The miracle was that Fidel Castro died in his own bed. Never has a defiant antagonist of the United States of America met a more unlikely fate: a peaceful death. Hated, reviled and targeted by the greatest military empire in the history of the world, Castro launched a one-party socialist experiment in Cuba, which was so antithetical to Washington’s vision of a neoliberal world order that the empire struck back hard.
The CIA and its paid agents began plotting Castro’s violent demise in 1959 and continued to do so through the year 2000, concocting hundreds of conspiracies to kill him, 638 times by one well-informed Cuban account. And the empire struck out every time.
Assassination was the coin of the realm in which Fidel Castro came to power. As a Marxist revolutionary he thought assassination was not an effective tool. In his view, class forces, not individuals, controlled history in his view. In the struggle against the pro-American dictator Fulgencia Batista, Castro renounced assassination.
In March 1957, his allies in the nationalist Revolutionary Directorate sought to assassinate Batista in his palace. They failed and Castro criticized the operation as a bloody bourgeois exercise that would not have liberated Cuba even if it had succeeded.
This is not to say that Castro did not kill his enemies. He did, but not via assassination. He removed opponents from Cuban politics with socialist legality (in which individual rights scarcely figured.) His government did not gun down its opponents in the streets of Havana or Miami. It executed them in prisons.
By contrast, Castro’s enemies in Washington and Miami, were true believers in the efficacy of assassination. Throughout the 1960a, senior CIA officials including Richard Helms, James Angleton, BIll Harvey and David Phillips, authorized a never-ending stream of schemes to deprive Castro of his life. In 1967, the CIA did succeed in tracking down and executing Castro’s comrade in arms, Che Guevara, but they never got to Castro.
Castro and JFK
In the spring of 1963, Kennedy was downplaying Cuba as a political issue. After the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, JFK increasingly favored “the sweet approach” to Castro. Rather than remove him from power, Kennedy contemplated a rapprochement that would take Cuba out of the Soviet orbit but not destroy its socialist system.
In May 1963, CIA director John McCone worried that JFK might make peace with Castro via secret negotiations add warned his friend Robert Kennedy not to countenance any such move.
Bill Atwood, the State Department official who served as JFK’s back-channel emissary said that, if the CIA and Miami Cubans, had known of Kennedy’s desire for secret talks, they might have assassinated him.
In September 1963, as Castro’s increasingly competent security forces thwarted one CIA plot after another, the Cuban leaders warned U.S. officials that they themselves would not be safe. This was not, as some Americans later claimed, a threat to kill JFK. It was a warning that when a government countenances assassination as a policy tool, there is no telling who will be the target.
When President Kennedy was shot down in Dallas on November 22, 1963, Castro intuited that Cuba would be blamed, especially when the first suspect arrested was identified as Lee Oswald, a leader of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), a pro-Castro group, in New Orleans
Castro did not know, nor did the American people, that the FPCC had been thoroughly infiltrated by the FBI and CIA. In September 1963, the CIA targeted the FPCC destruction with COINTELPRO tactics.
On November 22, 1963, neither the Cuban leader nor a shocked and grieving public know that Oswald’s antagonists in the Cuban Student Directorate in New Orleans were guided and monitored by the CIA under program with the code name AMSPELL.
Castro sensed hidden motive forces at work in November 1963.
“We foresaw that from these incidents there could be a new trap, an ambush, a Machiavellian plot against our country,” Castro declared on November 23. “That on the very blood of their assassinated president there might be unscrupulous people who would begin to work out immediately an aggressive policy against Cuba, if the aggressive policy had not been linked beforehand to the assassination . . . because it might or might not have been. But there is no doubt that this policy is being built on the still warm blood and unburied body of their tragically assassinated President.”
Sure enough, within 24 hours, various CIA psychological warfare assets, in the pay of George Joannides, chief of psy-war operations in the agency’s Miami station, published the first JFK conspiracy theory to reach public print. Oswald and Castro, said the CIA assets, were the “presumed assassins.”
Joannides was no rogue officer. He reported to deputy director Dick Helms and later received a CIA medal for his work in Miami in 1963.
Yet Joannides was curiously incurious about Oswald’s Cuba connection. According to CIA statements in federal court, Joannides never reported anything about the contacts between the accused assassin and his agents in the AMSPELL program, a dereliction of duty for a U.S. intelligence officer.
The documents of Joannides’ actions in 1963 that might confirm the CIA’s claims remain classified, thanks to U.S. federal court rulings.
In fact, one of the most curious aspects of JFK’s assassination was that the CIA never investigated the possibility of Cuban involvement. Lead by counterintelligence chief James Angleton, the CIA stonewalled, deceived, and otherwise “waited out,” the Warren Commission who wanted to know more about what the agency knew about Oswald and the Cubans before November 22.
Coincidentally or not, Angleton and other CIA officers plotting Castro’s death had also been informed about Oswald’s travels, politics, and foreign contacts six weeks before JFK was killed.
The CIA disclosed none of this to the Warren Commission (except possibly former director Allen Dulles), probably because they would have all lost their jobs if the American people had ever learned how much they knew–and concealed–about Oswald.
Who done it?
Robert Kennedy never suspected Castro in his brother’s death. For the rest of his life, RFK suspected the CIA, the Miami Cubans or organized crime figures were responsible for the ambush in Dallas. As David Talbot showed in his book Brothers, RFK believed he could only prosecute his brother’s killers when he gained the power of the presidency.
Bobby’s suspicions explain why the CIA never investigated Fidel Castro for a possible role in JFK’s death: because any serious counterespionage investigation of Oswald would have revealed a great deal about the CIA’s knowledge of, and interest in, the accused assassin.
(In the mid-1970s, agency analysts produced a paper reviewing the evidence of Cuban involvement, which concluded there was none.)
What we know now
Only thirty years later did the real story reach the public record. With the success of Oliver Stone’s “JFK” and the passage of the JFK Records Act, the government was forced release of 4 million pages of long-suppressed documents. They showed conclusively the CIA had duped the Warren Commission and the bright young men who trusted the agency to tell the truth about the murder of a sitting president.
“I was naive to say the least about the CIA,” Howard Willens, assistant Warren Commission Counsel, told me in an interview.
Castro was not naive about the CIA. He concluded that Oswald was not the author of JFK’s death, a heretical notion in the Washington press and North American academia but a fairly common conclusion of men and women of power. Among those who shared Castro’s view that JFK was killed by his enemies: Lyndon Johnson, Jackie Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Charles DeGaulle.
Castro’s interpretation of JFK’s murder commands respect. The fact the he died peacefully in his bed is prima facie proof that he knew much about the business of assassination and those who practice it–much more than the American people themselves.
Was Castro right about the causes of JFK’s death? Any answer to that question would be premature before the CIA and other government agencies release the last of their JFK assassination records in October 2017. With Castro’s passing, there is less reason than ever to withhold any of these ancient records from public view.
From a 5-Star Amazon review of Jefferson Morley’s
“Can’t imagine a more meticulous take down of the CIA’s decades-long subterfuge surrounding the assassination.”
CIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files, provides the fullest account of the role of CIA operations officers in the events leading to the death of JFK.
Another five-star Amazon review:
“Highly recommended to all readers wanting to learn the truth on matters that the Government still fights to keep secret, some 53 years after the tragic event.”