The End of the Beginning: The United States Breaks Relations with Cuba, 1961

By David Langbart

The recent announcement that the United States and Cuba will establish embassies in each other’s capitals signifies the beginning of a second era of formal relations between the two countries.  The first era lasted from 1902, when the U.S. sent its first diplomatic representative to independent Cuba, until January 1961, when the U.S. terminated diplomatic relations.

On January 3, 1961, in a 1 a.m. telegram, the U.S. embassy in Cuba reported receipt of a diplomatic note from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations indicating that the size of the American diplomatic and consular presence in Habana must be cut to 11 persons within 48 hours.  Daniel Braddock, the U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Cuba, reported that a staff of that size could not maintain a useful operation and recommended breaking relations.  President Dwight Eisenhower held a meeting at 9 a.m. the same day to discuss how to respond to the Cuban note.  Even though there was some sentiment to move with more deliberation, President Eisenhower decided to break relations and ordered Secretary of State Christian Herter to take that action as soon as possible.

Late in the day on January 3, Edwin Vallon, the head of the Department of State’s Office of Caribbean and Mexican Affairs, requested that the Cuban Charge d’Affaires Dr. Armando Florez-Ibarra, come to the Department.  The following document describes what took place.

Memo of Conversation regarding Break in Diplomatic and Consular Relations between Cuba and the United States, Jan. 3, 1961

After that, the Department telegraphed the text of the note handed to Dr. Florez-Ibarra to the American Embassy in Habana.

Thus ended 59 years of formal U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations.


  • The memorandum and telegram are from Decimal 611.37 from the 1960-63 segment of the Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.
  • A convenient source of more documentation is Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume X: Cuba, 1961-1962 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1997).