Anglo-Cuban Diplomacy: The Economic and Political Links with Brit Ain (1945-60)

By Sánchez, Servando Valdés | The International Journal of Cuban Studies, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Anglo-Cuban Diplomacy: The Economic and Political Links with Brit Ain (1945-60)


Sánchez, Servando Valdés, The International Journal of Cuban Studies


Introduction

The relationship between the UK and Cuba is rarely seen through Cuban eyes. True, Jorge Ibarra Guitart has studied the failed negotiations for an Anglo-Cuban treaty in 1905 using documents from both the Cuban and British archives, but nothing of substance has been done on later periods that comprehensively includes a Cuban point of view.1 Robert Morley and Andrew Holt consider the relationship between Britain and Cuba principally in the context of Anglo-US relations as the North Americans attempt to impose their trade embargo on their European allies after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.2 More detailed analysis of particular events has been done by Chris Hull (arms sales 1958-59 and buses 1963-64) as well as by Mark Phythian and Jonathan Jardine (fighter aircraft 1959) but again in the context of Anglo-US relations.3 Meanwhile, Stephen Wilkinson's 'Just How Special Is "Special": Britain, Cuba, and US Relations 1958-2008 an Overview' does what it says on the tin.4 Chris Hull's excellent book British Diplomacy and US Hegemony in Cuba, 1898-1964 is somewhat broader in its approach than the title implies but relies almost entirely on British diplomatic sources.5

There would seem a place, therefore, for a study of diplomatic relations between Britain and Cuba that privileges the Cuban viewpoint. This article will base itself on an examination of Cuban and British diplomatic archives, both being readily available in the Archivo Nacional in Havana and the British National Archive in Kew. For the UK had its own relationship with Cuba, separate from any relationship with the US. They may have been political allies in the Cold War, but they were commercial rivals when it came to trade relations. The British firm Leyland beat the US-owned General Motors to supply buses to Havana on three separate occasions, mainly due to the credit arrangements offered by the British government.

The British government had been a strong supporter of the Batista regime, supplying fighter aircraft to the dictatorship even after the US government had instituted an arms embargo. The speed with which the British acclimatised themselves to the new revolutionary situation in 1959, despite their distaste for Fidel Castro, highlights the contradictions between commerce and politics inherent in diplomatic activity. By comparing the ambassadorial correspondence of both Cuba and the UK, a more rounded picture of the diplomatic process emerges.

Historical Background

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the economic and political subordination which the US established over Cuba caused a readjustment of the traditional commercial links with Europe. Thereafter, the previous European commercial partners were placed in a subordinate position by the preferences which the 'Treaties of Commercial Reciprocity' accorded to US products entering the Cuban market between 1902 and 1945.6

However, from the 1920s, the economic crisis and US protectionism for their sugar market led the Cuban government to orientate their commercial policies towards the restriction of output in order to attempt to stabilise sugar prices,7 while seeking commercial treaties which would recover lost foreign markets and gain new ones.8

Cuban diplomacy assumed a decisive role in treaty negotiations with Spain, France, Portugal, Britain and various Latin American countries. In 1937, these achieved their first concrete outcome since the founding of the Cuba Republic when an agreement was discussed with Great Britain.9

The following year, with the treaty still unsigned, Delegado de la Comisión de Tratados de la Secretaría de Estado,10 Nicolás Pérez Stable prepared a report in which he declared that as Britain was the largest importer after the US, it should receive more extensive advantages than its competitors and, for a start, the treaty should be ratified. This opinion was shared with officials in the Ministries of Commerce and Agriculture. …

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