Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert A. Stevenson
Anyway, I heard there was an opening, (I was already looking around ARA), as the chief of the Middle America Branch in INR, (Bureau of Intelligence & Research), so I applied for that. Libby Heimann was the officer in charge then of the Latin American office in INR. At that time they had a rule that if you could get an offer of a job that was rated one grade higher than your Foreign Service or GS grade, they would let you go. So as it was one grade higher, I got out of E and for a year then I was in charge of the Middle America Branch, which was Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America.
In that job, I can say quite honestly we were the first ones, together with Terry Leonhardy on the Cuban desk, to really get worried about Castro. This was in December of 1957 that I went into that job, and by the middle of '58, Castro seemed very low; his star was waning and it looked as though he was never going to make it. But Terry Leonhardy on the Desk and myself and a couple of the others (Wayne Smith, who was working for me then in INR, and Ann O'Neill as well) were still pretty worried about Castro, and we said to ourselves, “We'd better find out all we can about this guy.” Because it was surprising how little we knew about him in the State Department at that time.
So being INR, we began to dig into it. We called on our friends across the river and were startled—
Q: That's a fancy way of saying the CIA. (Laughter)
STEVENSON: The CIA. Yes. Surprisingly, they had very little on Castro. We said, “We'd like to read his famous speech at his Moncada trial, called 'La Historia me Absolver�,'” “History Will Absolve Me.” They didn't have the text of it. It took them about six weeks and they finally ran down a Coronet magazine that had extracts from most of it, and that was the first time we'd been able to read this famous speech that Castro often referred to and was referred to by different people. But what did he say in the speech, you know? So we finally got something on that.
They turned up a list of the names that were on Castro when he was arrested in Mexico. I said, “Did you ever do a name check on the names?” There was great embarrassment and confusion; they hadn't. They hadn't run down the names.
Q: Did you get the feeling that Latin America and Cuba was a side show and wasn't of real interest within CIA?
STEVENSON: That's right.