Cover: On Dealing with Castro's Cuba

On Dealing with Castro's Cuba

Part I

Published 1965

by Albert Wohlstetter, Roberta M. Wohlstetter

The following note examined the arguments for a rapprochement with Castro in 1964 — what he wanted and what he offered then, the role played by the U.S. embargo, the political and economic crises then current in Cuba, the various unstable reasons offered by some for the stable end of rapprochement, the supposed analogy with our relations to Tito, the position of the French and British, and the prospects of fat and thin Communists in Cuba and the alternatives.

Since rapprochement with Cuba will be one alternative considered by the new administration in reassessing our foreign policy in general, it seems appropriate to reissue this early note as a D and to invite discussion on whether the situation has changed significantly since 1964, and if so, whether the change warrants a different U.S. policy. Part II will present our views on the current situation.

I. What Castro Wants

In statements in early April welcoming Senator Fulbright's acceptance of the solidity of the Cuban Communist regime, and again in early July, Castro has indicated what he wants from the United States:[1]

  1. A "normalization" of relations with the United States, including especially resumption of trade;
  2. Cessation of material aid by the United States to subversion against Cuba;
  3. A third thing Castro wants is implicit in his request for the other two: He would like it widely known that Cuba is negotiating as an equal with the United States, and with at least equal grievances. This in itself would be of very substantial value to Castro in helping to establish his legitimacy in Latin America.

II. What Castro Offers to Us

He has offered in return for (2) above to stop material support to revolutionary movements outside of Cuba, and for (1) a number of measures:

  1. To release 90 per cent of the "something under 15,000 political prisoners" either into Cuba or abroad;
  2. To try to settle "peacefully" the matter of U-2 flights over Cuba;
  3. To discuss indemnification of American property seized after the revolution, but only after trade has returned to normal between Cuba and the United States.

With respect to I-3 above (negotiations as an equal), Castro indicated also that he expects formal initiation of discussion, whether public or private, should come from the United States. In return for the process of negotiation itself and the status it confers, it is extremely doubtful that he would in fact give us anything more than a few extremely long speeches on coexistence and the promise of a return to constitutional, possibly even democratic, forms in some distant future. As a regular consumer of Castro's long speeches, one of the authors of this note can state unequivocally that they wouldn't be worth it for us.

III. Does the Offer Still Stand?

Probably. Such as it is. The fact that the offer isn't very much is one reason for believing it is still available. Other indications range from the quiet removal on January first of the large spotlighted sign in Havana's main plaza listing the five demands on the United States Castro formulated during the missile crisis to the fact that Guevara mentioned but didn't stress the U-2 over-flights when he appeared at the UN in December, and in fact made no specific demands that we stop the U-2 flights. Guevara's behavior is both an indication of the availability of the offer and the realistic limits as to what we can expect from the offer.

Guevara is a key figure in the Cuban leadership, its principal ideologist, with no power base independent of the Maximum Lider, but with enormous influence on him. Frequently, for example in his interview with Lisa Howard, he has said that all Cuba wants from us is that we leave it alone. On such occasions he suggests that the embargo is less trouble for the Cuban economy than it is for the United States' relations with its allies. He welcomed Senator Fulbright's speech on old myths and new realities, not for its suggestions in the form in which it was presented to the Senate of the possibilities of rapprochement, but because the Senator seemed to take Castro's Cuba as the new reality; in Guevara's terms, a permanent reality, here to stay. More recently in his early December appearance in the United States, Guevara allowed during a CBS TV program that Cuba would find trade with the United States economically sensible. However, he made quite clear that Cuba's softening consisted entirely in its willingness to accept U.S. concessions. The initiative would have to come from the United States, with no strings; and no concessions from Cuba. Anyone who has seriously studied Guevara's own utterances on the subject of the United States will understand that this is near the outer limits of what Guevara could in conscience recommend in the way of softening. As recently as November 30 at the opening of the new industrial complex at Santiago, Guevara made his basic estimate of us plain once more. We are "beasts," "hyenas," and for us "there can be nothing else but hate; there can be no other thing than extermination."

So far as serious ideology is concerned for the Cuban Communist regime, Guevara's statements are a more reliable guide than any single expression by Castro. Castro's statements are from time to time more guileful and opportunistic, but on the whole fluctuate wildly around the stable position stated in more steadily blunt terms by Ché. Castro's interview with Barnard Collier, reported in the New York Herald Tribune on August 18, 1964, read carefully, suggests the difference in manner, but identity in substance. Normalization of relations? "That depends on the U.S. government." Indemnification? That depends on the "attitude" of the U.S. government and the companies. "It is certainly not against our principles to speak of indemnification. But you know...," he grinned broadly, " could be very convenient for us not to pay. I think relations must improve first."

Castro's latest pronouncement of January 2, 1965: "From the imperialists we do not want even water. It is necessary to say that even if they offer us aid we shall say 'no' and if they offer us the most disinterested aid we will tell them 'no,' because we do not believe them." Any idea of a break with the Communist powers as a pre-requisite for negotiations between the United States and Cuba he characterized as "shameless, immoral, and improper." His earlier suggestion for indemnification of U.S. property was merely "symbolic."

This may sound like a shift, a withdrawal of something he had offered, perhaps as a result of our lack of interest. However, none of Castro's statements should ever be taken as firm. Such as the offer was, it could no doubt be revived. In fact, he has advanced and withdrawn several times since April 1964. That still leaves open the question whether he is offering anything we want.

IV. Does the United States Want What Castro Offers?

II-a. The release of 15,000 political prisoners into Cuba has much to recommend it from our point of view. First, as a humane act, second, as a possible step toward the formation of an opposition to Castro. On the latter point, however, Castro would have this in mind, and presumably would not merely choose carefully the ten per cent not to be released, but would not be likely to release the remainder unless it were safe for him to do so. Sending them abroad would also be a humane act, but aside from swelling somewhat the already large Cuban exile movement, would be perhaps less valuable for the future of the Cuban opposition to Castro.

II-b. On the U-2, it is not clear what Castro means, but since he is referring to a "diplomatic" settlement, it is extremely unlikely that he means a public agreement whereby we would be permitted to continue flying the U-1. Such an explicit agreement would be an acknowledgment to the world of the limitation in his sovereignty and totally out of character for Castro. On the other hand, an agreement made in private, that was not announced to the world, would offer no deterrent to his decision to shoot down our aircraft at any time in the future. Since he is not shooting now, such a private agreement would not change matters at all.

II-c. On "normalization:" Discussing indemnification after trade, including trade in sugar, has returned to "normal" might put the discussion off indefinitely. "Normal," of course, does not refer to pre-Castro norms. The relevant part of the U.S. pattern of production and imports has changed drastically since we cut off the import subsidies to Cuba, and in this sense, a return to "normal" seems unlikely.

Castro's revolution has been conducted on the basis of amateurish economics from the start, and realism is not likely now. Before and for a couple of years after taking power, Castro and Guevara were under the impression that the Cuban supply of sugar was an essential for the United States (the "diabetic monster" in Sartre's phrase), that the import subsidy by the United States to Cuba was of benefit primarily to the United States and that therefore its termination would free Cuba from economic slavery and cause great difficulties for the United States. Castro is now without a doubt clearer about the fact that the import subsidy wasn't so bad for Cuba, but it's quite likely that he harbors illusions about the interests of the United States in this matter. This would not make him a very sensible partner in the negotiations on this problem.

What Castro wants is for the United States to supply the same sorts of things that Britain and France are supplying him and like them, to do it on credit. He would like us to furnish some of the much-needed repair of Cuba's physical plant, its infra-structure — in communications, power supply, transportation by buses and the like. And undoubtedly he would like some technical assistance toward this and related ends. The United States is a more natural trading partner than the Warsaw powers, especially for the long and heterogeneous list of small items and spare parts, that require a disproportionate attention from remote planned economies.

Second, Castro might expect, with some justice, that the opening up of trade between the United States and Cuba would rally a good deal of influential support on his side, pressure by those U.S. business men who would be selling to and would like to expand their trade with Castro. And the pressure would be precisely for the U.S. government to furnish credits to Castro and to offer guarantees to its own nationals against the risks of dealing with him. It is in fact quite hard in the United States simply to open up this Pandora's box tentatively and experimentally. It is more likely to release strong incentives and pressures for going much further and to create a substantial and respectable Castro lobby.

Third, while the United States is financing purchases by Yugoslavia and Poland, U.S. credits to Castro would have an entirely different political significance. Castro may be quite aware of the difference. In any case, U.S. credits would be understood in Latin America as a support for Castro and an acknowledgment that he is here to stay. Moreover, in our opinion, it would help to make this happen.

The Embargo?

One interpretation of "returning to normal" among Americans urging reconciliation with Castro is simply a lifting of the U.S. embargo. In some ways, these advocates for taking off the embargo resemble in fervor and inconsistency the advocates of "deterrence only." "Deterrers only" manage to believe that active and passive defenses are completely ineffective and at the same time very harmful, provocative, etc. Similarly, those who would stop the embargo manage to believe both that it is totally ineffectual and also that it is worth a good deal to the Cubans to have it terminated. As Draper has pointed out, when the embargo is called ineffective, what is usually meant is that by itself it won't bring Castro down. Of course, no American policymaker ever said it would. Under-Secretary of State George Ball gave the following set of reasons for the embargo in a speech on April 23, 1964:

  1. To reduce the will and ability of the present Cuban regime to export subversion and violence to the other American states;
  2. To make plain to the people of Cuba and to elements of the power structure of the regime that the present regime cannot serve their interests;
  3. To demonstrate to the peoples of the American Republics that Communism has no future in the Western Hemisphere;
  4. To increase the cost to the Soviet Union of maintaining a Communist outpost in the Western Hemisphere.

None of these four points — not even the second — implies that Castro will come tumbling down simply by being boycotted. In any case, Mr. Ball specifically denied that bringing down Castro was the embargo's goal.

Americans who support the wing of the Cuban emigration hoping for a U.S. invasion of Cuba have taken a position on the embargo not unlike those looking for a rapprochement with Castro. They too regard the embargo as a failure, simply because it will not in itself bring Castro down. And in the phrase of Paul Bethel, Executive Secretary to the Citizens' Committee for a Free Cuba, it is "an absolute failure." (L.A. Times, January 16, 1965.) Bethel believes that in spite of the embargo, Cuba may produce as much as five million tons of sugar this year, and if so, Cuba will then have "broken through the blockade," "shattered" our allies, and strengthened Cuba's ties with Russia. This seems quite as implausible as the condemnation of the embargo by those who expect the removal of the blockade to detach Castro from other Communist countries and from his expansionist ambitions. For one thing, the successful sugar crop that Bethel expects, like a good many other predictions as to successes in the Cuban economy, may not materialize. Carlos Quijano, an economist formerly with the Cuban planning board, who estimates these matters for W. R. Grace today, feels that in spite of the great effort being put out by Castro (the early start in cutting, large use of volunteer labor, etc.), the result may turn out badly. In fact, he believes that the sugar content of cane cut early is lower, and that this difference is likely to balance the extra amount cut. Quijano may be wrong on this, but he was one of the few people who were right in predicting the low crops of last year and the year before. But whether Bethel or Quijano is right about the total tonnage of sugar produced this next year, Bethel's notion that one crop of nearly five million tons would solve Castro's economic difficulties and completely nullify the utility of the blockade seems quite unfounded.

Among the least arguable of Secretary Ball's points is number four. It should be clear that the economic boycott of Cuba makes Russian support a costly venture for it and for the rest of the Communist bloc. Cuba took two-fifths of the bloc's total foreign aid in 1963, and a tenth of a per cent of its GNP. South Vietnam took a tenth of our own foreign aid that year and .07 per cent of our GNP. Moreover, predictions made as of the end of last summer, that 1964 would be much less expensive for the bloc, were based on world prices for sugar which have since declined. As of January 5, 1965, sugar had hit a new low of 2.3, up slightly to 2.4 a couple of days later. This is close to an 80 million dollar loss per million metric tons, on the basis of the contract price of six cents a pound with the Soviet Union, which with its satellites takes by far the largest proportion of Cuban sugar. This drop suggests a loss to the bloc of at least a quarter of a billion dollars in sugar alone. Russia alone had contracted for 2.1 million metric tons in 1964. Earlier in 1964, when the world price of sugar exceeded the Russian contract price, a gain of that amount was expected to compensate somewhat for the large expenses of sustaining the Cuban economy.

Do we have any reason for wanting to make it cheap for Russia and the Warsaw powers to support new Communist states?

V. Stopping the Export of Subversion

Would Castro stop aid to non-Cuban revolutions, if we stop helping Cuban exiles?

There are a good many questions as to precisely what this would mean on both sides. How could we check on Castro? And how could he check on U.S. compliance? What in fact would constitute U.S. compliance that we are not doing now? Would he expect more stringent measures by the United States to be leveled against anti-Castro exiles than we leveled against anti-Batista ones? Would we try to curb all private support?

Suggestions for "progressive mutual restraint" are troubled by the vagueness characteristic of discussions of unilateral initiatives: we are presumably to make a "first step," and this will encourage a step by Castro, which in turn will permit another step by us, etc., and so progressively an era of good feeling and proper behavior will ensue. However, faith in this progression conceals a good many vague and wishful assumptions: the notion of a "first step" presumes no steps in self-restraint preceded this desired act of self-abnegation. But we have taken a good many steps in self-restraint since Castro came to power, and various steps since the Bay of Pigs to restrain exile opposition. But perhaps these are not enough? Another trouble with the proposal is its imprecision and hopefulness as to just what sort of step is required. What would impress the Maximum Lider and what should we do it, as in the past, he is not impressed?

Perhaps more important is the sort of trade of concessions here that are subject to check a good idea? If it should amount to help to Castro by stringent action against Cuban exiles, this might among other things offer some encouragement for future Communist Latin American revolutions, even if they are not abetted by Castro, but just follow his successful example.

Next, how much is his offer worth? Philip Mosely, the well-known Soviet expert, suggests Castro's offer may have been "a last-minute effort to claim credit for a Moscow-imposed change of Havana's line." (Foreign Affairs, October 1964, p. 90.) If it is true that he is not doing well in Latin American subversion, then we gain little by a supposed cessation of his effort. On the other hand, if his poor performance is only temporary, so also might be his performance on his promise to us. What sanctions do we have? What can he give us that is not more easily reversible than the support we would be giving him?

One hint as to what he regards as "normal" in this area: "If Cuba should finance a revolution against a government that respects her, it would be a violation of the norm," said Dr. Castro. "If we financed a revolution against a government that did not, it would not be a violation because there would be no norm." (New York Times, July 6, 1964.) Castro can be expected to define the requisite respect for Cuba in his own proud and shrewd terms, according to his mood of the moment.

VI. Arguments for a "Deal" with Castro

A. Unstable Reasons for the Stable Aim of Rapprochement

Many of the reasons being offered now for dealing favorably with Castro are exactly the opposite of the reasons being offered about a year ago for precisely the same vague concessions. Then the argument was that in spite of all our efforts, Castro was doing very well and would continue to do very well economically. Therefore there was no point in our continuing as we were. We had to face facts, etc. Now the argument runs, Castro is in a very bad state, and is doing so badly that he doesn't represent much of a threat to us and specifically to Latin America.

But if he is not much of a threat in good part because he is doing badly, it would be extraordinarily unintelligent of us to help him get into a position to do mischief in the future.

Another similar reversal between 1963 and 1964: one of the arguments in the spring of 1963 for relaxing pressure on Cuba was that we had meager support in Latin America for continuing the pressure. This because Castro's following was too considerable in each of several major countries for the governments of those countries to risk supporting us all-out. Now the argument is made that most countries at our request have broken off diplomatic relations with Cuba, his followers are decreasing, and we should relax the pressure, because he has no influence in Latin America.

And in connection with whether Cuba is or is not a military threat, we have still another interesting reversal of argument between 1963 and 1964. Today it is being said in some parts of the government that Cuba is not a menace, because the Russians are largely out. This means apparently that the Russians have withdrawn their troops, and many of their technicians and turned over the control of SAMS to Cubans. In 1963, we were supposedly restraining the Cuban exile raids, because the Russians were restraining the Cubans in the use of the SAMS. In other words, we connected a Russian release of the SAMS to the Cubans with "unacceptable" risks. Perhaps this was just putting a good front on a bad situation (what could we do to get the Russians out?). But the argument clearly meant that Cuba was less of a menace because the Russians were there.

The foregoing suggests that Castro is likely to be a little less responsible than the Russians. His military potential has not decreased further since withdrawal of the I1 28's. His menace to the rest of South America remains large and in any case has always been greater than his direct threat to the United States.

B. The Analogy of Yugoslavia

Some of the arguments for dealing with Castro are made on the analogy of our dealings with European Communist states. This is what Castro has in mind. See, for example, his August 28 interview with Raymond Scheyven (Le Monde, October 30, 1964, "Cuba Cherche Sa Voie," IV, "La Main Tendue"). Scheyven asked if Castro ought not to define his brand of Marxism-Leninism — that of Stalin or Khrushchev, Russia or China, Poland or Czechoslovakia, Rumania or Bulgaria — Castro interjected with a smile, "Or that of the Yugoslavs?"

However, there are good and bad reasons for dealing with these stats, and unfortunately some of the bad reasons are the ones being extrapolated for Cuba. Some of the food reasons for dealing with Yugoslavia included, for example, the fact that if we didn't help Yugoslavia, it was likely that it would return to complete domination by Russia. From the standpoint of the United States, it was better to have Yugoslavia as a non-aligned Communist state than as a Russian satellite, in particular since its own ambitions for expansion could realistically be only very limited. For Yugoslavia the alternatives were to be a non-aligned or an aligned Communist state. There was no practical alternative, given its volatile strategic location in East Europe and the caution of Western Europe and the United States. We were able to get in exchange for aid an easily verifiable and immediate cut-off of current and critical Yugoslav aid to the Greek Communists in a major civil war.

Such good reasons have no evident application to Cuba. It is hardly a foregone conclusion, as some Americans suppose, that there is no better future for Cuba than that of a "non-aligned" Communism. Cuba has in fact never been consistently aligned with the Soviet Union: it is not a Soviet satellite. There is no certainty that it will always be Communist. There is always a possibility of Castro being dislodged at some time in the future, and primarily by Cubans. And the strategic location of Cuba is quite a bit different than Yugoslavia's. The dangers of escalation to large-scale war involving the great powers are obviously much less in Cuba than in Central Europe.

The other analogy with Yugoslavia doesn't hold. Castro currently is not doing so much in subversion that he can give us anything very tangible. He has, of course, a potential for subversion, but he would retain that.

The bad reasons sometimes given for aiding Yugoslavia are at least equally bad when offered as reasons for aiding Cuba. Sometimes in opposing those like Senator Lausche, who believe any aid to any Communist country under any circumstance is bad for the United States, an equally untenable position is taken, that aid to any Communist state not aligned with Russia, is justified and sensible. This line of argument, of course, would have justified aid to Communist China. But even if it is meant to apply to those countries not aligned with China or Russia, it is questionable doctrine. It is based on the dogmatic assumption that any Communist takeover is permanent and irreversible, no matter where it occurs and no matter how weak the government is internally, no matter how much it lacks international acceptance and no matter how poorly defended it is against incursion from the outside, remote from the protection of China or Russia. On this theory, any shaky Communist seizure of power would make its new government eligible for American aid on the ground that it would in the future become stable. Such a doctrine propounded by the United States would be a strong encouragement for future coups d'état in Latin America. In any case it ignores the fact that, while we might prefer a non-aligned Communist state to an aligned Communist state, we have a very strong preference for a third alternative, that it not be Communist at all. The burden of proof remains with those who confuse a dogma of irreversibility with realism.

The argument that we should encourage the Tito variety of Communist regime is most frequently phrased in terms of the old-fashioned sphere of influence view of international politics. Tito-type Communist regimes are taken as the best we can hope for in "the natural sphere of influence of China" or the natural sphere of influence of Russia. In the case of China's sphere the argument is reinforced by the belief, sometimes made explicit, that since the countries on China's periphery have never been democracies nor private enterprise systems and cannot be continuing Western dependencies, they are bound to become socialist states.

The above, for example, is Lippman's argument in a recent talk with the Foreign Editor of the London Sunday Times. (Cited in the New York Review of Books, December 17, 1964, p. 13.) When Mr. Lippman expresses such views to the British, he is in general preaching to the converted, and is well received.

Whatever one thinks of the old-fashioned, vague and question-begging "natural spheres of influence," such an argument would sit most oddly as the capstone of a plea for a Titoist regime 90 miles off the coast of the United States. And however dubious the justification for a socialist wave of the future on the periphery of China, the political and economic history of Cuba before Castro offers no foundation for fatalism here. Cuba had a private enterprise economy, heavily dependent on the United States, to be sure, which is its "natural" trading partner in a definable economic sense; it had a per capita income and economic development comparable to Southern Europe, Italy, for example, and a substantial libertarian political tradition. One wonders, on the natural sphere of influence argument, just where that U.S. sphere terminates. Is it at the three-mile limit? The ten-mile limit?

C. Our Allies on a Rapprochement with Castro

Our allies, particularly the British and to a lesser extent the French, are less than enthusiastic supporters of our policy toward Castro and a source of some of the probings and pressures reported and transmitted to us for a rapprochement. British journalists and semi-official sources have been particularly plentiful bearers of messages that seem sometimes as much a projection of British hopes as they are simple channels for transmitting and representing actual Cuban intentions. They see Castro as here to stay, but malleable beyond our most optimistic dreams.

For the French, besides the modest value of Cuban trade, dealings with Cuba have precisely the virtue of defying U.S. foreign policy. For the United Kingdom the matter is somewhat more complex. In the first place their evaluation of the prospects in Cuba and our own policy illustrates some of their most characteristic current beliefs about the relation between East and West: trade with Communism is the way to mellow it. Fat Communists are easier to get along with and greater contact means greater possibility of influence. The United States in much of the British press and in a good deal of British officialdom is thought of as being rather doctrinaire and quite unsophisticated in its anti-Communism. And the American position on Cuba is taken as obsessive or at least, and more lightly, as pique. The aims of American policy are seldom represented accurately, for example in the form quoted above in George Ball's statement.

Finally, as in the case of the French, though to a lesser extent, the British policy toward Cuba is valued for showing some independence of the United States. This is especially true where, unlike the French, the British have a policy toward Cuba which is part of a consistent point of view which they think of as more enlightened than our own. Here they tend to overestimate the effect of "world opinion" on Castro, as well as the possibilities of mustering it. British opinion about our obsession with Cuba, which was hitting British headlines a week before the missile crisis, rather quickly recovered from the shock of the crisis itself; and continues quite limited in its realism about Castro.

One final interest the British have. As things are going, trade with Castro may be less profitable than expected, and may become something of a financial burden to them, too. Castro is in default on some of his loans and several of the London banks have to refinance them. It is not clear to us that we should make it less costly for the British to maintain their illusions about the simplicity of fattening and mellowing Communism.

The Fat Communist Theory

This theory or wish holds that if we help Castro to reestablish his economy, he will relax his internal security and his restraints on civil liberties and will gradually turn to democracy. The only danger in this view is a unified world Communism. As long as there is no total concert and GNP increases substantially faster than population, then the individual totalitarian dictatorship will mellow and progress toward democracy internally and become less aggressive externally.

In fact, there is no evidence to establish such a simple relationship between "mellowness" and "fatness" or high per capita income. The Cubans, on the contrary, have been most obstreperous and adventurous when their economy has been flourishing. They are conciliatory now because they are in trouble.

The Prospects of "Thin Communists" in Cuba

The trouble is political as well as economic. The struggle for power within the top leadership today amounts to crisis, and in the opinion of Theodore Draper, the most informed analyst of Cuban society today, it represents as serious a revolutionary situation within Cuba as any since January 1959. The Marcos Rodriguez trial of March-April 1964 was symptomatic of the struggle, and so also is the dismissal of the Old Guard Communist Ordoqui (Deputy Minister of the Armed Forces), and the suicide of the Minister of Labor, Martinez Sanchez, old July 26'er and friend of Raul Castro, who had held this position since July 1959.

The causes of this division in the leadership are complex, related to Castro's own vaulting ambitions as well as the Sino-Soviet split, and the many failures of the revolution inside Cuba as well as in Latin America. And it spreads beyond the leadership as well. The fact as distinct from the promise of Cuban Communism is now visible and tangible. But unfortunately all too frequently inedible. More than five years of Castro's policy — collectivising agriculture, industry, and even tiny handicraft and commercial enterprises (the so-called bedbug industries) much more rapidly and extensively than anything done in Russia, East Europe or Asia — has reduced economic incentives drastically and brought enough chaos in its wake for Castro himself to project responsibility for the policy onto the Cuban masses and in one of his excesses of rage against these "lumpen," to call it stupid, ignorant, bureaucratic. In these five years the alliance with Russia has soured and the expected wave of revolutions in Latin America has dried up. The disaffection in the rank and file has been able to manifest itself only in the low productivity.

None of this, of course, means that a successful revolution is likely to be carried out against Castro. And there are enormous problems in organizing dissidence in totalitarian Cuba. But these conditions certainly belie the notion of the regime as irretrievably stable, as well as the notion that a Hungarian sort of revolt is excluded by definition. Moreover, in the event of a Hungarian sort of revolt, Castro — on grounds of geography alone — probably does not and should not expect the all-out intervention of Russia and the total forbearance of the United States.

VII. Is a Communist Cuba No Danger and Are There No Alternatives?

Senator Fulbright in his famous speech on myths of American foreign policy (less so in the book that followed), presented the alternatives in black and white. Cuba, he suggested, is either a minor mischief or an extreme military threat; there is nothing in between. Since it is obviously not such a threat, then it must be only a minor irritant. He also seemed to take Cuba's position now and extrapolate that into an indefinite future. (We often see this in intelligence estimates of the possibility of political change, and our record, in the sample we know, is zero. Zero on the Berlin uprising, on Hungary, and on Batista's Cuba.) He interpreted the political potential of Castro entirely in terms of the size of Cuba and its military and economic resources, and ignores Castro's personal and Cuba's cultural ties with the rest of Latin America.

This last tendency, to regard Cuba as unimportant simply because it is small by comparison with China and Russia, is as groundless as the right-wing notion that simply because it is 90 miles off our shores, Cuba constitutes an immediate, direct, mortal military threat to the United States. The cheerful assessment that Communist Cuba is no danger ignores not only the fact that Cuba is a lot closer to us than China and Russia, but also the fact that Cuba, by being a great distance away from China and Russia, illustrates a vital principle in the continuing East-West struggle, namely that Communism can expand not simply at its periphery as it did before Cuba, but by leaping oceans. The fact that such a new Communist outpost can so easily survive our hostility and possibly even flourish by dealing with us, can — when the time is ripe — encourage future imitations of Castro.

On Castro's influence in Latin America, it is entirely too soon to write him off. While now absorbed in difficult domestic problems, he has given no evidence that his goals have changed. Indeed, such a change would be quite contrary to his character and the needs of his personality. Communism has offered him an efficient method of control at home and a rational theory for extending his ambitions from the Sierra Maestra to the Cordillera of the Andes. At the same time, its humanitarian jargon serves to pacify his own very disturbing and deep sense of guilt at the personal possession of power. The appeal of the doctrine to Castro is to someone who has grasped it at the top, to keep the power he has, as well as to get new conquests. And one should never underestimate its by-product, defiance of Uncle Sam.

Even without trying, Castro has strongly influenced and supported the FALN in Venezuela. That movement is no less successful at this moment than Castro's movement under Batista six months before he took power. And you have the Marquetalia in Colombia, the students and tin miners in Bolivia. And Panama. We need only one more country going the road of Castroite or any other brand of Communism to cause extreme alarm with the American public. Similarly, to assume that Castro will be around indefinitely is not wholly convincing in this period which has seen Khrushchev deposed.

It is characteristic of revolutionary situations that the moods of the people and the possibilities of resistance change suddenly. Practitioners of insurgency rather than of coups d'état are very conscious of this fact. Trotsky stresses this in his history of the Russian revolution. Guevara goes so far as to say that it is not necessary for conditions to exist favorable to revolution, that guerrilla warfare can create them. It is the better part of wisdom to regard political change as uncertain and be prepared to take advantage of it.

U.S. policy has been rather ambivalent in the past. On the one hand, the White Paper of March 1961 clearly espoused the democratic aims and ideals of the anti-Communist and anti-Batista elements of the July 26 revolution. On the other hand, at least in the estimation of those elements of the Cuban emigration associated with these democratic ideals, American material support and the "green light" went most frequently to those with a stake in pre-Castro Cuba. But while hope for a democratic overturn should not be eliminated, Batista's Cuba is most unlikely to be its source. In any case, it seems very doubtful that the government of the United States can do very much actively to promote a democratic revolution. However, at the very least it can avoid identifying itself or seeming to support either Castro's Communism or the corrupt and stagnant elite against which the revolution was made.

Finally, suggestions for a deal with Castro tend to exhibit the same impatience and intolerance of uncertainty as proposals for the use of military measures now. It betrays an urge simply to do something. However, the uncertainties of the restoration of democracy in Cuba are no excuse for doing what we can to preclude any possible future for it. We should not help solidify Castro's control now and forever out of simple nervousness.


The following suggestions are by Albert Wohlstetter. They are not part of the RAND effort. They have been transmitted separately by Mr. Wohlstetter as an ISA consultant.

The requirements of U.S. policy are rather trying. There is a limited amount of positive good that we can do, but an almost unlimited amount of harm. It is my view that a reasonable policy for the present would be:

  1. Continue the embargo.
  2. Don't expect it by itself to bring down Castro.
  3. Avoid identifying the United States either with the stabilization of Castro or the right wing elements that urge invasion.
  4. But be prepared to offer some quiet help if the anti-Communist, democratic elements in Cuba at some future date exploit the recurring intense political divisions and economic crises in Cuba.
  5. Recognize that explicit support is not likely to help the third forces such as the Ejercito Libertador de Cuba, that are both anti-Batista as well as anti-Communist and anti-Castro, and who in a sense embody the national ideals of the early July 26 movement which we espoused in the White Paper of 1961. The Cubans will have to make their own revolution and it may never happen, but we should do nothing to hinder it and we should be thinking about how to help prevent its repression, if it happens.
  6. Be ready to live with a certain amount of continuing criticism from allies and non-aligned powers, whose immediate interests differ to some extent from our own, and whose analysis of the prospects of Communism so far have been rather less informed and considerably more mistaken than our own.

This may seem like too passive a policy to satisfy those who advocate either invasion or rapprochement, but it comes closest to representing both our interests and the extent and limitations of our power at the present time.


  • [1] Interview July 5 with Richard Eder of the New York Times.

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