adequate information to take care of this particular situation without discouraging our Cuban friends and without giving rise to misapprehensions and misunderstandings. I would be very happy if you could give me your thoughts on this matter in the very near future. Needless to say, the question of a military mission is settled as soon as we reach any decision on the question of military alliance, for if a military alliance is in prospect then a mission should come without delay.

With all good wishes,

Cordially and faithfully yours,

George S. Messersmith
  1. José Manuel Cortina, Cuban Minister of State.
  2. Fulgencio Batista.
  3. Carlos Saladrigas, Cuban Prime Minister.