Santiago de Cuba, June 4,1958.
DEAR TERRY: Your letter of May 1 arrived on May 28, which is bad even for our usual poor courier connections. We do not have any copies of Skelly's publicity in Libertad, but we will get some from the newspaper. Incidently, Libertad was attacked the other day. Masferrer's people seem up to their usual tricks of recent, if we can believe any of what we hear, and his "army" is still in the field, despite some rumors of conflicts between his group and the Cuban Armed Forces and also rumor of disagreements with the local general.
Gerardo Abascal returned here Thursday and was most complimentary about you and the opportunity of talking with you. I do not know if I remembered to warn you that he was coming, but he had indicated a desire to talk to someone in the Department when he visited Washington. I have no idea what he told you since I have not become too well acquainted with him, although he is a pleasant next door neighbor as well as a prominent citizen whose viewpoint is generally well known.
As far as Oriente is concerned, I agree with your statement that the Castro movement lost face in April when the strike movement failed. The people here would, I believe, blame it on the relative indifference in Habana. Had anything occurred there to keep things stirred up for a day or so, I am certain that there would have been a more determined effort here. Castro's war of nerves and propaganda effort was very effective, and much more so than the actual happenings.
It is my strictly personal feeling, however, that this thing is far from being over, and the next month or two should prove or disprove this theory. This feeling is hard to document, but I think that there is a hard core which will resist as long as possible, as, in fact, Castro himself has stated.
It is too early to tell the effect of the military campaign, but the Army has announced no outstanding victories, and all we hear of locally is about "heavy" Army losses. Some of this must be discounted as wishful thinking, but I believe that in a relative manner the Army is losing a lot for this type of skirmishing action. The Army has the man power and the equipment but the rebels have the terrain and a much better reason for fighting, for their lives if nothing else.
Without any very definite knowledge, I can not find that the Army has been able to hold on to any extensive Sierra Maestra real estate and the same is true in the Sierra Cristal area as well as north and east of Baracoa. The Army can move in with force and air support but it seems like the rebels can usually move right back. At the moment there are supposedly heavy skirmishes going on near Sagua de Tanamo, Guantanamo and at two or three places in the Sierra Maestra. The little bits and pieces of information and rumor which do not mean much in themselves tend to give a picture of Army difficulties all over, but this is undoubtedly influenced by the local atmosphere.
On the other hand, the Army has the men, the equipment, and the overwhelming superiority of forces to be able to slowly grind away at Castro on all fronts, but they seem to have trouble concentrating much fire power. The rebels can inflict disproportionate casualties with ambushes and hit and run tactics. The rebels must be suffering too, however.
An interesting local theory is that Batista is kept from knowing the true state of things in Oriente by his military advisers. I do not know where this propaganda started, but the story is that as a native of Oriente, Batista would be doing differently somehow if he know the full story.
In Santiago things were seemingly returning to more normal with more people out at night instead of the completely deserted look to the streets. My impression is, however, that it is going backward a bit again as a result of a number of shootings by SIM, Masferrer, and the rebels over the weekend. At the moment there is a large sugar warehouse on fire on the waterfront, with everybody immediately assuming it is sabotage. A local pastor had a funeral Monday, and says he counted 19 unidentified bodies at the cemetery. We had a figure of 14, and Bob Wiecha has gotten names for about this many. Trains are being attacked again.
This situation is a new one to me, as my revolutionary experience in three countries has ordinarily been with one-shot, succeed-or-fail operations quickly over. Here, however, there is no doubt that there is a real war in progress, albeit small scale.
Some local people will talk about the likeness of the present situation to the end of the Machado regime, as did Ambassador Blanck. That was not pleasant around here and such conditions would probably again mean violence but with greater attending problems.
This all tends to paint a rather dim picture; at the moment it is certainly pure speculation on my part and probably out of proportion. It seems to apply only to Oriente. I do feel that the next several weeks will be somewhat crucial. If the Army can not meet its alleged time table of finishing things off by the end of July at the latest, new estimates of the situation will definitely be needed in a hurry. This is still a very big if at the present time, however.
I wish we could get more, definite information on these things, but you probably have other sources to go on with which to balance out our admittedly narrow, worms-eye view. I am hopeful that we can gradually develop more fact-finding ability along with more valid assessments of the local situation with time and experience. The Navy has had some interesting material recently about the fighting in Guantanamo. Much of it is admittedly "raw" material and subject to evaluation. They have "raw" reports of very heavy government casualties.
Please let me know if there is anything you want more or less of in our reporting attempts.
Best wishes, and I will look forward to seeing Ed Little here.
P .S. This is merely "off the top of the head" stuff FYI.
1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/6-458. Confidential; Official-Informal. A copy was also sent to Topping.
2. Not found.
3. It is not clear which countries Wollam had in mind. He had served in Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Italy.
4. The postscript is handwritten by Wollam