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The Eisenhower administration and revolutionary justice in Cuba: “Humanitarian” considerations?

Salim Lamrani
Cet article est une traduction de :
L’administration Eisenhower face à la justice révolutionnaire à Cuba : des considérations « humanitaires » ? [fr]

Résumés

Alors que l’administration Eisenhower avait observé la plus grande discrétion au sujet des exactions commises par la dictature de Fulgencio Batista à Cuba, elle fit au contraire part de ses critiques lorsque le nouveau pouvoir dirigé par le président Manuel Urrutia décida d’appliquer la justice révolutionnaire durant les premières semaines de l’année 1959 à l’encontre de ceux qui s’étaient rendus coupables de crimes de sang. La position de Washington déclencha la première crise diplomatique avec La Havane, qui rappela le soutien accordé par la Maison-Blanche au régime militaire et remit en cause la sincérité de ces accusations. L’objectif des Etats-Unis était autre : jeter le discrédit sur les nouvelles autorités cubaines.

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Texte intégral

Introduction

1With the advent of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, which put an end to the dictatorship of General Fulgencio Batista after 25 months of armed struggle in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, one of the first measures taken by the new power was to resort to revolutionary justice., Expeditious and violent by nature, it was applied to individual perpetrators of blood crimes committed during the six years of the military regime which overthrew the democratic government of Carlos Prío Socarrás in 1952. Faced with the popular demand for justice, the new authorities undertook from the first hours to sanction war criminals, in order to avoid extrajudicial reprisals on the part of families bereaved by the repression.

2The Eisenhower administration, which opposed a seizure of power by Fidel Castro and his men from the start and which supported the Batista regime until the last moments, did not pass up the opportunity to publicly share its criticisms. with regard to the government of President Manuel Urrutia, demanding the application of ordinary justice. Faced with these public admonitions, Havana responded by confronting Washington with its own contradictions, reminding it both of its unwavering support for the deposed regime, as well as of the discretion observed in the face of the crimes committed during the lead years from 1952 to 1958. In this way, Cuba inaugurated a new era in its relations with the United States where the demand for respect for sovereignty was affirmed.

3This first diplomatic confrontation between the new revolutionary government and the Eisenhower administration was motivated by other considerations: it was to discredit the new authorities who were preparing to undertake a process of radical socio-economic transformation. The application of revolutionary justice from the first weeks of 1959 responded to a popular demand. Faced with criticism, a media operation was launched by Havana under the name of Mission “Truth” with the aim of offering the Cuban point of view to the American and international public opinion. Moreover, the new regime did not fail to recall the support given by Washington to the Batista regime since the coup of 1952 and more particularly from the outbreak of the insurrectionary war in 1956.

1. Revolutionary justice

  • 1 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en el Parque Céspedes d (...)
  • 2 Diario de la Marina, « Serán juzgados los criminales de guerra, dijo el Presidente », 8 January 195 (...)

4The brutality of Fulgencio Batista’s regime left a lasting mark on Cuban history. The police and army had been ruthless towards opponents of military power. Many Cuban families were bereaved by the crimes committed by the dictatorship. The atrocities, widely reported by the Cuban and international press, including The New York Times, shocked U.S. public opinion and deeply affected the Western diplomats stationed on the island. In the aftermath of the Revolution, the desire for justice, sometimes for revenge, was palpable. To avoid any extrajudicial settling of accounts, from his first speech on January 1, 1959 in Santiago de Cuba, Fidel Castro promised the people that those guilty of crimes would be punished by the revolutionary courts: “War criminals will be punished because it is an inevitable duty of justice. The people can be sure that we will fulfill this duty. […] As there will be justice, there will be no revenge or hatred”.1 President Manuel Urrutia confirmed the revolutionary leader’s words by declaring that they would be “tried like German war criminals”.2

  • 3 Arthur Gardner, « Telegram From the Ambassador in Cuba (Gardner) to the Secretary of State », 15 Fe (...)
  • 4 Wayne S. Smith, The Closest of Enemies: A Personal and Diplomatic Account of US-Cuban Relations Sin (...)
  • 5 Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro. Rebel Liberator or Dictator ?, New York, Bobbs Merrill Company, Inc, 19 (...)

5The crimes perpetrated by Batista were known to the U.S. administration. Diplomats stationed in Cuba transmitted detailed memoranda on the abuses committed by the military regime. Thus, on February 15, 1957, Ambassador Arthur Gardner expressed his certainties to the State Department: “We here now convinced recurrent killings of persons [the] government maintains are oppositionists and terrorists are actually work of [the] police and [the] army”. Gardner referred to the “gruesome pictures of victims” and the “corpses riddled with bullets”, emphasizing “extreme methods”.3 Wayne S. Smith, then a young official in Havana, also testified: “The police were overreacting to pressure from the insurgents by torturing and killing hundreds of people, both innocent and guilty. The bodies were abandoned, hanging from trees along the roads. Such tactics inexorably led public opinion to reject Batista and support the opposition”. 4The U.S. press sometimes reported the crimes of the military regime. Jules Dubois, correspondent in the Cuban capital, described scenes of horror: “Young men were forced out of their homes and the arms of their mothers by police and army officers; their mutilated bodies riddled with bullets were found the next day in the fields, with their genitals cut off and buried in their mouths or in their shirt pockets” 5

  • 6 Le Monde, « Nombreuses exécutions en province », 14 January 1959. See also: The New York Times, « R (...)
  • 7 Diario de la Marina, « Necesarias las ejecuciones, dijo el Doctor R. Agramonte », 14 January 1959.
  • 8 Park F. Wollam, « Despach From the Consulate at Santiago de Cuba to the Department of State », 14 J (...)

6Thus, from the first days of 1959, revolutionary justice did its work, especially in the province of Santiago, during public trials, to meet popular demands.6 Roberto Agramonte, Minister of Foreign Affairs, insisted on the need for this expeditious justice: “If the military courts had not seized on the issue, by acting quickly to dispense justice, the families of those who were murdered and tortured would have delivered justice with their own hands and many innocent people would have fallen with the accused”.7 Thus, the Revolutionary Code of Justice of the Second Front led by Raúl Castro was applied to the criminals of the Batista dictatorship. Their guilt left little room for doubt according to the incumbent diplomats. The U.S. Consulate in Santiago noted that “those executed were for the greatest part members of military organizations connected with repressive activities such as SIM [Military Intelligence Service], SIR, the personnel from radio patrol cars, and from the Masferrer group […] Many of those executed were well-known to the populace as thugs and assassins of the worst type”.8

  • 9 John Foster Dulles, « Circular Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Diplomatic Posts in (...)
  • 10 The New York Times, « Executions in Cuba Protested », 13 January 1959 ; Diario de la Marina, « Refu (...)
  • 11 The New York Times, « Senator Morse Protests », 13 January 1959.
  • 12 Felix Belair Jr., « Castro Defended By Muñoz Marín », The New York Times, 20 January 1959.

7However, the State Department, which had shown the utmost discretion about the crimes committed by the Batistian regime, deplored the executions on the other hand on a “humanitarian basis” and demanded that “persons accused of crimes will be accorded trials under appropriate legal procedures consistent with ideals of justice”.9 For its part, the U.S. press relayed the protests against the expeditious nature of revolutionary justice.10 Several members of Congress were concerned about the number of executions, including Senator Wayne Morse, a Democrat from Oregon, who called for an end to the “bloodshed”.11 Morse nevertheless recognized the fundamental legitimacy of revolutionary justice, while expressing reservations about its expeditious form: “I haven’t any doubt that a fair trial would have found them guilty”.12

  • 13 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en Artemisa », 17 Janua (...)

8These public remonstrances strongly irritated the new authorities in Havana who cast doubt both on their real motives and on the legitimacy of the United States to speak out on the question of justice. Fidel Castro expressed this point of view by inviting Washington to deal first with the violations committed on its own soil, before expressing its emotion about the Cuban reality and did not fail to recall the support offered to the regime. military: “I suggest that the American congressmen first condemn the lynching of blacks in the South of the United States. […] All they did was send tanks, bombs and planes to the tyranny of Batista”.13

9In fact, if the eagerness to condemn the executions contrasted sharply with the discretion observed in the face of abuses committed by the previous regime, it was because it was motivated by considerations other than humanitarian. The Eisenhower administration observed with concern the arrival in power of a radical government which had publicly announced its intention to regain control of the country’s strategic resources and to question the bond of subordination towards the United States. The calculation was relatively transparent: by discrediting the conduct of the Havana government in its management of revolutionary justice, Washington thus thought to condition public opinion to more easily accept future retaliatory measures that would be adopted against the island.

  • 14 Park F. Wollam, « Despach From the Consulate at Santiago de Cuba to the Department of State », 14 J (...)

10In contrast, Cuban public opinion did not appreciate the admonitions from the north. The Santiago consulate, more aware of the realities, echoed the feelings of the Cuban people on this subject: “The United States took no notice whatsoever of the crimes and atrocities committed under the previous regime when there was not even a pretense of legal formalities”. Furthermore, “the United Nations and Organization of American States […] also failed to take interest in the protests of revolutionaries over previous alleged atrocities”.14

  • 15 Ibid., p. 358.
  • 16 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, Primer Ministro del Go (...)

11On the other hand, U.S. diplomats in Cuba weres more nuanced than the State Department. They stressed that the fate of the accused would have been similar in any other country: “There is little doubt but that a number would have faced the possibility of capital punishment in any state having this or war crimes trials under different circumstances”. They also noted that “the majority solidly support the idea that the justice was warranted”.15 In total, there were around 500 death sentences during the first months of 1959.16

  • 17 The New York Times, « Prelate Appeals to Castro », 2 February 1959 ; Le Monde, « Première exécution (...)
  • 18 Diario de la Marina, « Pastoral de Mons. Pérez Serantes, Arzobispo de Santiago, sobre el castigo a (...)
  • 19 The New York Times, « Prelate Appeals to Castro », 2 February 1959, op. cit. ; Le Monde, « Première (...)

12More unexpectedly, the Cuban Catholic Church agreed. In a pastoral letter, Enrique Pérez Serantes, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, underlined that the sanctions taken by the revolutionary tribunals had “not exceeded, nor yet equaled, in harshness those issued in other places, in analogous circumstances, by highly responsible men”.17 The prelate recalled the reality of Batista’s crimes: “All Cuba, especially in Oriente, has watched with fear the considerable number of crimes which, with impunity and in cold blood, have been committed over the past two years. It’s hard to believe and hold true what we know here, and we don’t know everything because we discover something new every day”.18 He nevertheless called, when the facts permitted, for clemency and forgiveness.19

  • 20 Diario de la Marina, « Cristiana y patriótica Pastoral de Monseñor Pérez Serantes », 1 February 195 (...)
  • 21 Diario de la Marina, « La difícil tarea de los Tribunales Revolucionarios », 7 May 1959.

13The Diario de la Marina, though of conservative obedience and linked to the old regime, greeted the archbishop’s posture: “It is the balanced and responsible voice of one who knows perfectly what he is talking about, who has lived in open heart with the citizens of the Province […] the horrors of this darkness unleashed against a youth who fought for their ideals”.20 The daily added the following clarification: “No one who has lived in Cuba during the last years can be surprised by the constitution and the functioning of these courts, which are the inevitable consequence of arbitrariness, violence, crimes, torture, of the system of terror set up for its own subsistence by the previous regime”.21

  • 22 Ruby Hart Phillips, « Castro’s Troops Pursue Diehards », The New York Times, 19 January 1959.
  • 23 Diario de la Marina, « Los que critican ejecuciones ignoran los crímenes en Cuba », 16 January 1959
  • 24 Diario de la Marina, « ‘Cuba es el país más feliz del mundo’, Matthews », 23 January 1959.

14The Catholic review La Quincena noted for its part that “when the world learned of the horrendous crimes under the Batista regime, the executions of a few hundred subjects will seem like a mild punishment”.22 Even the American Catholic newspaper The Sunday Visitor expressed a similar point of view: “Americans criticize the new Cuban government for ignoring the reality of the executions committed by the regime of General Fulgencio Batista, executions that have claimed the lives of thousands of Cubans”. The Diario de la Marina asked not to forget “the atrocities” committed by the military dictatorship23 and recalled, quoting The New York Times reporter Herbert L. Matthews, that “Batista’s brutal system of torture was the most horrific in Latin American history”.24

  • 25 The New York Times, « Cuban Businessman Defends Executions », 4 February 1959.
  • 26 The New York Times, « Executions ‘Just’ Santiagans Feel », 21 January 1959.

15Public opinion on the island was overwhelmingly in favor of revolutionary justice. Thus, the Cuban business community also lent its support to this government measure, in particular on a matter of public order. Goar Mestre, owner of several private media outlets, said that without this procedure the settling of scores would have caused the deaths of “4,000 to 5,000 people”. Thanks to the courts of law, “there was a demonstration of remarkable discipline and order. No one has taken justice into their own hands. This was only possible because Castro, the rebel leader, promised that the Revolution would bring the culprits to justice”.25 The U.S. press noted that for the islanders “the firing squads represent justice”.26

16The New York Times recalled the crimes committed by the dictatorship in order to explain the severity of the punishments imposed on war criminals:

Widespread tortures and killings are regarded as the primary factor that turned the people so bitterly against General Batista. No figures can be given as yet, since the work of exhuming is going on all over the island. People who saw the fall of the Machado regime in 1933 say that the crimes of the Batista Government make those of Machado seem insignificant. […]

  • 27 Ruby Hart Phillips, « Military Courts In Cuba Dooms 14 For ‘War Crimes’ », The New York Times, 13 J (...)

The public evidently supports the executions now being carried out. Hardly a Cuban does not have some relative who was killed during the Batista terror.27

  • 28 Herbert L. Matthews, « Castro Aims Reflect Character of Cubans », The New York Times, 18 January 19 (...)

17The New York daily added the following message to, among others, the Eisenhower administration: “It’s necessary to keep a basic fact in mind. Dr. Castro is not in any sense different in character from his fellow Cubans. Those who want to condemn him must condemn all Cubans, as there are very few Cubans indeed who would disapprove of the executions that have been and are taking place”.28

  • 29 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, en la Plaza de la Ciud (...)
  • 30 Le Monde, « Les exécutions ont repris à Cuba », 17 January 1959. See also: Le Monde, « Ouverture pr (...)

18In view of this reality, Havana viewed the criticism from the United States as a reflection of selective indignation. The Cuban government did not fail to recall the close links between Washington and the Batista dictatorship. It gave the following response to the appeals for clemency: “They deserve no compassion because they did not have compassion for the mothers they left in mourning, for the children they orphaned or for the homes that they left without means of subsistence”.29 Fidel Castro warned that the pressures exerted from the United States would not alter the decisions of the revolutionary authorities: “We have decided that the assassins of the Batista regime will be shot to the last, even if we have to confront global public opinion for that.... As for the United States, they could have been worried about the executions which took place when the tyrant was in power with their support”.30

19In order to assert its point of view, the Cuban government decided to launch the “Truth” mission.

2. The “Truth” mission

  • 31 Diario de la Marina, « Invitan a periodistas de E.U. a asistir a juicios en Cuba », 18 January 1959 (...)
  • 32 Ruby Hart Phillips, « Cuba to Try 1,000 for ‘War Crimes’ », The New York Times, 20 January 1959 ; R (...)
  • 33 The New York Times, « Rep. Porter to See Trials », 21 January 1959.
  • 34 Charles O. Porter, « Editorial Note », January 1959, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1 (...)
  • 35 Felix Belair Jr., « Castro Defended By Muñoz Marín », The New York Times, 20 January 1959, op. cit.

20Faced with criticism from the United States, the Cuban government decided to open the country’s doors to Western media. President Urrutia issued a public appeal: ‘I send an open invitation to all the American press to come and attend the trials”.31 Several U.S. congressmen received the same proposal from the authorities in Havana.32 Charles O. Porter, the elected, representative of Oregon, accepted the invitation and expressed his wish for a better relationship between the two countries.33 According to him, “the government of the United States should show a warmer attitude towards the new Cuban government”.34 Luis Muñoz Marín, governor of Puerto Rico, more sensitive to Latin idiosyncrasy, shared this point of view and asked Washington to show “the friendliest feelings towards Cuba and Castro’s movement because of what it means for human freedom”.35

21On the subject of executions and expeditious justice, Fidel Castro recalled that “the laws of the Revolution [were] fundamentally moral principles”. Then he again expressed his astonishment at the criticisms demanding ordinary justice:

  • 36 Fidel Castro, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, en el club Rotario de La H (...)

Where are the ordinary courts in Cuba? […] Are these the emergency courts, the Supreme Court, or the other courts that were complicit in the dictatorship? […] We must defend ourselves against the slanderous campaign of the enemies of the Cuban Revolution, of those who did not say a word or write a line when the numerous corpses appeared in the streets of Havana, a reality that lasted for many years, when our women were raped, when our comrades were murdered. Everyone knows that in Marianao, in one night, there were 90 deaths, and nobody worried, nobody wrote a line against these barbarians who were guilty of such crimes. And when the time comes to punish the barbarians, they suddenly have pity on the assassins, the executioners, the criminals, while they had no mercy on a whole people slaughtered for so many years.36

  • 37 Diario de la Marina, « Una multitud impresionante formada por todos los sectores de la vida naciona (...)

22In a speech held at the Presidential Palace on January 21, 1959, in the presence of almost a million people according to the Diario de la Marina37, several hundred international journalists and some members of the United States Congress, Fidel Castro underlined the variable geometry of Washington’s indignation:

  • 38 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en la magna concentraci (...)

When this Palace housed a dictator who betrayed the people, no one attacked him, there were no press campaigns against him abroad, and the voices of members of [the U.S.] Congress were not raised to accuse him. When there was a miserable traitor there, a criminal who murdered 20,000 of our compatriots, we did not carry out such campaigns against Cuba and against him. […] But we must go further. Here you have Trujillo, with his dictatorship that has lasted for 27 years. Nearly 10,000 Haitians have been assassinated by the Dominican dictator. There are tens of thousands of people murdered. There you have Somoza and his dynasty who have oppressed Nicaragua for more than 25 years. There you have the dictatorships with their overcrowded prisons, with the censorship of the press and their thousands of crimes, and we do not organize campaigns against them […]. [At the same time], they try to present us as a country of criminals and savages.38

23Faced with reservations expressed in some corners of international opinion, the Cuban leader explained the raison d'être of revolutionary justice:

It is logical that among other peoples, in other countries which have no idea of these facts [of the crimes of Batista] […], one does not manage to fully understand, not only justice, but the need to apply exemplary punishment to criminals. This explains why the feeling of the people in favor of revolutionary justice was unanimous, whereas in other countries, which had not lived these horrors, one cannot understand in all its justice the punishment which one applied to major criminals. […]

  • 39 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, Primer Ministro del Go (...)

We do not punish with revenge, we punish with justice; we do not punish out of hatred of man, we punish out of love of man, to save people from similar horrors; we punish by example, […] so that these facts never happen again in our homeland.39

  • 40 Le Monde, « Fidel Castro réclame la formation d’un bloc démocratique latino-américain », 27 January (...)

24The daily Le Monde covered this huge gathering and stressed that revolutionary justice was a national requirement. The newspaper even noted that “the population is protesting everywhere against the ‘slowness’ in the execution of death sentences”.40 The island authorities enjoyed a broad consensus on this:

  • 41 Le Monde, « A La Havane, une immense manifestation populaire a préludé aux procès de criminels de g (...)

Havana was the scene of a huge popular demonstration on Wednesday: 500,000 people – some reports even speak of a million – had invaded the streets of the capital to cheer Fidel Castro and proclaim their solidarity with the new leaders. This demonstration was also intended to protest against the criticisms leveled by some foreign countries about the execution of many Batista supporters. The crowd held up signs calling for “justice to be done in Cuba” and for “war criminals” to be sentenced. There were many signs in English for correspondents of Anglo-Saxon newspapers.41

  • 42 F. Parès, « Fidel Castro aurait pu éviter de faire plébisciter par la rue une répression largement (...)
  • 43 Le Monde, « M. Fidel Castro : les élections auront lieu dans deux ans », 3 March 1959.

25If in the United States the government in Havana was criticized for applying expeditious justice, on the Cuban side, public opinion was quite different and was impatient with the lack of firmness on the part of the authorities. The French press reported this reality: “The execution of the orders of the provisional government seems to come up against, in the province of Oriente or Las Villas, spontaneous hostility from the population. Thus, for two days, demonstrations follow one another in Manzanillo [...] to protest against the ‘slowness’ and ‘gentleness’ of the courts which have to try ‘war criminals”.42 Moreover, in Palma Soriano, the soldiers had to intervene to prevent the demonstrators, annoyed by “the slowness of the trial”, who sought to “force the enclosure of the court to lynch supporters of the old regime”.43 There was a reason for this: the thirst for justice. Le Monde echoed this general feeling:

  • 44 F. Parès, « Fidel Castro aurait pu éviter de faire plébisciter par la rue une répression largement (...)

One fact is indisputable: the monstrous crimes of the dictatorship necessarily had to provoke revolutionary reaction. Twenty days after Batista’s flight, private cemeteries are still being unearthed in the buildings of repressive organizations. Every day the press – even the moderate press – announces the discovery of a new mass grave: ten, twenty corpses – most of them mutilated – in wells, in ditches, in the cellars of houses rented by the police. The press does not insist – except the Communist press – but it cannot hide the truth, and this truth is mind-blowing.44

  • 45 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, Primer Ministro del Go (...)
  • 46 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en la magna concentraci (...)

26For their part, the Havana authorities were convinced that the appeals for clemency from the Eisenhower administration were devoid of sincerity and in fact hid a hostility towards revolutionary power and its desire to question the order and structures established. The reasons for the campaign against Cuba were the threat the new government posed to the interests of the United States. Fidel Castro expressed his conviction: “The revolutionary government has attracted hatred of the oligarchy and of interests from the first moments because of its determined position in favor of the humble and poor layers of the people”.45 He pointed to the deep motives hidden behind the media wave against summary executions: “They are launching campaigns against the people of Cuba because we want to be politically and economically free, because we have become a dangerous example for all of America”. He pointed out that there were powerful interests behind the humanitarian campaigns: “They know that we are going to demand the cancellation of the onerous concessions made to foreign monopolies, that we are going to lower the electricity tariff”. It was in the program of social transformation that was “the main cause of this campaign”, which would grow at the same rate as the reforms: “You will see that this campaign will redouble in force when we have lowered the tariff of the electricity”. Then he concluded in these terms illustrating the advent of new relations with the United States: “I am not accountable to any congressman from the United States. I am not accountable to any foreign government. I am accountable to the people, and first and foremost to the Cuban people”.46

  • 47 Diario de la Marina, « Opina el Comandante Guevara sobre las ejecuciones », 14 January 1959.

27Ernesto Guevara recalled that the United States was the provider of “the napalm bombs” which had “claimed the lives of many innocent women and children"”, victims of the Batista airforce.47 The media campaign orchestrated from Washington could not obscure the reality of the Eisenhower administration’s support for the military regime.

3. Washington’s support for Batista

  • 48 Salim Lamrani, De Fulgencio Batista à Fidel Castro. Cuba et la politique étrangère des Etats-Unis, (...)
  • 49 Fidel Castro, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en el Parque Céspedes de Sa (...)
  • 50 Park F. Wollam, « Despach From the Consulate at Santiago de Cuba to the Department of State », 14 J (...)

28The Eisenhower administration had supported the Batista regime and steadfastly opposed Fidel Castro throughout the insurgent war.48 In his first speeches to the nation, Fidel Castro broached the subject of relations with the United States. He recalled in particular Washington’s responsibility in the Cuban situation, stressing that the White House had provided support for the dictatorship, including through permanent military missions.49 Park Wollam, consul in Santiago de Cuba, admitted that “his statements in turn echo majority sentiment”. In the Sierra Maestra mountains, “there has been bombing with what has been described as ‘U.S.’ equipment”.50

29The New York Times highlighted the responsibility of the United States and recalled the support offered to Batista:

  • 51 The New York Times, « A Cuban Dictator Falls », 2 January 1959.

The policy followed by the State Department, the Pentagon, the American Embassy in Havana, and a large part of the American business community has built up an antagonism that will make the situation diplomatically difficult. Cuban sentiment is overwhelmingly anti-American in the same sense it was in Argentina and Venezuela, which is to say there is resentment against American policies. However, no people in the hemisphere have a more friendly feeling toward the American people or more respect for the United States as a nation.51

  • 52 Herbert L. Matthews, « Cuba: First Step to a New Era », The New York Times, 4 January 1959, op. cit (...)

History will prove that the dictator did have United States support for much the greater part of his second seven years as the sole ruler. The United States ambassadors, either by inclination or under orders from the State Department, were friendly to Batista and openly so. Ambassador Earl E. T. Smith, now in Havana, also openly expressed his hostility toward Fidel Castro and this is something every well-informed Cuban knows.52

30This view was shared by Representative Chester Bowles, a former Connecticut governor and also a diplomat, who regretted the Manichaeism of Washington politics: “According to the narrow view of many of our policy makers, any dictator who tells us he is against communism, regardless of how hated or corrupt he may be, deserves American support”. He underlined the consequence: “This has led us time and again to place American dollars and American prestige behind reactionary, right-wing governments which ruthlessly exploit their people and which sooner or later are doomed to fall”. Cuban resentment over US foreign policy was understandable:

  • 53 Chester Bowles, « Our Cuba Policy Queried », The New York Times, 25 January 1959.

For nearly three years, the now victorious Cuban revolutionaries were hunted like animals through the mountains and jungles by Batista’s armed forces. Many of the Government tanks, planes and small arms which brought death to their families were manufactured in American factories, paid for by American taxpayers, and shipped to Cuba by the American government.53

  • 54 The New York Times, « U.S. Aid to Batista Held Negligible », 4 January 1959.
  • 55 Herbert L. Matthews, « A New Chapter Opens In Latin America », The New York Times, 11 January 1959.

31The Eisenhower administration tried to downplay the support given to the Cuban military junta, declaring that “neither the military nor economic aid could have helped the dictator maintain his power”54, without succeeding in convincing the Cuban opinion. Vice-President Richard Nixon, who had been greeted with a hail of stones during his visit to Venezuela in 1958, was more lucid and explained the reasons for this hostility towards the United States. According to him, “the favoritism that the State Department, Pentagon and White House have for years shown toward Latin American dictators and […] the resentment against United States economic policies” were the main causes of Latin American acrimony towards the powerful neighbor.55

  • 56 E. W. Kenworthy, « U.S. Policy Shift on Latins Urged », The New York Times, 4 January 1959.

32Faced with this reality, Milton Eisenhower, President of the prestigious Johns Hopkins University and brother of the head of the White House, even proposed in a report submitted to government authorities to modify their foreign policy. A less friendly welcome should be given to dictators and warmer to popular governments, in order to improve relations with the twenty Latin American republics. According to him, Washington had made a mistake “in decorating several dictators”.56

  • 57 Earl E. T. Smith, « Telegram From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State », 15 January 1959 (...)
  • 58 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Doctor Fidel Castro Ruz, Primer Ministro del Gobier (...)
  • 59 Earl E. T. Smith, « Telegram From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State », 15 January 1959 (...)

33For these various reasons, the maintenance of the three U.S. military missions quickly became a matter of contention. At a press conference with American journalists, Fidel Castro let it be known that Washington would be wise to recall its military personnel stationed in Havana. They had supported a dictatorial regime which, moreover, had failed to defeat the rebels on the battlefield.57 In a speech to an assembly of Cuban businessmen, the Revolutionary leader noted that it would be difficult to retain “those who taught soldiers how to kill Cubans”.58 The U.S. Embassy acknowledged that the “presence of US military missions ha[d] come under increasing attack”. The U.S. press recalled that “the US military missions [had] assisted the Cuban air force under Batista in its bombardments against the Cuban rebels”.59

  • 60 John Foster Dulles, « Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Cuba », 17 January 19 (...)
  • 61 The New York Times, « Transcript of the Dulles News Conference On Big 4 Talk and Related Issues », (...)
  • 62 Daniel Braddock, « Telegram From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State », 20 January 1959. (...)

34In a memorandum, John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, conveyed his directives and asked his diplomatic representation in Havana to stand ready to withdraw military missions.60 Asked by the press on this subject, he confirmed that they would soon be recalled to the United States, minimizing their role in Cuba.61 Roberto Agramonte, Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, conveyed the Havana government’s grievances to William Braddock, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires: “[The] main criticism of missions was that they had ‘trained’ Batista’s forces”.62

35Fidel Castro did not fail to recall the state of subordination towards the United States in which the island has found itself since independence, referring in particular to the Platt Amendment:

  • 63 Fidel Castro, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, en el club Rotario de La H (...)

Cuba was not a free country, because when a foreigner assumes the right to intervene in the internal affairs of a nation, the nation is not free. This country was a little less enslaved than before, but it was not free. Freedom admits no chains, freedom admits no limits, freedom admits no fetters. […] I’m just telling the historical truth, and don’t call me a communist for that. […] We want to make people believe that the one who does not sell himself, who is not a miserable unconditional American, is a communist. I am not a Communist, I do not sell myself to Americans, and I do not take orders from Americans.63

  • 64 Park F. Wollam, « Letter From the Consul at Santiago de Cuba (Wollam) to the Deputy Director of the (...)

36Consul Wollam proved to be more lucid with regards to Cuban public opinion. Under the Batista regime, “there were undoubtedly many atrocities” and those responsible for these crimes had found refuge in the United States. This explained the resentment towards Washington. Not only were war criminals greeted with open arms, Washington also waged a campaign against the new power when it decided to apply revolutionary justice. According to the diplomat, “the United States and its representatives are currently taking the blame for everything that has happened. They are still connecting us with the bombing of towns and with the atrocities”. He also expressed the general feeling of the people of the island and the reasons for the popularity of Fidel Castro: “Many Cubans have always had an inferiority complex with respect to the United States, and the feeling about the Piatt Amendment is not yet dead. One frequently hears that this is the first time that Cuba has actually been free, and by its own efforts despite ‘opposition’ from the United States”.64

  • 65 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en la magna concentraci (...)
  • 66 Park F. Wollam, « Letter From the Consul at Santiago de Cuba (Wollam) to the Deputy Director of the (...)
  • 67 Allen Dulles, « Editorial Note », 22 janvier 1959. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-196 (...)

37The Santiago Consulate suggested that the State Department show goodwill towards the new power by responding favorably to Havana’s requests for extradition of war criminals who had taken refuge in the United States.65 “If you can find some way to return Masferrer it would be helpful […]. He represents the worst in local minds. […] If he remains in the U.S. they probably will not let us forget it”.66 Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, also raised this subject during a meeting of the National Security Council: “We have an extradition treaty with Cuba and if evidence of crimes is produced, we would be legally obliged to consent to the extradition of such criminals”.67

  • 68 Spalding, « Telegram From the Embassy in the Dominican Republic to the Department of State », 27 Ja (...)
  • 69 John Foster Dulles, « Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Dominican Republi (...)
  • 70 The New York Times, « U.S. Asylum Ruled Out », 7 January 1959.

38But Consul Wollam’s proposal went unheeded. Neither Masferrer nor any other war criminal was extradited to Cuba. On the other hand, Washington decided to close the door to the dictator Batista, a refugee in the Dominican Republic and who wanted to be granted asylum in the United States.68 The State Department rejected the request because of the political implications.69 William P. Rogers, U.S. Minister of Justice, said there was no question of asylum for Batista.70

Conclusion

  • 71 S. Everett Gleason, « Memorandum of Discussion at the 392nd Meeting of the National Security Counci (...)

39Hostility of the Eisenhower administration towards the revolutionary movement was a reality long before the seizure of power by Fidel Castro and his supporters on January 1, 1959. The alarm raised by Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, on December 23, 1958, one week before Batista’s flight to the Dominican Republic, during a meeting of the National Security Council is the perfect illustration: “We ought to prevent a Castro victory”.71 Moreover, the reception given to supporters of the former regime, including war criminals, after their exile to the United States and the refusal of any extradition confirmed Washington’s position towards the new power.

40The protests by the State Department over the application of revolutionary justice were part of a policy of rejection towards the new authorities on the island. From a political and diplomatic point of view, they were a mistake because the public condemnation of the Revolutionary Courts by Washington only confirmed the fears on the Havana side about the hostile intentions of the United States. In addition, the sudden indignation on the part of the Eisenhower administration at the fate of individuals guilty of blood crimes contrasted singularly with the discretion observed with regard to the crimes committed by the Batista regime, which was supported. until the last moments, thus underlining in a way prejudicial to the image of the United States the insincere nature of the reproaches formulated against revolutionary justice. The real aim was different: to cast shame on the new power by making it an enemy of the rule of law, so that it could better discredit its program of socio-economic reforms in the future and justify the retaliatory measures.

41The vigorous response from Havana, which underlined the contradictions of the U.S. position, at the same time marked the will of the new Cuban authorities to lay the foundations for a new era in bilateral relations between the two neighbors. The Caribbean island would henceforth only accept links based on sovereign equality, reciprocity and non-interference in internal affairs. The revolutionary government was not fooled: through the condemnation of the expeditious justice of the revolutionary courts, it was the Cuban desire to free itself from the tutelage of the powerful neighbor that was in sight.

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Notes

1 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en el Parque Céspedes de Santiago de Cuba », 1 January 1959, República de Cuba. http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1959/esp/f010159e.html (Accessed 26 January 2017).

2 Diario de la Marina, « Serán juzgados los criminales de guerra, dijo el Presidente », 8 January 1959.

3 Arthur Gardner, « Telegram From the Ambassador in Cuba (Gardner) to the Secretary of State », 15 February 1957, Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/2-1557. Secret, Priority, Foreign Relations of the United States 1955-1957, p. 840.

4 Wayne S. Smith, The Closest of Enemies: A Personal and Diplomatic Account of US-Cuban Relations Since 1957, New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1987, p. 15. See also: Wayne S. Smith & Esteban Morales Domínguez, Subject to Solution. Problems in Cuba-U.S. Relations, Boulder, Colorado, Lynne Rienner, 1988.

5 Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro. Rebel Liberator or Dictator ?, New York, Bobbs Merrill Company, Inc, 1959, p. 150.

6 Le Monde, « Nombreuses exécutions en province », 14 January 1959. See also: The New York Times, « Recognition for Cuba », 9 January 1959 ; The New York Times, « Cuban Students Yield Their Arms », 11 January 1959 ; The New York Times, « 75 Executions Reported »,13 janvier 1959 ; Diario de la Marina, « Informan desde Santiago de Cuba numerosas ejecuciones », 13 January 1959 ; Diario de la Marina, « Condenan a otros 19 acusados por asesinatos en Camagüey », 15 January 1959.

7 Diario de la Marina, « Necesarias las ejecuciones, dijo el Doctor R. Agramonte », 14 January 1959.

8 Park F. Wollam, « Despach From the Consulate at Santiago de Cuba to the Department of State », 14 January 1959, Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/1-1459, Foreign Relations of the United States 1958-1960, p. 357.

9 John Foster Dulles, « Circular Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Diplomatic Posts in the American Republics », 15 January 1959, Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/1-1959, Official Use Only, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 364. Voir également : The New York Times, « Dulles Voices Hope », 14 January 1959.

10 The New York Times, « Executions in Cuba Protested », 13 January 1959 ; Diario de la Marina, « Refuta las informaciones del extranjero Luis O. Rodríguez », 15 January 1959.

11 The New York Times, « Senator Morse Protests », 13 January 1959.

12 Felix Belair Jr., « Castro Defended By Muñoz Marín », The New York Times, 20 January 1959.

13 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en Artemisa », 17 January 1959. http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1959/esp/c170159e.html (Accessed 12 June 2017).

14 Park F. Wollam, « Despach From the Consulate at Santiago de Cuba to the Department of State », 14 January 1959, op. cit. p. 359.

15 Ibid., p. 358.

16 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, Primer Ministro del Gobierno en la concentración celebrada a su llegada del extranjero, en la Plaza Cívica », 8 May 1959. http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1959/esp/f080559e.html (Accessed 20 May 2018). See also: The New York Times, « Executions in Cuba Rise to 483 Total », 20 March 1959.

17 The New York Times, « Prelate Appeals to Castro », 2 February 1959 ; Le Monde, « Première exécution d’un condamné à mort des procès de La Havane », 3 February 1959.

18 Diario de la Marina, « Pastoral de Mons. Pérez Serantes, Arzobispo de Santiago, sobre el castigo a criminales de guerra », 1 February 1959.

19 The New York Times, « Prelate Appeals to Castro », 2 February 1959, op. cit. ; Le Monde, « Première exécution d’un condamné à mort des procès de La Havane », 3 February 1959, op. cit.

20 Diario de la Marina, « Cristiana y patriótica Pastoral de Monseñor Pérez Serantes », 1 February 1959.

21 Diario de la Marina, « La difícil tarea de los Tribunales Revolucionarios », 7 May 1959.

22 Ruby Hart Phillips, « Castro’s Troops Pursue Diehards », The New York Times, 19 January 1959.

23 Diario de la Marina, « Los que critican ejecuciones ignoran los crímenes en Cuba », 16 January 1959.

24 Diario de la Marina, « ‘Cuba es el país más feliz del mundo’, Matthews », 23 January 1959.

25 The New York Times, « Cuban Businessman Defends Executions », 4 February 1959.

26 The New York Times, « Executions ‘Just’ Santiagans Feel », 21 January 1959.

27 Ruby Hart Phillips, « Military Courts In Cuba Dooms 14 For ‘War Crimes’ », The New York Times, 13 January 1959.

28 Herbert L. Matthews, « Castro Aims Reflect Character of Cubans », The New York Times, 18 January 1959, op. cit.

29 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, en la Plaza de la Ciudad de Camagüey”, 4 January 1959. http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1959/esp/f040159e.html (Accessed 29 May 2017).

30 Le Monde, « Les exécutions ont repris à Cuba », 17 January 1959. See also: Le Monde, « Ouverture prochaine des procès contre les ‘criminels de guerre’ », 20 January 1959 ; Ruby Hart Phillips, « Castro Declares Trials Will Go On », The New York Times, 14 January 1959 ; Ruby Hart Phillips, « 100 Face Death In Trials About to Begin In Havana », The New York Times, 15 January 1959.

31 Diario de la Marina, « Invitan a periodistas de E.U. a asistir a juicios en Cuba », 18 January 1959. See also: Diario de la Marina, « Invitados 150 periodistas de la prensa, radio y T.V. de E.U. », 21 January 1959.

32 Ruby Hart Phillips, « Cuba to Try 1,000 for ‘War Crimes’ », The New York Times, 20 January 1959 ; Ruby Hart Phillips, « Cuba Assemble For Rally Today », The New York Times, 21 January 1959.

33 The New York Times, « Rep. Porter to See Trials », 21 January 1959.

34 Charles O. Porter, « Editorial Note », January 1959, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 379.

35 Felix Belair Jr., « Castro Defended By Muñoz Marín », The New York Times, 20 January 1959, op. cit.

36 Fidel Castro, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, en el club Rotario de La Habana », 15 January 1959, República de Cuba. http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1959/esp/f150159e.html (Accessed 9 June 2017).

37 Diario de la Marina, « Una multitud impresionante formada por todos los sectores de la vida nacional testimonió en Palacio su respaldo al Gobierno », 22 January 1959.

38 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en la magna concentración popular en el Palacio Presidencial », 21 January 1959. http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1959/esp/f210159e.html (Accessed 13 June 2017).

39 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, Primer Ministro del Gobierno Revolucionario, durante la inhumación de los restos de los expedicionarios del ‘Corinthia’, en el cementerio de Colón », 28 May 1959. http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1959/esp/f280559e.html (Accessed 25 February 2020.

40 Le Monde, « Fidel Castro réclame la formation d’un bloc démocratique latino-américain », 27 January 1959.

41 Le Monde, « A La Havane, une immense manifestation populaire a préludé aux procès de criminels de guerre », 23 January 1959.

42 F. Parès, « Fidel Castro aurait pu éviter de faire plébisciter par la rue une répression largement soutenue par l’opinion », Le Monde, 31 January 1959. See also: Le Monde, « Cuba: Le criminel n°1 a été exécuté », 19 February 1959.

43 Le Monde, « M. Fidel Castro : les élections auront lieu dans deux ans », 3 March 1959.

44 F. Parès, « Fidel Castro aurait pu éviter de faire plébisciter par la rue une répression largement soutenue par l’opinion », Le Monde, op. cit.

45 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, Primer Ministro del Gobierno Revolucionario, en el Palacio Presidencial », 22 March 1959. http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1959/esp/f220359e.html (Accessed 16 March 2018).

46 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en la magna concentración popular en el Palacio Presidencial », 21 January 1959, op. cit.

47 Diario de la Marina, « Opina el Comandante Guevara sobre las ejecuciones », 14 January 1959.

48 Salim Lamrani, De Fulgencio Batista à Fidel Castro. Cuba et la politique étrangère des Etats-Unis, 1956-1959, Université Paris-Sorbonne, thèse de doctorat réalisée sous la direction de Milagros Ezquerro & Clémentine Lucien, 2010.

49 Fidel Castro, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en el Parque Céspedes de Santiago de Cuba », 1 January 1959, op. cit.

50 Park F. Wollam, « Despach From the Consulate at Santiago de Cuba to the Department of State », 14 January 1959, Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/1-1459. Confidential, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 360.

51 The New York Times, « A Cuban Dictator Falls », 2 January 1959.

52 Herbert L. Matthews, « Cuba: First Step to a New Era », The New York Times, 4 January 1959, op. cit.

53 Chester Bowles, « Our Cuba Policy Queried », The New York Times, 25 January 1959.

54 The New York Times, « U.S. Aid to Batista Held Negligible », 4 January 1959.

55 Herbert L. Matthews, « A New Chapter Opens In Latin America », The New York Times, 11 January 1959.

56 E. W. Kenworthy, « U.S. Policy Shift on Latins Urged », The New York Times, 4 January 1959.

57 Earl E. T. Smith, « Telegram From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State », 15 January 1959, Department of State, Central Files, 737.58/1-1559, Secret. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 364. See also: The New York Times, « 3 U.S. Military Mission In Cuba to Be Recalled », 28 January 1959 ; The New York Times, « Washington Proceedings », 28 January 1959.

58 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Doctor Fidel Castro Ruz, Primer Ministro del Gobierno Revolucionario, en la sesión almuerzo del Club de Leones de La Habana, en el Salón Caribe, del Hotel Habana Hilton », 14 February 1959. http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/1959/esp/f140259e.html (Accessed 12 February 2018).

59 Earl E. T. Smith, « Telegram From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State », 15 January 1959, Department of State, Central Files, 737.58/1-1559, Secret. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 364.

60 John Foster Dulles, « Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Cuba », 17 January 1959, Department of State, Central Files, 737.58/1-1559, Secret. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 366.

61 The New York Times, « Transcript of the Dulles News Conference On Big 4 Talk and Related Issues », 28 January 1959 ; Diario de la Marina, « Retirará E.U. sus misiones militares en Cuba », 28 January 1959 ; Diario de la Marina, « Retiran los EE. UU. misiones militares destacadas en Cuba », 12 February 1959.

62 Daniel Braddock, « Telegram From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State », 20 January 1959. Department of State, Central Files, 737.58/1-2059, Secret. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 376.

63 Fidel Castro, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, en el club Rotario de La Habana », 15 January 1959, op. cit.

64 Park F. Wollam, « Letter From the Consul at Santiago de Cuba (Wollam) to the Deputy Director of the Office of Caribbean and Mexican Affairs (Little) », 19 January 1959. Department of State, Central Files, 611.37/1-1958, Confidential. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 372.

65 Fidel Castro Ruz, « Discurso pronunciado por el Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz en la magna concentración popular en el Palacio Presidencial », 21 January 1959, op. cit.. See also: The New York Times, « Castro In Bid to U.S. », 17 January 1959.

66 Park F. Wollam, « Letter From the Consul at Santiago de Cuba (Wollam) to the Deputy Director of the Office of Caribbean and Mexican Affairs (Little) », 19 January 1959. Department of State, Central Files, 611.37/1-1958, Confidential. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 372. See also: «The New York Times, « U.S. Admits 15 Cubans But Ousted Senator and His Brothers Are Still Held », 13 January 1959.

67 Allen Dulles, « Editorial Note », 22 janvier 1959. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 382.

68 Spalding, « Telegram From the Embassy in the Dominican Republic to the Department of State », 27 January 1959, Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/1-2759, Secret. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 383-84.

69 John Foster Dulles, « Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Dominican Republic », 3 February 1959, Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/1-2759, Confidential. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, p. 391.

70 The New York Times, « U.S. Asylum Ruled Out », 7 January 1959.

71 S. Everett Gleason, « Memorandum of Discussion at the 392nd Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington », 23 décembre 1958, Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records, Top Secret, Eyes Only, FRUS, 1991, p. 302-303.

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Salim Lamrani, « The Eisenhower administration and revolutionary justice in Cuba: “Humanitarian” considerations? »Études caribéennes [En ligne], 54 | Avril 2023, mis en ligne le 15 avril 2023, consulté le 26 mai 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudescaribeennes/26534 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/etudescaribeennes.26534

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Salim Lamrani

Université de La Réunion

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