Reader Photon asks:
“So ‘LBJ and crew’ murdered John Kennedy, but Fidel ‘most certainly was not [involved]‘? While I consider it unlikely that Oswald could have cooperated with anybody in a conspiracy his visit to the Cuban Embassy certainly is intriguing. It is not like Fidel had never sanctioned political assassination in the past. For 50 years he has gotten away with knocking off Camilo Cienfuegos after Huber Matos didn’t do it for him.”
The ensuing fast and furious debate in the comments section on this subject is reminder that the history of assassination as a political technique in the struggle for power in Cuba from say, 1955 to 1965, is relevant to any discussion of the assassination of JFK.
The struggle for power that culminated in Castro’s revolution originated on the University of Havana campus. If you ever have a chance to visit Cuba you should go there. It is a lovely campus on a hill that is approached from the east by massive stairs where the students hang out at all hours. The selection at the nearby bookstore is ideologically limited, but the students are not.
Fidel Castro came of age on this campus in the late 1940s. The city was dominated by organized crime syndicates and campus politics reflected a gangland mentality. Castro’s biographers agree he probably personally killed a rival in the late 1940s. But by the time Castro returned to Cuba with Che Guevara in late 1956 his political thinking had become imbued with Marxism.
Guevara had lived in Guatemala in 1954 and experienced the CIA coup. He and Fidel concluded that President Jacobo Arbenz’s faith in parliamentary democracy and a free press had made him vulnerable to North American power. They were determined not to repeat his mistakes.
Castro’s growing belief in class struggle as the motor of history differentiated his 26th of July movement from the Revolutionary Directorate, the other significant force in the fight against Batista. While Castro’s Marxist-flavor movement relied on workers and peasants, the DR was a student movement that was anti-communist, nationalistic and Catholic. The DR leader, Jose Antonio Echverria, was the only one of Castro’s rivals whom he respected.
The 26th of July movement and the DR differed on assasssination. When a DR commando group, led by Rolando Cubela, assassinated a Batista military intelligence officer in Havana’s Montmartre nightclub in October 1956, the July 26 movement distanced itself from the action.
When the DR unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Batista in a daring daytime raid on the presidential palace in March 1957, Castro again criticized the action calling it “a useless expenditure of blood.” It was. Echeverria was killed in the palace attack. The DR lost its most able leader. The Cuban business and middle classes rallied to support Batista.
Once Castro took power, his government relied on what you might call socialist legality to defeat his enemy: mass arrests and show trials. The elimination of opposition leaders was never a priority. Photon’s repetition of the allegation that Castro was responsible for Camilio CIenfuegos’s plane crash suffers from the same problem that allegation always had: a lack of evidence.
By contrast, the CIA and Castro’s Miami-based opposition always believed in the efficacy and legitimacy of assassination. The plotting against Castro’s life began in 1959 and continued for decades. Most relevant to the JFK story is the recruitment of Rolando Cubela, dubbed AMLASH by the CIA. He was approached in Mexico City in 1961, in Helsinki in 1962 and in Brazil 1963, sought precisely because he had proven himself as an assassin.
Castro’s Dirigencia General de Inteligencia (DGI) did not return the favor. Castro did not seek to assassinate the leaders of the U.S. government or the groups who sought his overthrow. When exporting revolutionary doctrine to other Latin American insurgencies, the Cubans discouraged the use of assassination of top officials. This was not because they were humanists. It was because they were Marxists.
When JFK was killed in Dallas various CIA assets in the Revolutionary Student Directorate (DRE), the CIA-funded successor to the DR, pushed the idea that Oswald had acted at Castro’s behest, but the CIA never suspected the Cuban intelligence services and did not investigate their possible involvement in Dallas. The CIA was not soft on the DGI or naive about their ruthlessness. They just saw no reason, logical or historical, to think the Cubans would mount an assassination on U.S. soil.
Senior CIA officials also knew full well they they knew much more about the pro-Castro Oswald than the DGI or the KGB. They had much more information about his history and actions and that information was conveyed to the highest levels of the agency in October 1963, to senior aides of deputy director Richard Helms and counterintelligence chief James Angleton.
As I wrote the other day, any inquiry into Oswald’s possible Cuban connections “would have revealed that the CIA and FBI had been playing close attention to the FPCC and Oswald in the years, months and weeks before JFK was killed.” It also might have revealed the CIA’s ongoing conspiracy with Cubela to assassinate Castro.
Only in 1977 did the CIA get around to doing a formal study of possible Cuban involvement. The CIA concluded it found no evidence of Cuban involvement.
So I think Photon’s argument that Castro sanctioned political assassination is as factually unfounded as the suggestion that the Cuban government was behind Oswald. The historical record is clear. Cuban officials certainly did not sanction and pursue political assassination in 1963 the way CIA officials did.