The enduring theory that Fidel Castro was behind the assassination of President Kennedy, first propagated by CIA assets in the pay of CIA within hours the crime, remains in circulation 50 years later. Now this theory is coming in for close scrutiny in an informative series on Op-Ed News entitled The Anti-Latell Report.
Written by Arnaldo Fernandez, a former law professor at the University of Havana, the articles examine the work of Brian Latell,a former CIA analyst, who has developed a modified version of the “Castro did it” conspiracy theory, which might be summarized as the “Castro knew it” theory. In his 2012 book, “Castro’s Secrets,” Latell argued that the Cuban leader knew about Oswald in the fall of 1963, knew he might kill JFK, and did nothing about it.
The “Castro knew it” theory deserve discussion as much as any JFK theory, if only because of its growing respectability.
In his recent piece for the New York Review of Books, critic Frank Rich noted that “there’s less and less present-day political mileage to be had in the perennial campaign to portray Kennedy as the victim of a Communist plot,” which is true. But it is also true that there is more and more present-day intellectual mileage to be had in blaming Castro.
The “Castro knew It” theory has become the default position of prominent JFK authors such as Gus Russo, Ed Epstein and Ron Rosenbaum, who don’t endorse the Warren Commission but reject the dominant view of the JFK research community, which depicts Kennedy as the victim of a plot by his enemies on the right.
What Fernandez brings to the story is a wealth of new facts about Latell’s primary source, a former Cuban intelligence officer named Florentin Aspillaga. Check out this installment, the Aspillaga Story.
Two points are worth noting in thinking about the “Castro knew it” theory.
First, Castro was always much more skeptical about assassination as a political tool than his enemies in Miami and Langley. As a Marxist, Castro believed that class struggle, not individuals, were the key to understanding political power. He rejected assassination, not because it was immoral but because he did not think it would not do much to change the correlation of forces between the social classes.
Castro acted accordingly. In the struggle against the Batista regime, Castro consistently spurned proposals to assassinate the pro-American dictator and other high ranking officials.When Rolanda Cubela, a commandante in the nationalist Revolutionary Directorate, assassinated Batista’s chief of intelligence in 1956, Castro criticized the action as ineffectual. When the Directorate attempted to kill Batista in the presidential palace on March 13, 1957, he said it was a waste.
This doesn’t mean that Castro didn’t use violence to gain and preserve power. He did. Upon taking power in 1959, he sent hundreds of Batistanos to the firing squads. But those were not assassinations to eliminate individuals but mass executions intended to liquidate the bourgeoise and change the correlation of forces,
Once in power, Castro used his intelligence services, the Dirigencia General de Inteligencia (DGI) to punish his foes and remove them from the battlefield via socialist legality. The Cubans who challenged his rule with armed forces, such as Alberto Muller, Huber Matos, Eloy Guttierz Menoyo, and Rolando Cubela, were not assassinated. They were captured alive and sentenced to long jail terms by courts under Castro’s control.
The “Castro knew it” theory is somewhat more plausible than the “Castro did it” theory because it posits that Castro did not embrace the tactic he consistently rejected. But it studiously avoids another fact of the struggle for power in Cuba that is relevant to JFK’s assassination: the enemies of Castro in Miami and Langley always believed in the efficacy of assassination as a tool of political change. There were hundreds of plots to assassinate Castro that can be reliably attributed to the CIA and its allies. When JFK visited Miami on November 18, 1963, security was tight because of many threats against Kennedy’s life from unhappy Cuban exiles.
Second, as I have pointed out to Latell, even if what he says about the DGI’s knowledge of Oswald is true (and I’m not sure it is because his sourcing is weak), the CIA still knew far more about Oswald than the DGI before JFK was killed. The evidence that senior CIA officers such David Phillips, Bill Hood, Jane Roman knew about Oswald before JFK was killed is conclusive. It is confirmed by the CIA’s own documents. The evidence that senior DGI officers knew about Oswald is thinner and harder to corroborate, although it must be noted that Cuba retains documents related to JFK’s assassination that have never been made public.
One of Fernandez’s strongest points is that if Apsillaga told his story about DGI’s pre-assassination interest in Oswald to the CIA when he defected to the United States in 1986, there should be a written record and that that record should be subject to immediate review and release under the JFK Records Act.
Yet no Aspillaga debrief has ever surfaced, so what Apsillaga told Latell in interviews cannot be corroborated by the available CIA records. I asked Latell about this and he acknowledge that he knows of no records that corroborate Aspillaga’s story. That raises the possibility that Aspillaga and the CIA did not consider his story significant in 1986. If not, why not?
I find Castro’s interpretation of November 22, as told to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, to be more factual and plausible than Latell’s theory,