Is Max Holland right about JFK and Cuba?

Max Holland unearths a JFK-related document recently found in Bobby Kennedy’s papers. The story it tells provides a granular look at the workings of President Kennedy’s Cuba policy on the eve of the disaster in Dallas.

It shows that in early November 1963, the Attorney General approved a CIA plan to send a commando team to destroy a pier and warehouse in Las Villas province on the north coast of Cuba. Two days later, the mission was approved, according to a memorandum published in the Foreign Relations of the United States. But, as Holland points out, when the plan was presented to the President for final approval, he rejected it.

I like the story because it illuminates what was so truly tragic about Bobby Kennedy’s predicament after his brother’s murder. RFK was the hawk, the advocate of regime change. JFK was more dovish on Cuba. RFK had considered himself chief of among those in his brother’s government who were most determined to get rid of Castro via violence, perhaps even assassination. He had worked with them.

When JFK was killed, RFK never believed the story that a Castro supporter was responsible. He suspected fellow foes of Castro — the Miami Cubans, organized crime and possibly CIA officers — were behind the ambush in Dealey Plaza; in other words, the very sort of men with whom he had been making common cause. Learning the price of his hubris would transform Bobby Kennedy.

What does this historical tidbit mean for us today?

David Talbot says, “This is a typically ‘encoded’ Max Holland attempt to make the Kennedy brothers responsible for the assassination of JFK.” Citing his book “Brothers,” Talbot writes, “By November 1963, the Kennedys were clearly focused on defusing Cuba as a political issue, particularly in view of the upcoming presidential election (and the near catastrophe of the Missile Crisis). They were playing a two-track game: engaging in pinprick attacks on the Castro regime, to appease the rabid anti-Castro lobby inside and outside the government, while also sending peace feelers to Havana through emissaries like French journalist Jean Daniel, NY attorney James Donovan and US diplomat William Attwood.”

On Nov. 5, 1963, McGeorge Bundy told Attwood that the president “was more in favor of pushing towards an opening toward Cuba than was the State Department, the idea being — well, getting them out of the Soviet fold, and perhaps wiping out the whole Bay of Pigs [stain] and maybe getting back to normal.”

In other words, painting Bobby as a hawk shouldn’t obscure JFK’s dovish tendencies.

David Kaiser commented on Holland’s Washington Decoded piece, by saying he thought the RFK memo was a “relatively insignificant piece of data,” but he sided with Holland on its meaning.

Kaiser writes:

Whatever Bundy said on November 5, on November 12 he called Bill Attwood (who FYI was almost a second father to me) and told him, speaking for JFK, that the US would not send anyone to Cuba to pursue talks on better relations at this time, and that Castro would have to agree in advance to end “submission to external Communist influence” and abandon “a determined campaign of subversion” in the rest of the hemisphere. These would be necessary, but not necessarily sufficient, to bring about better relations. (“Road to Dallas,” p. 305.)

I found the Kennedy Administration as determined as ever in the second half of 1963 to bring about the downfall of Fidel, most likely by a coup including his assassination that would provide a pretext for intervention. Manuel Artime and Manuel Ray were still being groomed as possible successors — much to the fury of more right-wing anti-Castroites and their American supporters like William Pawley and Loran Hall and John Martino. It was those feelings on the part of those men that contributed in some measure to JFK’s death.

My own view is that Max, David, and David are all correct.

Holland is correct that RFK was personally involved in a covert campaign of regime change, which does not exactly burnish his stature as liberal icon.

Talbot is indisputably right that JFK was working slowly but inexorably towards ending the state of war between the United States and Cuba.

Kaiser is right that while JFK was not rushing to normalize relations with Cuba, the enemies of his increasingly dovish Cuba policies were complicit in his death.








  1. Jonathan says:

    My take: RFK had another reason publicly to support the Warren Report. A full-fledged investigation would reveal both JFK’s and his adventures with various women. Including on JFK’s side two and possibly three Soviet agents (Novotny, Chang, and Rometsch). Marilyn Monroe was a problem for both brothers.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I think you’re right. The MIC was and is about money. Vietnam was extraordinarily lucrative for the MIC. Johnson (cui bono?) showed no interest in Cuba. Oliver Stone got it partly right, IMO.

  3. billkelly says:

    Those who try to blame Bobby for the Castro plots do so with the knowledge that what happened at Dealey Plaza was directly connected to CIA Cuban operations, especially the maritime operations that involved William Pawley, Clare Booth Luce’s “boys” of the DRE and the October 30-31 1963 mission of the Rex, which blew the cover of Rex and Collins Radio in a NY Times cover story November 1.

    In light of the failure of the Rex mission to maintain plausible deniability, it is not surprising the Operation 3111 was scrapped by JFK. Evidence from Dallas indicates that it was one of these approved maritime operations out of JMWAVE that RFK knew of that was turned on JFK at Dealey Plaza.

  4. Eric Hollingsworth says:

    I thought that the reason Robert Kennedy worked with those who were determined to remove Castro was to put a check on their excesses. Just because he was CC’ed on a proposal for sabotage and was a member of the Special Group, I can’t jump to the conclusion that he actually advocated such operations.

    In any event, he was in charge of domestic, not foreign, intelligence and in 1963 the FBI, which was under his control, was actively shutting down anti-Castro commando training camps. Actions speak louder than Max Holland.

  5. “The whole realm of Cuba might be a giant Red Herring of sorts; it was Vietnam that the U.S. went after, starting right on the heels of the assassination.”

    Actually, no. Cuba policy was a much, much bigger reason for the JFK assassination than Vietnam. The other big factor were the Kennedys were on the verge of politically executing VP Lyndon Johnson.

    We got Vietnam, though.

  6. RFK immediately suspected that right wing anti-Castro operatives killed JFK. And I think he wondered if the mafia did it as well. And Robert Kennedy was fully aware of how close he had been to politically executing Lyndon Johnson. The bottom line is that within weeks RFK & Jackie sent William Walton to personally tell the Russians that the murder of JFK was a high level domestic conspiracy and that the selection of Lyndon Johnson had been a dreadful mistake.

    Arthur Schlesinger on Robert Kennedy being convinced at one point that Lyndon Johnson had murdered John Kennedy:

    “We tried to perpetuate the myth by convincing ourselves that we were good and that LBJ was evil. I remember one time Bobby telling me he was convinced that Lyndon was behind his brother’s death. ‘Come on Bob. Get real.’ I said. His other theory had it that Richard Nixon and Howard Hughes were somehow involved. He hated them both. ‘Nixon’s a true slimebucket,’ he said. ‘And I should have investigated Hughes years ago.'”

    [C. David Heymann, “RFK,” p. 365]

  7. common sense says:

    Did or did not Fidel Castro threaten retaliation for the attempts on the lives of “leaders of the Cuban Revolution”? Did he state that Imperialist Leaders could also be reached by vengence?
    What exactly transpired between Lee Oswald and members of the Cuban KGB branch during his visit to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City? After Khrushchev gave into JFK in 1962 how was Castro going to deal with the one man actively attempting to kill him?

    • mitchell says:

      No evidence Castro wanted Kennedy dead. As far as we can tell, nothing important happened between Oswald (or the man claiming to be Oswald) and the employees at the Cuban Embassy. There was no “one man” trying to kill Castro. There were many: and none were JFK!

      Our main takeaway from Mexico City (besides some possibly faked evidence) is that Oswald supposedly spoke to a Valery Kostikov at the Soviet Embassy. The CIA had some evidence he was a KGB agent involved in assassinations. If LHO worked for any KGB agent, he never would have just walked up to him at the embassy, nor would LHO write the Soviet Embassy in America. This had to be a CIA set up.

  8. Don Clifford says:

    Motive, Ability and Contacts

    The CIA officer (executive) who was in charge of the training (in Gutemala) of the insurgents who fought in the Bay of Pigs was fired by JFK. Has the name Richard Bissell appeared in any recently released JFK information or documents?

  9. It should also be pointed out that the anti-Castro team out of JMWAVE that was trained in the Everglades to attack that pier were under the tutelage of Captain Bradley Ayers US Ranger assigned to the CIA to train the Cibans. Another team of snipers were trained by Maj. Roderick USA Ranger at Point Mary to undertake the Pathfinder mission to shoot Castro as he rode in an open jeep enroute to the DuPont resort but that mission was also “disapproved,” by higher authority. It is my theory that the Pathfinder operation was redirected to JFK at Dealey Plaza, as I outline at my blog and also respond to Max Holland’s assertions about Russian disinformation and the Kennedy assassination.


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