Row with US Over Bus Deal
By Gordon Jeffery
A buses for Cuba row blew up last night between Britain and America. A British firms £4,000,000 order to supply Castro’s Cuba with 400 buses and spare parts brought a sharp protest in Washington.
Mr Robert McCloskey, a State Department spokesman, told a Press conference: ‘We, of course, regret the sale. It certainly docs not help in our efforts to isolate the Cuban regime and thereby weaken the economy.’
He claimed that some time ago the Kennedy administration protested against the deal. In London, Foreign Office officials were stunned by the protest against the order—for Leyland Motors. They said they had no record of any formal US protest. They pointed out that the only Cuba export boycott operated by Britain was on military and other strategic items.
Whitehall officials said America’s current sale of £90,000,000-worth of wheat to Russia made her Cuban bus protest ‘somewhat. ludicrous.’
Late last night. Leyland’s managing director, Mr Donald Stokes, said he found that because of the US embargo, no British Ship owner would take the buses to Cuba. ‘A week or so ago wrote to the Board of Trade asking to borrow an aircraft-carrier,’ he said.
‘We are still waiting for an answer. We had to get something done, so we approached the East German Shipping Line. It was a shot in the dark that came off. Delivery will take twelve months.’
Referring to reports that the US State Department had expressed ‘regret’at the deal, Mr Stokes said; ‘I am sorry they disapprove, but this is an English company doing a deal with Cuba. We did not have a Press conference, when the Americans sold wheat to Russia. I have no knowledge of having to go to America for permission to sell buses. This is just a repeat order from a traditional customer of ours. This is a preliminary. They want 1450 buses altogether.’
Referring to the US ban on strategic material for Cuba, he said: ‘You cannot go to war in these buses. They are intended for paved city roads. You would look an awful mug trying to go and fight in them..
Donald Ludlow phones from Washington.
President Johnson is really angry. The Leyland order could queer the atmosphere for Premier Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s visit next month.
The President is said to be itching to make a personal protest on the phone to Sir Alec.
America normally blacklists ships which carry ‘banned’ goods to Cuba. But this threat will hardly deter the Communist East Germans from shipping the buses to their ally, Castro.
Leyland’s Managing Director Donald Stokes defends his companies deal to sell buses to Cuba.
‘You would look damn silly going to war in a bus. Anyway we haven’t any war with Cuba and we buy sugar from them. Cuba is a traditional market as far as we are concerned. We sold them buses worth $10 million in 1949 and $6 million to $7 million in 1959. We also sell buses to Poland and Bulgaria and places like that. These buses are not strategic war material.’