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The United States and Cuba: Ray Lyman Wilbur

In our exchange about Cuba, I have again been struck by the antithetical interpretations of Americans and Latin Americans. It is an old story. I happened to pick up The Memoirs of Ray Lyman Wilbur 1875-1940 (Stanford University Press, 1960). Stanford President Wilbur, who appointed me to Stanford, served as Secretary of the Interior under Hoover. Both were austere, scrupulously honest men. This 687-page volume shows that silent Wilbur was very observant and kept careful notes. Chapter 20 is devoted to the Havana Conference of 1928. Wilbur was a member of the US delegation, headed by Charlews Evans Hughes. President Coolidge accompanied it. Wilbur was happy: "The President of Cuba, General Gerardo Machado y Morales, was at the dock to welcome President Coolidge personally. When our cavalcade of special cars entered Havana, we found the streets lined solidly with cheering crowds, and thousands more people packed all the flag-decorated balconies and flat roofs of the houses and threw roses down in the direction of the two leading cars."

Not only was Machado effusive in his friendship, the Nicaraguan delegation was also, and defended the US against criticism of its policy of intervention. "The members of the Nicaraguan delegation were most friendly to us, since our Marines had been sent to their country upon the invitation of both parties there, backed by the assurances of a nonimperialistic policy on the part of the United States, so strongly asserted by Hughes".

Did Wilbur realize that Machado, possibly the most unpopular man in Cuban history, ran a repressive dictatorship from 1925 until 1933? He was ousted by a Cuban rebellion supported by the Roosevelt. Wilbur is silent about it. I wonder if he came clean in his excellent memoirs. Speaking of Stanford he says: "I started to develop an inter-American center in connection with the Hoover Library, the Office of Inter-American Relations....It was discontinued in June 1944, but I think what it did in those years was useful and helpful". Wilbur's close associates, angered by the anti-American rhetoric of the Cuban woman in charge, described it as "a fifth wheel" and arranged for it to be closed, obviously with Wilbur's approval. Wilbur clearly did not want to give the full story. Perhaps he learned from her that his assessment of Cuba in 1928 was a misinterpretation. Present Cuba watchers, beware!

Ronald Hilton - 5/19/01