President Eisenhower and U.S. Covert Plan Against Cuba

The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published two important and largely declassified documents relating to the initial U.S. (Eisenhower Administration) response in 1959-60  to the Cuban Revolution. Here are summaries of those documents.

“A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime”[1]      .

The author of this document, dated March 16, 1960, was the 5412 Committee, which was “the name given to the group assigned responsibility for the planning and conduct of covert operations” and whose “working methods and the people who compose it should be protected.” After its name apparently was published in a 1964 book, The Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, the name was changed to an “utterly drab and innocuous” name, the 303 Committee, without altering its “composition, function or responsibility.”[2]

The “Objective” of this proposed covert program was “to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention. Essentially the method of accomplishing this end will be to induce, support, and so far as possible direct action, both inside and outside of Cuba, by selected groups of Cubans of a sort that they might be expected to and could undertake on their own initiative.”

This proposed program to be undertaken by the CIA had the following four “major courses of action:”

  • The “creation of a responsible, appealing and unified Cuban opposition to the Castroregime, publicly declared as such and therefore necessarily located outside of Cuba.”
  • “So that the opposition may be heard and Castro’s basis of popular support undermined, it is necessary to develop the means for mass communication to the Cuban people so that a powerful propaganda offensive can be initiated in the name of the declared opposition. The major [proposed] tool . . . is a long and short wave gray broadcasting facility. . . “ [3]
  • “Work is already in progress in the creation of a covert intelligence and action organization within Cuba which will be responsive to the orders and directions of the ‘exile’ opposition.”
  • ”Preparations have already been made for the development of an adequate paramilitary force outside of Cuba, together with mechanisms for the necessary logistic support of covert military operations on the Island. . . . [This force will] be available for immediate deployment into Cuba to organize, train and lead resistance forces recruited there both before and after the establishment of one or more active centers of resistance. . . . [A] limited air capability for resupply and for infiltration and exfiltration already exists under CIA”[4]

President Eisenhower’s Approval of the Program of Covert Action[5]

CIA Director Allen Dulles presented a summary of the above Plan for Covert Action at a White House meeting on March 17, 1960.

In response, President Eisenhower said, “he knows of no better plan for dealing with this situation. The great problem is leakage and breach of security. Everyone must be prepared to swear that he has not heard of it. He said we should limit American contacts with the groups involved to two or three people, getting Cubans to do most of what must be done.  . . . [The President] understood that the effort will be to undermine Castro’s position and prestige.”

The President  “told Mr. Dulles . . . [to] go ahead with the plan and the operations.” The President, however, added, “that, as he saw it, Castro the Revolutionary had gained great prestige in Latin America. Castro the Politician running the government is now losing it rapidly. However, governments elsewhere cannot oppose him too strongly since they are shaky with respect to the potentials of action by the mobs within their own countries to whom Castro’s brand of demagoguery appeals. Essentially the job is to get the OAS to support us.”

Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Anderson,  said “Castro is trying to inflame Cuban opinion and create an incident against the Americans which would touch off attacks on Americans in Cuba which might result in the death of thousands. The President stated that once . . . [the paramilitary invasion] gets started, there will be great danger to the Americans in Cuba.” Anderson added, “that if Cuba is to seize the Nicaro plant [6]  or other U.S. Government property, we could not stand on the sidelines. In response to a question by the President, it was brought out that there is no treaty on this, and that Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given.” (Emphasis added.)[7]

In addition to those already mentioned,  this meeting was attended by the following officials: Vice President Richard Nixon; Secretary of State Christian Herter; John N. Irwin, II, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; General Goodpastor, White House Staff Secretary;  Major John Eisenhower, Assistant Staff Secretary to the President (and the President’s son); Colonel J.C. King, Chief of CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division; Livingston T. Merchant, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Mr. Roy R. Rubottom, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs; Richard Bissel, CIA Deputy Director for Plans; and Gordon Gray, U.S. National Security Advisor.

Other Eisenhower Administration Documents About Cuba[8]

The above documents are contained in a collection of 629 documents published in 1991 by the State Department’s Office of the Historian. It is available online and contains the following parts:

  1. U.S. interest in the Cuban revolution, the overthrow of the Batista government, and the consolidation of power by Fidel Castro, reevaluation by the U.S. Government of the policy of shipping arms to the Batista government, January-June 1958 (Documents 1-68).
  2. Kidnapping of U.S. citizens by Cuban rebels, June-July 1958 (Documents 69-106).
  3. Continuing violence during the Cuban electoral campaign and reappraisal by the U.S. Government of its support of the Batista government (Documents 107-151).
  4. Fall of the Batista government, November-December 1958 (Documents 152-206).
  5. Fidel Castro’s assumption of power, January-April 1959 (Documents 207-272).
  6. Visit to the United States by Prime Minister Castro, April 1959 (Documents 273-305).
  7. The Cuban Government’s promulgation of an agrarian reform law, and the question of asylum for Batista, May-October 1959 (Documents 306-369).
  8. Adoption by the Department of State and the Eisenhower administration of a revised policy toward Cuba, October 1959-January 1960 (Documents 370-423).
  9. Recall of Ambassador Bonsal and formulation within the U.S. Government of a program of covert action against the Castro government, January -April 1960 (Documents 424-498).
  10. Inauguration by the U.S. Government of a policy to weaken the Cuban economy, April-July 1960 (Documents 499-548).
  11. Response by the United States and the Organization of American States to signs of increased Soviet support for the Cuban government, July-September 1960 (Documents 549-580).
  12. Consideration by the U.S. Government of possible severance of diplomatic relations with Cuba, September-December 1960 (Documents 581-629).

Conclusion

A reasonably informed student of U.S. history already would know that in the early months of the Kennedy Presidency in 1961 the U.S. supported an unsuccessful paramilitary invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) and that this operation had been planned in the later days of the Eisenhower Administration. Thus, the above documents from the earlier administration merely provide details on its planning for this invasion.  In addition, these two documents indicate that the earlier administration  was actively engaged in trying to create, on the island and elsewhere, a Cuban opposition to Castro and a covert intelligence and action organization on the island; as well as a radio propaganda program whose signals would be sent to the island. These facets also are not surprising given what we already knew about this period.

This understanding of the historical context also may partially explain the cursory treatment of these two documents in an excellent and well documented book about the U.S. and Cuba by U.S. experts on Cuba, William M. Leo Grande and Peter Kornbluh: Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2014). However, as the book’s title suggests, its focus is on negotiations between the two countries, not on what was happening that led to negotiations. In any event, here is what is what this book said about these two documents:

  • “On March 17,. . . Eisenhower signed a top secret authorization for ‘A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,’ giving the CIA the green light to begin covert paramilitary operations to roll back the Cuban revolution.” This was the same day that Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós, rejected “ a feeler” put forward by a legal advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Mario Lazo, to Cuban Treasury Minister López-Fresque that the U.S. “was prepared to work aggressively to halt that exile flights from Florida that were burning Cuban sugar cane fields . . . if the Cubans , in return, would be prepared to engage in serious talks on a broad range of issues.” (Pp. 33-34)
  • The Covert Plan of March 1960, as quoted above, called for the development of a TOP SECRET paramilitary force to invade Cuba which in fact happened in April 1961 in the early days of the John F. Kennedy Administration. The LeoGrande and Kornbluh book merely states the following: “as president-elect, [Kennedy] . . . was briefed by the CIA on Eisenhower’s covert paramilitary project to invade Cuba with an exile brigade. As president, [Kennedy] . . . ignored the entreaties of several Latin American governments that, at Cuba’s behest, tried to intercede at the last minute to broker a U.S.-Cuba dialogue before the Bay of Pigs invasion. Instead, Kennedy gave the green light, sending a CIA-led paramilitary exile force at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] on April 17, 1961, in the hope that the invaders would somehow spark a popular uprising. They didn’t, and within seventy-two hours, the brigade’s beachhead had collapsed; more than twelve hundred of them were taken prisoner.” (Pp. 42-43.)[9]

These two documents also recently were referred or alluded to by a Cuban source.[10]  However, these references were merely jumping-off places for a diatribe against the U.S. Some of these other points may be justified, but they would need to be analyzed, carefully and dispassionately. Moreover, this Cuban source ignores the progress that was made in addressing these and other issues in the two countries’ bilateral meetings in 2015-16.[11]

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[1]  Paper Prepared by the 5412 Committee (Mar. 16, 1960) (# 481).

[2] National Security Action Memorandum No. 303 (June 2, 1964).

[3] In 1983 President Ronald Reagan established Radio Marti, whose mission was to hasten the fall of Cuban President Fidel Castro and communism on the island. (Radio Marti, Wikipedia.)

[4] This is an obvious reference to the paramilitary force that invaded Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in April 1961 during the Kennedy Administration.

[5] Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, March 17, 1960, 2:30 p.m.

[6]  During WWII, the U.S. government built a nickel processing plant near Nicaro, Cuba under a U.S.-Cuba treaty that exempted the plant from Cuban taxes. The plant was closed after the war in 1947, but reopened with improvements in 1952. After the Cuban Revolution took control of the country’s government in January 1959, Cuba that same year adopted a new mining law imposing sharply increased taxes on mining and export of minerals. In protest the U.S. stopped shipments from the plant in December 1959. Thereafter Fidel and Che made frequent verbal attacks on the U.S. over the plant; and in October 1960 Cuba nationalized the plant. (Bart, Flow of Nickel from Cuba Halts, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 1959); U.S. Nickel Plant Hindered in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 25, 1960); NICARO Talks to Reopen, N.Y. Times (Aug. 2, 1960); Soviet Mission in Cuba: Group Plans Help to Reopen U.S. Nicaro Nickel Plant, N.Y.Times (Nov. 30, 1960); Veloz Placencia, Che’s passion for the nickel industry, Granma (Aug. 23, 2017).

[7] This admission by a top U.S. government official in 1960 that “Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given” should not be forgotten in the ongoing dispute over Cuban compensation for its expropriation of U.S.-owned property in Cuba and the U.S. recent steps to allow enforcement of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. It also must be remembered that Cuba over the years repeatedly has admitted  that it has such an obligation under international law, that Cuba has resolved similar claims by other countries and that in various U.S.-Cuba discussions in 2015-16 the two parties exchanged information about compensation for such properties. Finally it cannot be forgotten that Cuba does not have the financial resources to make such compensation in full.

[8] In more than 450 individual volumes the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published Foreign Relations of the United States series to offer the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity.”

[9] In a footnote LeoGrande and Kornbluh say the best account of the Bay of Pigs disaster is Peter Wyden, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1979). See also Kornbluh, Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba (National Security Archive Documents)(New York, The New Press, 1998)

[10] Escuela, Cuba denounces war on our people, Granma (May 22, 2019).

[11] See posts listed in the “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2015” and “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2016” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

 

 

Critique of John Bolton’s Consistent Advocacy of Using Aggressive Force

On April 17, as criticized in a prior post, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced in Miami additional U.S. sanctions against Cuba on the anniversary of the 1961 failed U.S. invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girõn).[1]

 

Now Dexter Filkins, an award-winning journalist, reminds us that Bolton has a deserved reputation as the  “Republican Party’s most militant foreign-policy thinker—an advocate of aggressive force who ridicules anyone who disagrees.”  Bolton also is a consistent opponent of multilateral institutions and treaties.

For example, In the George W. Bush Administration Bolton was Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs and a strong advocate for the 2001 U.S. invasion of Iraq. He re-endorsed that opinion in 2015 when he said, “I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct.”

In May 2002, still as Under-Secretary, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation he said the Cuban government was developing an ambitious biological weapons program and collaborating with Libya and Iran, all contrary to the opinion of  the State Department’s internal intelligence bureau.

Today he presumably would admit that Venezuela poses no immediate threat to the U.S., but believes it is dangerous because it was allowing Russia to gain a foothold in the region and because it has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. On the other hand, presumably he would not concede that U.S. hostile policies towards that country and Cuba were providing Russia with the opportunity to expand its influence in the region.

The Monroe Doctrine, Bolton recently admitted, is a prohibition against outside powers interceding in Latin America that does not include U.S. use of armed forces in the region. But the Roosevelt Corollary, he added, provides for that use of force, and Bolton says, “I haven’t invoked that—yet.”[2]

Given the Trump Administration’s currently not having a permanent Secretary of Defense and no Secretary of Homeland Security and Ambassador to the U.N., “Bolton would have extraordinary latitude in a crisis., and as long as Trump’s  base is applauding, then Bolton can do whatever he wants.”

Dexter Filkins, the author of this New Yorker article, has been called “the premier combat journalist of his generation” for his reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and a National Book Critics Award for his “The Forever War.”[3]

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[1] Filkins, John Bolton On the Warpath, New Yorker (May 6, 2019). See also, John Bolton’s New threat Against Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 2, 2019); U.S. National Security Advisor Announces New U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 3, 2018); Zakaria, Does a Trump doctrine on foreign policy exist? Ask John Bolton, Wash. Post (May 2, 2019) (Bolton has “a dark view of humankind” which requires the U.S. to be “aggressive, unilateral and militant;” and a “longtime fan of regime change”).

[2] State Dep’t, Office of the Historian, Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, 1904.

[3] Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker; Dexter Filkins, Wikipedia.