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‘The Best of Friends and Neighbors’: USIA and American Public Diplomacy Strategy in Cuba, 1953-1962




Montford, Hector

Type of Degree





This dissertation examines the United States Information Agency’s (USIA) public diplomacy strategy in Cuba from 1953 to 1962 through both the agency’s United States Information Service (USIS) field office on the island and the USIA’s offices in Washington, DC. Within the context of the Cold War, USIS-Havana personnel distributed messages to Cuban audiences that explained US foreign policies, championed US political and economic ideals, and promoted US cultural and scientific achievements. Local staff depended upon a cooperative, modern Cuban media and communications network to distribute their materials throughout the island. The USIA strategy in Cuba adhered to the agency’s larger Latin American objectives and reflected long-standing US assumptions regarding Cuban-US relations. USIS-Havana personnel believed that the Cuban public possessed a wealth of good will towards the United States based upon decades of shared history and US influence on the island. These assumptions dominated field office planning, even as events in Cuba soured local public opinion of the United States government amid the Fidel Castro-led insurgency against Cuban president Fulgencio Batista. Assuming power in January 1959, Castro and his revolutionary government embarked on a reform program and propaganda campaign to rid Cuba of US influence. USIS-Havana staff did little to respond directly to Castro’s propaganda against the United States until the Eisenhower administration pursued a more aggressive approach against Castro after winter 1959. Yet by this time, traditional USIS messages had little influence on the island, as local audiences no longer accepted US programming advocating anticommunism or promoting the United States as a partner in Cuban advancement. Losing access to the Cuban media that spread their messages compounded the post’s ineffectiveness. Instead, the USIA assumed a regional approach to explain the Cuban issue and to curb Castro’s popularity to Latin American audiences. Following first the Eisenhower, then the Kennedy administrations’ policies, USIA strategists presented Cuba as a communist beachhead in Latin America and portrayed Castro as an oppressive ruler who threatened to disrupt both peaceful regional progress and inter-American solidarity so vital to “free world” victory in the Cold War.