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Double Dealing
Mexico's Foreign Policy Toward Cuba

by Kate Doyle
(kadoyle@gwu.edu)

Research Assistance: Isaac Campos Costero and Mónica Vanessa López de la O.

Posted - March 2, 2003

El artículo en español
(PDF format - 553KB)

 

This new Electronic Briefing Book on relations between Mexico, Cuba and the United States is the first to appear based on a collaboration between Proceso magazine and the National Security Archive and launched on March 2, 2003.

The collaboration grew out of a shared desire to publish and disseminate to a wide audience newly-declassified documents about the United States and Mexico. Each month, Proceso magazine will publish an article by the Archive's Mexico Project director, Kate Doyle, examining new documentary evidence on a chosen topic. The series - called Archivos Abiertos (or, Open Archive), will draw from U.S. and Mexican declassified records on a range of issues that could include, for example: drug trafficking and counternarcotics policy, Mexican presidential elections, human rights cases, immigration, U.S. training of the Mexican military, NAFTA negotiations, the role of the press, peso devaluations, and state repression during Mexico's "dirty war." On the same day that Proceso's article appears in Mexico, the National Security Archive will post an Electronic Briefing Book on its web site, containing an English-language version of the article, a link to Proceso's web site, and all of the declassified documents used for the piece, reproduced in their entirety.

 

Contents
Article - Double Dealing: Mexico's Foreign Policy Toward Cuba
Sidebar - Mexico's Dispatches from Cuba
U.S. Documents
Mexican Documents
Link - Proceso Magazine
El artículo en español (PDF format - 553KB)

 

Research for this article and electronic briefing book was made possible in part thanks to a grant from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation.

Double Dealing: Mexico's Foreign Policy Toward Cuba

by Kate Doyle

The historic relationship between Mexico and Fidel Castro's Cuba is the stuff of legend - a legend that both nations have promoted tirelessly since 1959.

In the years after the triumph of the Cuban revolution, despite intense pressure from Washington, Mexico proved a staunch ally to Cuba. In 1960, López Mateos demonstrated his backing for the new government by inviting Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós to Mexico for a state visit. In 1961, the Mexican government led the charge in the United Nations to protest the Bay of Pigs invasion. Mexico repeatedly opposed the imposition of economic sanctions by the Organization of American States (OAS) against Cuba; and in 1964, became the only OAS member to reject the U.S-led charge to break diplomatic ties with Havana.

Over the decades that followed, Cuba found that it could count on its Mexican friends for support in a hostile hemisphere. After all, Mexico's affinity for Havana was directly connected to its own revolutionary legacy.

So the legend goes, anyway.

But newly declassified records from the United States suggest that the legendary independence in Mexico's approach to Cuba may be more folklore than fact. The documents, at the U.S. National Archives and the presidential library of Lyndon Baines Johnson in Austin, Texas, tell a far more complex tale of the real history of U.S.-Mexican-Cuban relations than the official story might have us believe.

This historic alliance has already been challenged by the dramatic deterioration of Mexican-Cuban relations under the administration of President Vicente Fox. First came Fox's clumsy effort in April of last year to orchestrate Castro's exit from the Monterrey economic summit before the arrival of President George Bush; then Mexico joined the majority at the United Nations to censure Cuba for its dismal human rights record. These moves have prompted cries of outrage that Fox has destroyed a proud tradition of friendship with Cuba founded in defiance of American pressure at the height of the cold war.

During the cold war, Mexico's foreign policy appeared to take an independent track, particularly in Latin America. Despite official Mexico's evident distaste for communism and low tolerance for dissent at home, Mexican governments refused to toe the U.S. ideological line in the hemisphere. Not only did Mexico preserve diplomatic relations with Castro's Cuba, but it offered safe haven for political exiles from throughout the region, and led the Contadora group of nations attempting to curtail U.S. intervention in Central America in the 1980s, in the face of overwhelming and public U.S. disapproval.

In the case of Cuba, the declassified documents offer new evidence that U.S. tolerance of Mexico's intransigence was based upon a secret and highly sensitive compact made between Mexican heads of state and their counterparts in Washington. The documents illustrate the ways in which Mexico managed a dangerous diplomatic dance: maintaining a public stance of support for the Castro regime while secretly conceding much more to U.S. pressure than has been acknowledged by analysts.

The Cuban revolution - and Washington's virulent reaction to it - presented a direct challenge to Mexico's Estrada Doctrine. The López Mateos government did not hesitate to join the rest of Latin America in decrying Cuba's role in the missile crisis of 1962. But it was faced with a more complicated diplomatic dilemma in 1964, when the United States helped force a vote in the OAS to sever relations with the Castro regime over reported aggressions against Venezuela's government. Mexico's decision not to break with Cuba has often been cited as an example of its independent foreign policy. In fact, there is evidence that Mexico's desire to preserve its autonomy on the question of Cuba coincided nicely with the needs of the United States to maintain some influence over Castro - and to spy on the country.

Four months after the July 1964 OAS meeting, President Johnson was preparing to greet Díaz Ordaz for his first visit to the United States as the new president-elect of Mexico. In a taped telephone conversation between LBJ, speaking from his ranch in central Texas, and the powerful Senator Richard Russell, Democrat from Georgia and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Johnson sought the senator's reaction to Mexico's decision to maintain ties with Cuba. "What do you think I ought to tell Díaz Ordaz about Mexico being the only country that didn't condemn Cuba?," asked the President.

Russell responded angrily. "I'd just tell him that you judged it as being very unfortunate, and that it was a great burden on a good neighbor policy -- that he, as well as all his predecesssors and all the others, knew that you want the United States to be an extraordinarly good friend to Mexico, but that the state of public opinion in the United States was such that you just couldn't go all out there for him. Well, I don't know whether you ought to be quite that strong. Yes, I think I would. The state of public opinion in this country -- on account of not being able to understand Mexico's attitude -- made it very difficult for you. And that very frankly you couldn't understand their attitude either."

Minutes later, Johnson took a phone call from his secretary of state, Dean Rusk. As they chatted about world affairs, the conversation turned to Mexico.

Rusk: "[Díaz] Ordaz is coming in, when, around noon?"
LBJ: "Yeah. About twelve o' clock."
Rusk: "Right. Well, I hope you have a good visit with him."
LBJ: "What do we say to him about Cuba?"

Where Senator Russell had responded to LBJ with conventional Washington wisdom on what he perceived as Mexico's betrayal of a special relationship with the United States, Secretary of State Rusk was sanguine.

He cautioned the President against complaining about Mexico's decision: "Oh, I would not play that up very much. The background on that is that during our Foreign Ministers meeting in late July, a number of us - Brazil and others - talked about the practical desireability of having one Latin American embassy there if possible. [. . .] And so the hemisphere is fairly relaxed about the Mexicans staying on there for a time. I would emphasize to him the importance of his taking all the steps necessary not to permit the Cubans to use Mexico as a channel for money or agents or for travel of students to Cuba for training and things of that sort. And then tell him that we hope that he will review the whole Cuban situation and his own relations with the hemisphere and with Latin America. But I wouldn't press him unduly to break relations."

LBJ: "All right, that's good."

Rusk's revelation is confirmed in a secret cable sent to Washington three years later by the U.S. embassy's chargé Henry Dearborn. In May 1967 a small guerrilla force headed by a Cuban army officer was captured in the Venezuelan state of Miranda. Venezuela responded with outrage, calling on the hemisphere to condemn Cuba's actions. Reacting to an appeal by the Venezuelan government to prod Mexico to break relations with Cuba, Dearborn cabled the State Department: "I have been informed since recent arrival this post that GOM [Government of Mexico] has informal understanding with U.S. at highest levels to maintain relations with Cuba so one OAS country can have foot in door which might be helpful. We have no documentation on this here but if true we might not wish leave impression with GOV [Government of Venezuela] we are willing to push GOM even from behind." In other words, the United States would refuse to pressure Mexico overtly or covertly to cut its ties with Cuba because of the opportunity it offered the U.S. for manipulating Mexico's presence there.

Furthermore, it is evident from the declassified documents that the United States regularly gathered intelligence on Cuba's internal political, economic and social developments directly from Mexico's ambassadors to Havana.

Ambassador Fernando Pámanes Escobedo offers a case in point. On June 2, 1967, a U.S. embassy officer, Francis S. Sherry III, sat down with Pámanes while the ambassador was in Mexico for consultations with the SRE. According to the U.S. embassy's secret memorandum of the conversation - which was reviewed and cleared by the CIA station chief in Mexico City, Winston Scott [footnote] - Pámanes briefed Sherry on a wide range of highly sensitive topics. They included the effects of Cuba's economic woes on its citizens and the resultant popular discontent, Cuban military matters, the deteriorating state of Cuban-Soviet relations, and information on Cubans seeking asylum in the Mexican embassy.

Here is Sherry's account of Pámanes Escobedo's description of a recent Cuban army deployment: "Pámanes estimated that more than 30 thousand troops were freed for defensive duties along the southern coast by placing guards and militia-men on alert status. This type of partial mobilization allowed Castro to further the grip of the regime on the people although the Cubans also appeared genuinely apprehensive of possible Venezuelan reprisals backed by the United States. Without mentioning his name, Pámanes said he was told by a Cuban official speaking privately that the Cubans foresaw the possibility that the Venezuelans might bomb or shell Cuban installations or attempt limited commando raids along the Cuban coast." One can only wonder how the unnamed Cuban official would have reacted if he had known his conversation would be repeated to a U.S. embassy officer.

The Mexican ambassador also reported a suspicious-looking Soviet ship cargo. "During one of his travels to the port of Mariel in April 1967," wrote the U.S. embassy, "Pámanes observed the unloading of an unidentified Soviet ship from a distance which included large, long boxes which he felt probably contained small to medium-size ground to air missiles. Four to six were being loaded on trailers of about 30-ton capacity each. Pámanes spotted 8 such trailers which were hauled away under strong escort. This is the only unloading of missiles observed by Ambassador Pámanes since his arrival in Cuba."

The memorandum sent to the State Department by Deputy Chief of Mission Henry Dearborn in an airgram on June 10, came with a note from Dearborn which read, "The fact of Mr. Sherry's meeting with Ambassador Pámanes and the attached memorandum should be given maximum security protection."

It is a measure of the memo's importance that a copy was sent to the White House several days later, with a cover memo from Walt Rostow, LBJ's National Security Advisor, that read, "Mr. President: This first-hand account of the situation inside Cuba [DELETED] has some interesting insights. W.W. Rostow."

Just three months later, the embassy had its first conversation with the newly appointed Mexican ambassador to Cuba, Miguel Covián Pérez, to discuss, among other issues, an ongoing conflict with Havana over the repatriation of American citizens. Although Covián warned in the meeting that "it is important from the outset that he is exclusively GOM ambassador to Cuba and not 'unofficial representative of the U.S.,'" he agreed to communicate Cuban developments to the U.S. embassy, not only through his reports to Mexican Foreign Secretary Carrillo Flores, but also through "informal and unofficial contacts" with then-federal deputy Alfonso Martínez Domínguez.

In public, Mexico repeatedly emphasized its sovereign right to craft foreign policies free of influence from its giant neighbor to the north. But in private meetings with their counterparts, Mexican presidents took great pains to assure the United States of their underlying support for U.S. objectives in Cuba and elsewhere.

In a briefing memo sent to President Johnson on February 18, 1964, just before an encounter with López Mateos, Secretary Rusk pointed out that, "At times his foreign policy has been too independent - for example on Cuba and in commercial and cultural relations with Communist China. But when fundamental issues are at stake we have usually found him understanding and willing to be helpful…" by controlling the travel of "Castro agents" to and from Mexico, for example (emphasis in the original).

Later that year, López's successor Díaz Ordaz reiterated the assurance. "The United States could be absolutely sure that when the chips were really down, Mexico would be unequivocally by its side," Díaz told Johnson as they talked about Mexico's stance on Cuba. The president went on to say that a completely compliant Mexico, which never disagreed with U.S. policy whatever the views of its citizens, would be useless to the United States. "There was a considerable advantage when the issues at stake were not great if Mexico could continue to demonstrate its political independence and divergence on relatively minor issues."

The NSC advisor who signed off on the memo of that conversation warned the White House that its distribution should be limited: "If it should get out to the public it could really hurt Díaz Ordaz."

The new documentary evidence uncovered about Mexican-Cuban relations does not necessarily imply that Mexico's policy toward Cuba is and always has been a lie- rather, that Mexican leaders may have crafted a skillfully negotiated independence in the face of intense U.S. pressure.

But the declassified records do offer a clearer picture of the double game that Mexico played for decades in its relationship with Cuba. On the one hand, it promoted an image of itself of a courageous and independent leader, ever ready to take the side of the beleaguered island nation - however unpopular that made Mexico in the eyes of its most powerful ally. On the other, the Mexican government back channeled intelligence and assurances to U.S. officials in an effort to ingratiate itself and win favor in delicate bilateral negotiations with the United States over issues it deemed more important. Viewed in this light, Mexico's recent decision to join the United Nations in condemning Cuba's human rights record does represents something new. It was the first time that Mexico ignored its own propaganda to craft an honest policy - a policy with a single face, shaped not by public duplicity but by the secret diplomacy of the past.

Note - Jefferson Morley, "The Spy Who Loved Him," The Washington Post, March 17, 1996, p.F01.


Mexico's Dispatches from Cuba

What was Ambassador Fernando Pámanes Escobedo telling his superiors while he was feeding intelligence to a U.S. embassy officer in 1967?

In order to find out, we went to the agency's Acervo Histórico Diplomático to identify records from his posting in the Mexican embassy in Havana.

The diplomatic archives, located in several different rooms within the foreign relations complex at Tlatelolco, is a rich (if incomplete) treasure trove of historical material documenting one hundred and fifty years of Mexico's international policy. Records of the SRE are supposed to be passed to the Archivo de Concentraciones, where they are made available to researchers 25 years after their creation (a date set to change in June when the new federal "transparency law" goes into effect, requiring agencies to open records after just 12 years). Aurora Contreras, the wise and helpful sub-director of the Archivo de Concentraciones, assists researchers in locating material relevant to their work.

Like ambassadors before and after him, Pámanes was required to submit to the Foreign Relations Secretariat at least one confidential report each month on the political situation in Cuba, called an informe politico (political report). The 1967 political reports from Cuba are open to scholars - at least, those that have been preserved for posterity. The file contains what appears to be a complete set of reports from Pámanes for the year, beginning with his first one - sent January 26 - through July 4, shortly before he left Havana to make way for the new ambassador, Miguel Covián Pérez. There the reports stop - although whether that is because the rest were destroyed by the SRE, were never passed to the archive, or were not written at all due to the transition of ambassadors is impossible to know.

The documents, often accompanied by news clips, offer the ambassador's observations and analysis about developments inside Cuba. In 1967, Pámanes reported on a wide range of issues - some of which are reflected in his June 2 conversation with U.S. official Francis Sherry - including the country's economic crisis, government campaigns to raise sugar production, Cuban support for Latin American guerrilla movements, food shortages, problems with industrial equipment, and the strained relations between the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Contrary to what one might have concluded from the public face of Mexico's policy toward Cuba, Pámanes did not hesitate to criticize the Cuban government. A frequent complaint was his inability to get reliable and truthful information. In one informe in late March, for example, the ambassador repeated some of the rumors then floating around Havana about Raúl Castro's whereabouts, and then explained: "The complex machinery of the Cuban Government and Communist Party, aimed at creating a closed society, does not permit one to obtain normal information. Therefore, I must limit myself to conveying rumors and conjectures and nothing more." Two months later, Castro made a speech pledging to convert the island into a world-class producer of citrus. In his report to the SRE, Pámanes noted wryly,

"one has to take [Castro's] words with a big grain of salt, since pronouncements and propaganda often do not correspond with reality. Currently, for example, the claims of the authorities and the Communist Party notwithstanding, there is an absolute scarcity of beans and vegetables [. . .], and everything is subject to rationing." And in July, the Mexican ambassador commented on the visibly cool relations between the Cubans and visiting Soviet leader Alexei Kosygin, speculating on what could be creating the tension. Among the possible causes, Pámanes suggested, may be Kosygin's disapproval of "Political repression in Cuba…[Perhaps the Soviet] Government fears that the constant repression and violence used against enemies of the regime, and even against innocent persons of every political stripe, might come to provoke a violent popular reaction and even the defection of some part of the army. . .

There is nothing in Pámanes's archived political reports reflecting Cuba's troop deployment along the southern coast in 1967, nor the arrival of ground-to-air missiles by Soviet ship.

Aside from the political reports, information passed by Pámanes to Mexico City would have been found in his daily correspondence with the SRE. Disappointingly, the entire file of correspondence between the Cuban embassy and the secretariat is gone - never turned over to the Archivo de Concentraciones, according to the archive's Aurora Contreras, and possibly destroyed due to the sensitivity of the subject. Accordingly, we cannot know whether Pámanes passed to Mexico City the same intelligence information he gave the U.S. embassy in Mexico.


U.S. Documents

Document 1
February 15, 1964
U.S.-Mexican Cooperation on Cuba
Department of State, secret talking points and background paper
[Extract]

In preparation for a bilateral meeting between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mexico's outgoing President Adolfo López Mateos, the State Department's Bureau of Inter-American Affairs drafted a set of talking points and briefing papers covering issues the two leaders might discuss. These extracts concerning Cuba provide a mixed picture of Mexico's policy toward Havana. On the one hand, Washington continued to have concerns about Mexico's relations with the Cuban government, and believed that upcoming presidential elections made it unlikely that Mexico would change its position in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, the State Department's analysts acknowledged that Mexico had taken "unpublicized measures" against Cuba and "has cooperated with us against Castro in ways which do not draw public attention."

[Note: Almost forty years after the talking points included here were drafted for President Johnson, they remain classified. The National Security Archive has appealed their denial and awaits a response from the State Department. ]

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, "Briefing Book - López Mateos visit, 2/20-2/22/64"

Document 2
February 18, 1964
Your Meeting with President López Mateos
Secretary of State, secret memorandum and background paper

Just days prior to the meeting between López Mateos and the newly-inaugurated U.S. president, Secretary of State Dean Rusk gives LBJ background information and talking points on Mexico. Despite the public disagreements with the Mexican government over its policy on Cuba in recent years, Rusk describes U.S.-Mexican relations as being at an "all-time high." Indeed, while he states that Mexico's foreign policy under López Mateos has at times been "too independent," Rusk nevertheless concedes that López Mateos has supported U.S. objectives when "fundamental issues are at stake." The attached "Major Points of Interest" adds that the Mexicans have helped control "Castro/Communism," but that "Mexico is very sensitive about publicizing its cooperation and we have carefully avoided any public comment on Mexican control measures."

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, "López Mateos Visit, 2/20-2/22/64"

Document 3
November 5, 1964
Mexico and Relations with Cuba
Department of State, confidential background paper

In anticipation of the visit of Mexican President-elect Gustavo Díaz Ordaz to the LBJ ranch in Stonewall, Texas, the Department of State drafts a short paper on Mexican relations with Cuba. The document offers the conventional Washington view of Mexico's intransigence over the Cuba question - particularly regarding its decision to stand alone among the nations of the Organization of American States in maintaining diplomatic and economic ties with Havana. The paper expresses the hope that the new Mexican president will reconsider his country's Cuba policy.

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, "Díaz Ordaz visit, 1964"

Document 4 (MP3 format)
November 12, 1964
[Telephone Conversation between LBJ and Richard Russell]
White House, unclassified tape recording

Preparing to greet Díaz Ordaz in Texas, President Lyndon Johnson speaks by phone with Senator Richard Russell (D-GA). In a segment of the taped conversation which opens with a discussion of domestic political affairs, LBJ asks the senator for his opinion of the Mexican decision to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba. Russell believes the move represents a betrayal of Mexico's long-standing friendship with the United States.

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library
Recordings of Telephone Conversations-White House Series
Tape WH6411.18: Richard Russell, 8:55 a.m., PNO 6341

Document 5 (MP3 format)
November 12, 1964
[Telephone Conversation between LBJ and Dean Rusk]
White House, unclassified tape recording

President Johnson talks by telephone with Secretary of State Dean Rusk. After discussing developments in Vietnam and a U.S. delegation to the inauguration of President-elect Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in Mexico in December, LBJ asks Rusk what he ought to say during his upcoming meeting with Díaz about Mexico's vote to maintain relations with Cuba during the OAS ministerial meeting in July. The secretary advises Johnson to avoid making a fuss about the vote, and suggests that Mexico's official standing in Havana may prove convenient to the United States and the hemisphere.

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library
Recordings of Telephone Conversations-White House Series
Tape WH6411.18: Dean Rusk, 9:40 a.m., PNO 6342

Document 6
November 23, 1964
President Johnson's Conversation with President-elect Díaz Ordaz
Department of State, confidential memorandum of conversation

Following meetings on November 13 and 14 between President Johnson and President-elect Díaz Ordaz in Texas, memoranda of conversation are drafted for distribution to appropriate U.S. government offices. Part Two of the memoranda relates a conversation between LBJ, Díaz Ordaz and Mexican Foreign Secretary Antonio Carrillo Flores while riding in an automobile together. In response to Johnson's questions, Díaz Ordaz tells the U.S. president that Mexicans are disenchanted with the undemocratic behavior of Fidel Castro, but that his country's policy of non-intervention and doubts about Venezuela's claims of Cuban aggression led to the recent OAS vote. Díaz goes on to assure LBJ that despite Mexico's occasional divergence from U.S.-supported policies, his government was ever ready to back Washington in matters of great importance, as it did during the missile crisis in 1962 - in short, that "Mexico's interests in a show-down would be parallel to ours." Díaz argues the benefits of policy differences between the United States and Mexico: "While divergence on relatively unimportant matters might at time create temporary discomfiture they also demonstrated that the American States did in fact enjoy independence."

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, "Díaz Ordaz visit, 1964"

Document 7
Circa June 1967
[Guerrilla Problem in Latin America]
[Department of State], secret intelligence report

The State Department assesses the status of guerrilla movements around the hemisphere, including in Venezuela - called "Cuba's primary target for subversion in Latin America" - and in Mexico, "well known as a focal point for Cuban/Soviet machinations." The report claims that guerrilla training missions and arms supplies are funneled through the Mexican capital via the Cuban Embassy and cites documents linking this route to 4,000 arms recently smuggled to Guatemalan guerrillas.

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security Files
Intelligence File, "Guerrilla Problem in Latin America"

Document 8
June 10, 1967
Conversation between Embassy Officer and Mexican Ambassador to Cuba
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret airgram

A memorandum concerning a conversation held June 2 between Mexican Ambassador to Cuba Fernando Pámanes Escobedo and U.S. consular officer Francis Sherry is forwarded to the White House. The conversation amounts to an intelligence debriefing of Amb. Pámanes, as he describes mounting discontent inside Cuba due to chronic food shortages and "bad public administration," details of Cuban troop movements, his observations about the arrival of what appear to Soviet ground-to-air missiles, and other sensitive matters. On the cover note to the State Department, Deputy Chief of Mission Henry Dearborn warns that "Mr. Sherry's meeting with Ambassador Pámanes and the attached memorandum should be given maximum security protection." As noted on the bottom of the memo, the document was reviewed and cleared by CIA station chief, Winston Scott, before being passed to Washington.

Source: National Archives, Record Group 59
CFPF 67-69, POL Cuba-A
Source of attached memo from Walt Rostow to President Johnson:
Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security Files
CO-Cuba, "Vol. II, Bowdler File"

Document 9
June 28, 1967
[Informal understanding on Cuba]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

The U.S. deputy chief of mission in Mexico, Henry Dearborn, cables Washington for advice on how to respond to a recent request from the Venezuelan government to pressure Mexico into severing ties with Cuba. Dearborn explains that he has been told that the Mexican government has an "informal understanding with US at highest levels to maintain relations with Cuba so one OAS country can have foot in door which might sometime be helpful." He is reluctant to act on Venezuela's behalf, as a consequence, and seeks the State Department's guidance.

Source: National Archives, Record Group 59
CFPF 67-69, POL Cuba-A

Document 10
September 7, 1967
[Change of Mexican Ambassadors in Havana]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential telegram

Report of a private meeting between U.S. Ambassador Tony Freeman and newly appointed Mexican ambassador to Cuba, Miguel Covián Pérez, held in the home of federal deputy Alfonso Martínez Domínguez. The document provides additional evidence that Mexico's diplomats in Havana regularly provided information about developments inside Cuba to the U.S. government. In this meeting, Covián warns that it is "important to establish from outset that he is exclusively GOM [Government of Mexico] Ambassador to Cuba and not 'Unofficial Representative of U.S.'" He agrees, however, to convey to Amb. Freeman all developments on an issue of importance to the Americans - that is, the repatriation of U.S. citizens seeking to leave Cuba - through the Foreign Relations Secretariat and through "informal and unofficial contact" with Martínez Domínguez. Freeman concludes by warning the State Department to take Mexico's assistance into consideration during the upcoming OAS ministerial meeting: "I trust Department will have this in mind while pressing Mexico to adopt tougher attitude toward Venezuelan resolution, and will understand should GOM decide it must abstain on the res[olution] which specifically condemns Cuba…and calls for sanctions."

[Attached to the cable is a cover memo from White House special adviser on Latin America, William Bowdler, to National Security Adviser Walt Rostow advising him of the conversation.]

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, "Memos and Misc. Vol.III, 3/67-11/67 (2 of 3)"

Document 11
September 18, 1967
[Repatriation of American Citizens now being held in Cuba]
Department of State, secret eyes only memorandum

According to this highly classified memorandum from the State Department, the former Mexican ambassador to Cuba, Fernando Pámanes Escobedo, was replaced by Miguel Covián Pérez due to corruption and the Cuban government's consequent refusal to deal with him.

Barbara M. Watson, a senior officer in the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, reports on confidential contacts she has had with an individual regarding efforts to repatriate American citizens stranded in Havana. At Watson's request, the individual asked Fidel Castro why the Cuban government refused to permit U.S. citizens to continue leaving the country after two plane loads had successfully left in late 1966. The informant returned to Washington with the news that Castro was ready to allow repatriation to begin again. Castro's "primary reason for the stoppage of airlifts," according to Watson's source, was the Cuban government's disgust with the man serving as liaison for Havana and Washington on the issue: Mexican Ambassador Pámanes Escobedo. Although names in the document have been excised, it is clear from the text that the conduct of Pámanes - whom Castro refers to as a "bad sort" - prompted the termination of the airlifts. "[DELETED: Pámanes] was, reportedly, found to be selling departure permits and was also said to be indulging in black-marketeering. When Castro learned of this, he refused to have anything to do with [DELETED: Pámanes]; as a result, his effectiveness on behalf of his own government and ours was terminated."

The report was forwarded to President Johnson by his national security adviser, Walt Rostow.

Source: Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security Files
CO-Cuba, "Vol. III, Bowdler File [2 of 2]"


Mexican documents

Document 1
Circa March 1965
Pliego de Instrucciones
[Instructions]

Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat

Instructions from the Secretariat of Foreign Relations (SRE) for the new ambassador to Cuba, General Fernando Pámanes Escobedo, to prepare him for his mission in Havana.

The 23-page document moves from the general to the specific, beginning with an overview of Mexico's record in foreign affairs. Turning to Cuba, the SRE reviews Cuban history and reiterates Mexico's guiding principles of self-determination and non-intervention, advising that, "our representatives must keep themselves at the margins of events that occur in the internal political life of the countries where they are accredited, without damaging their ability to observe and report on them in great detail …" Several pages are dedicated to the "Cuban Question," summarizing developments since the Cuban revolution and the evolution of Mexico's position and policies toward Cuba. The document examines the recent decision by the OAS member states to sever diplomatic ties with Havana. Characterizing the move as a "coercive measure against Cuba," the SRE explains that Mexico rejected the OAS decision and now remains the only Latin American country with an embassy in the country.

Finally, in a section devoted to "Informes Políticos" [Political Reports], the SRE reminds the new ambassador that he must submit to Mexico City regular reports on the political situation inside Cuba, paying special attention to "events, declarations or pronouncements that will help the Secretariat understand the development of Cuba's foreign policy, particularly with respect to questions debated in the Organization of American States, as well as those which refer to the peculiar situation in which Cuba finds itself on account of its enmity with the United States and its close ties with the Soviet Union, Communist China, and other countries of the socialist bloc, third world or unaligned."

Source: Archivo de Concentraciones, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat
File folder: 13411 - Cuba, Pliego de Instrucciones de Cuba

Document 2
March 29, 1967
Llamamiento del Ministro de las Fuerzas Armadas a la juventud cubana para que se aliste en ellas
[Call by the Minister of the Armed Forces to Cuba's youth urging them to enlist]

Mexican Embassy in Havana, report no. 317

Prompted by the publication of an armed forces communiqué signed by the Vice Minister of Defense instead of Defense Minister Raúl Castro, Ambassador Pámanes conveys to Mexico City the many rumors circulating in Havana over the whereabouts of Fidel's brother. According to Pámanes, members of the foreign diplomatic corps are speculating about a putative rift between Cuba and the Soviet Union that has allegedly prompted an emergency trip by Raúl Castro to Moscow. Pámenes complains that he cannot vouch for the truth of such rumors, given the fact that the "complex machinery of the Cuban Government and Communist Party, aimed at creating a closed society, does not permit one to obtain normal information." The Mexican official suggests that his government is more likely to find accurate information on the question by reading the foreign press than he is from inside Cuba.

Source: Archivo de Concentraciones, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat
File folder: 3056-1, Informes Políticos-Embajada de México en Cuba

Document 3
April 12, 1967
Versión sobre las actividades actuales del Ministro de las Fuerzas Armadas de Cuba, Comandante Raúl Castro
[One version of the current activities of the Minister of the Armed Forces, Commander Raúl Castro]

Mexican Embassy in Havana, Reserved report no. 399

Ambassador Pámanes Escobedo reports the latest theory on the whereabouts of Raúl Castro. Most of the socialist bloc diplomats, writes Pámanes, believe Raúl to be in Havana preparing for his imminent promotion to Vice Premier of the country. In his new post, Castro would not only coordinate the activities of the government and the Communist Party, but would take over as Cuba's leader if something happened to Fidel. The ambassador points out that in the event that Raúl replaces his brother, "the political orientation of Cuba would not move one inch, though . . . given his personal characteristics as a hard, radical and severe man, he might try to resolve the island's problems through the application of tough and inflexible measures." Finally, the Ambassador notes that considering the important role Raúl has played in fomenting guerrilla movements in Latin America, he and others in the diplomatic corps take a special interest in gathering more precise information about Commandante Raúl Castro. "Naturally, such information is difficult to obtain, due to the well-known features of stealth and secrecy that always surround the activities of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and Prime Minister Castro."

Source: Archivo de Concentraciones, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat
File folder: 3056-1, Informes Políticos-Embajada de México en Cuba

Document 4
May 10, 1967
Semana de Solidaridad con los pueblos latinoamericanos
[Week of Solidarity with the Latin American people]

Mexican Embassy in Havana, report no. 469

Ambassador Pámanes reports to Mexico City on the closing ceremonies of the Week of Solidarity with Latin America, during which Guatemalan Renato Jiménez spoke on the obligation of all Latin Americans to take up arms and head to the mountains to launch the revolutionary struggle. Pámanes believes that Jiménez is being trained in Cuba to return to Guatemala and lead the "insurrectionary movement" there. "This ceremony," argues Pámanes, "puts into relief once again the fact that elements are being prepared in Cuba so that they will return to their countries and lead the struggle against their own governments."

Source: Archivo de Concentraciones, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat
File folder: 3056-1, Informes Políticos-Embajada de México en Cuba

Document 5
May 12, 1967
Discurso del Primer Ministro Fidel Castro en el poblado de Guane, el 29 de abril de 1967
[Speech given by Fidel Castro to the town of Guane on April 29, 1967]

Mexican Embassy in Cuba, report no. 478

Fidel Castro gives a speech in which he claims to be working to turn the island into a world-class producer of citrus fruits. Ambassador Pámanes cautions against taking such promises too seriously. He notes that government propaganda rarely offers an accurate description of reality in Cuba, and points to the current shortage of fruits and vegetables as an example of the true situation - a shortage that stems either from inadequate production methods or from the export of the majority of produce to socialist bloc countries.

Source: Archivo de Concentraciones, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat
File folder: 3056-1, Informes Políticos-Embajada de México en Cuba

Document 6
July 4, 1967
Visita a Cuba del Premier Ministro Soviético Alexei Kosiguin (del 26 al 30 de junio de 1967)
[Visit to Cuba of Soviet First Minister Alexei Kosygin (From 26-30 of June 1967)]

Mexican Embassy in Havana, Confidential report no. 559

Ambassador Pámanes Escobedo reports to Mexico City on the surprise visit of Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin to Havana at the end of June. Pámanes once again describes the great secrecy surrounding political events in Cuba, complaining that there is no information beyond the rumors coursing through the streets. He notes, however, that the cold reception given the Soviet Premier by the government and the "tense formality" observed at a photo opportunity has aroused suspicions among the diplomatic corps of both Western and Eastern bloc countries that Kosygin is in Cuba to reprimand Castro. Wondering what could be the cause of such obviously strained relations, Pámanes passes on the perception among the diplomatic corps that the Soviets consider Fidel Castro too extreme on a number of issues, including his support of subversive movements in Latin America, his crackdown on dissidents in Cuba, and his position on Vietnam and other Third World movements.

Source: Archivo de Concentraciones, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat
File folder: 3056-1, Informes Políticos-Embajada de México en Cuba

 

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