U.S. declassifies documents of multiple attempts to normalize relations with Cuba

David Brooks                        
                                           Read Spanish Version

La Jornada,
23, 2009

–  Since the times of John F. Kennedy up to Bill Clinton, U
presidents secretly explored the possibility of normal bilateral
relations with Cuba, according to official documents recently

independent National Security Archive (NSA) in Washington disclosed
today a number of official U.S. government documents, up to now
secret, that reveal from a secret meeting of a top Kennedy advisor
with Che Guevara, to Kissinger’s attempts to open a dialogue with
Fidel Castro’s representatives for normalizing relations.

to the director of the NSA’s Project on Cuba, Peter Kornbluh, the
documents could serve as a guide to the Barack Obama administration.
“History shows that presidents from Kennedy to Clinton considered
dialogue was both possible and preferable instead of a continuation
of the hostility and aggression in the U.S. Cuban policy. This
magnificent declassified record from the past offers a future road
map for the new U.S. administration,” Kornbluh said.

a secret directive issued in March, 1977, shortly after Jimmy Carter
was sworn in as president of the United States, marks the first and
only occasion that a U.S. president ordered the normalization of
relations with the Castro government.

have concluded that we should achieve normalization of our relations
with Cuba,” said presidential directive NSC-6.


gave orders to promote “a process that will lead to reestablish
diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.” The
negotiations bore fruit
as the creation of diplomatic interest sections both in Washington
and Havana, and there was even a secret dialogue with Castro. But the
effort went awry because the U.S. demanded the withdrawal of Cuban
troops from Africa before Carter was willing to consider lifting the
economic blockade against the island.

years earlier, in 1975, a top level advisor of then Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger wrote a secret report with the title
“Normalizing Relations with Cuba,” in which he argued that “it
is in our interest to put the Cuba issue behind us and not prolong it
indefinitely.” He also added that “if there is a benefit for us
in ending the state of ‘perpetual antagonism’, it lies in taking
Cuba out of the domestic and inter American agenda, in taking out the
symbolism of an issue intrinsically trivial.”

the beginning of that year, on January 11, 1975, Assistant Secretary
of State William Rogers and representatives of the Cuban government
met in secret for the first time in a cafeteria at La Guardia Airport
in New York. At the meeting, a document approved by Kissinger was
delivered to Ramón Sánchez Parodi, Castro’s representative.

untitled and unsigned document said that “We are meeting here to
explore the possibilities of a more normal relation between our two
countries,” and added that “the United States can and is willing
to progress on such issues even with socialist nations with which we
have a basic ideological disagreement.”

these attempts go back almost to the very beginning. Among the
documents disclosed today there is a report on a meeting with Che
Guevara in August, 1961. Richard Goodwin, assistant to President
Kennedy, tells of his informal conversation with Guevara in
Montevideo, Uruguay, where he says that among other points they
talked about Cuba’s wish to establish a modus vivendi with the
United States. Guevara also informed that although Castro was willing
to make some concessions to reach this objective, the political
system was not negotiable.

also suggested that a negotiation could begin on secondary issues in
order to cover conversations on fundamental matters. The meeting,
according to the Archive, was the first high level dialogue between
representatives of both countries since diplomatic relations were
severed on January 3, 1961.

is a little known fact that since the Eisenhower administration broke
relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961, every president has
participated in some sort of dialogue with Fidel Castro, except
George W. Bush,” wrote Kornbluh with William LeoGrande in the long
article “Speaking with Castro,” in the latest (February) issue of
the magazine

piece is based on these up to now secret documents and a research
project by the NSA about the clandestine dialogues between both
countries throughout the past 50 years, from Kennedy to Carter,
Kissinger during the Gerald Ford administration, and Bill Clinton.
During the latter
administration there was the already known effort by Gabriel García
Márquez for promoting dialogue to normalize relations.

article tells the history of negotiations — open ones, on issues
such as migration; and the secret attempts, frequently through
middlemen, in search of some road to proceed toward a greater
normalization. In fact, it says that at the same time that Kennedy
was authorizing hostile actions, he also gave the green light to
explore a diplomatic readjustment. The main attempts were promoted
first by Kennedy advisors and were later repeated under Carter, Ford
and Clinton.

they all failed, Kornbluh and LeoGrande argue that the effort is now
more relevant, since President Obama said in his campaign that he was
willing to meet Raúl Castro with “no preconditions.”

said it again in a debate with his now Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, who criticized that attitude, and where Obama argued that it
was feasible with previous preparation, for “it is important for
the United States to talk not only with its friends, but also with
its foes. Indeed, that is where diplomacy makes a major difference.”

and LeoGrande say that Carter was closer to Obama in his diplomatic
vision of searching for a peaceful solution to foreign issues,
including Cuba. “I believed then, as I believe today, that the best
way to promote change in Cuba’s communist regime was to open trade,
visits and diplomatic relations,” said Carter to the authors. He
said that in hindsight, “knowing what I know today since I left the
White House, I should have proceeded and should have been more
flexible managing Cuba and establishing full diplomatic relations.”

authors say that this history of attempts and dialogues between
Washington and Havana, many of them secret up to now, is a guideline
for the new administration in a context that perhaps is the more
promising in the last 50 years for leaving behind a failed and
repudiated policy by international community, and to turn a new page
in history.

see the original documents, go to the National Security Archive site

Brooks is the U
correspondent of the Mexican daily La Jornada.

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