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CUBA: Patience Sorely Tried

4 minute read

“Imperialist beast. Bandit, hypocrite, thief!” screamed the radios in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, denouncing the U.S. “The U.S. wants to prepare public opinion for military action,” raved Revolution, Castro’s mouthpiece paper, “the same technique as the Alamo in 1836, the Maine in 1898, the Lusitania in 1915.” Said Cuba’s Prime Minister himself: “Those who committed this sabotage are those who were interested in our not getting these arms—officials of the United States Government.”

In the week following the explosion of the arms-laden freighter La Coubre in Havana Harbor, the vilification of the U.S. broke all bounds of diplomacy—and even of sanity. Yet once again, in a rapidly deteriorating situation that sees Cuban-American relations reach a new low each day, the U.S. held its temper.

Nonsense Talk. At first, Secretary of State Christian Herter offered Castro a diplomatic out for his undiplomatic language, laid the outburst to “emotional strain” over the disaster. But when his words only increased the din of epithets, even Herter’s patience was tried. He summoned Enrique Patterson, Cuba’s chargé d’affaires, to the State Department and read him one of the strongest protests the U.S. has issued in recent years.

Said Herter: “The U.S. finds itself increasingly obliged to question the good faith of Your Excellency’s government with respect to a desire for improved relations.” Cuba’s nonsensical answer, delivered by Foreign Minister Raúl Roa: The U.S. Secretary of State had personally insulted Diplomat Patterson. “We demand that whenever the United States Government addresses itself to representatives of the revolutionary government, it do so with absolute respect for their official status pursuant to accepted diplomatic standards.”

No one knows where Castro’s madness will drive him next. Cuba already has the look of a nation at war. Black-bereted militia drill in Havana’s parks, empty lots, and along the seaside Malecón drive; children’s yellow-shirted militia go from door to door begging contributions for “arms and planes”; the government TV station puts on a nightly street-corner “defense” telethon for arms funds.

Confiscation & Forbearance. What is the U.S. to do? For the time being, the U.S. will continue to grit its teeth and pursue a policy of patience. Secretary of State Herter says that the President is still opposed to taking economic countermeasures, such as cutting Cuba’s sugar quota. The nation is already in difficult financial straits; its foreign-exchange reserves are down to $88 million, while debts abroad come to between $80 million and $100 million, much of it for the huge arms-buying program.

What the U.S. will do is insist—through the OAS, the U.N., the World Court—on just treatment for U.S. citizens and property in Cuba. There is plenty to insist about. Last week confiscatory taxes forced Freeport Nickel Co. to halt construction on its $119 million Moa Bay nickel mine, a project that would have employed 1,000 Cuban workers fulltime and poured some $4,000,000 a year into Cuba in the form of wages, salaries and local expenditures. Freeport thus joins dozens of other firms that have been harried by sanctions or intervention. Among them: Otis Elevator, Abbott Laboratories, International Telephone & Telegraph, Bethlehem Steel.

The virtue of the U.S. policy of forbearance is that it demonstrates once again that the days of unilateral U.S. intervention in the affairs of its smaller Latin neighbors are past. The U.S. has earned much good will by its patience. But there comes a time when a nation must win respect, as well as good will, if it intends to be a leader. That time had not yet arrived, as the U.S. made clear last week. Yet patience was wearing thin. Said Secretary of State Herter: “Circumstances might arise which would require us to break off relations. I hope those circumstances never arise.”

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