Assassination attempts on Fidel Castro
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Following World War II, the United States became secretly engaged in a practice of international political assassinations and attempts on foreign leaders. For a considerable period of time, the U.S. Government officials vehemently denied any knowledge of this program since it would be against the United Nations Charter. On March 5, 1972, Richard Helms, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director, declared that, "no such activity or operations be undertaken, assisted, or suggested by any of our personnel." In 1975, the U.S. Senate convened the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities chaired by the Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho). The Church Committee uncovered that CIA and other governmental agencies employed a so-called tactic of "plausible deniability" during decision-making related to assassinations. CIA subordinates were deliberately shielding the higher-ranking officials from any responsibility by withholding full amount of information about planned assassinations. Government employees were obtaining tacit approval of their acts by using euphemisms and sly wording in communications.
According to CIA Director Richard Helms, Kennedy Administration officials exerted a heavy pressure on the CIA to "get rid of Castro.":148–150 It explains a staggering number of assassination plots, aiming at creating a favorable impression on President John F. Kennedy.:25 There were five phases in the assassination attempts, with planning involving the CIA, the Department of Defense, and the State Department::24–25
- Prior to August 1960
- August 1960 to April 1961
- April 1961 to late 1961
- Late 1961 to late 1962
- Late 1962 to late 1963
According to the CIA documents, the so-called Family Jewels that were declassified in 2007, one assassination attempt on Fidel Castro prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion involved noted American mobsters Johnny Roselli, Salvatore Giancana and Santo Trafficante.
In September 1960, Momo Salvatore Giancana, a successor of Al Capone's in the Chicago Outfit, and Miami Syndicate leader Santo Trafficante, who were both on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list at that time, were indirectly contacted by the CIA about the possibility of Fidel Castro's assassination. Johnny Roselli, a member of the Las Vegas Syndicate, was used to get access to Mafia bosses. The go-between from the CIA was Robert Maheu, who introduced himself as a representative of several international businesses in Cuba that were expropriated by Castro. On September 14, 1960, Maheu met with Roselli in a New York City hotel and offered him US$150,000 for the "removal" of Castro. James O'Connell, who identified himself as Maheu's associate but who actually was the chief of the CIA's operational support division, was present during the meeting. The declassified documents did not reveal if Roselli, Giancana or Trafficante accepted a down payment for the job. According to the CIA files, it was Giancana who suggested poison pills as a means to doctor Castro's food or drinks. Such pills, manufactured by the CIA's Technical Services Division, were given to Giancana's nominee named Juan Orta. Giancana recommended Orta as being an official in the Cuban government, who had access to Castro.
Allegedly, after several unsuccessful attempts to introduce the poison into Castro's food, Orta abruptly demanded to be let out of the mission, handing over the job to another unnamed participant. Later, a second attempt was mounted through Giancana and Trafficante using Dr. Anthony Verona, the leader of the Cuban Exile Junta, who had, according to Trafficante, become "disaffected with the apparent ineffectual progress of the Junta". Verona requested US$10,000 in expenses and US$1,000 worth of communications equipment. However, it is unknown how far the second attempt went, as the assassination attempt was canceled due to the launching of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
The Church Committee stated that it substantiated eight attempts by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro in 1960–1965.:71 Fabián Escalante, a retired chief of Cuba's counterintelligence, who had been tasked with protecting Castro, estimated the number of assassination schemes or actual attempts by the Central Intelligence Agency to be 638, and split them among U.S. administrations as follows:
- Dwight D. Eisenhower (1959–1961): 38
- John F. Kennedy (1961–1963): 42
- Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969): 72
- Richard Nixon (1969–1974): 184
- Jimmy Carter (1977–1981): 64
- Ronald Reagan (1981–1989): 197
- George H. W. Bush (1989–1993): 16
- Bill Clinton (1993–2000): 21
Some of them were a part of the covert CIA program dubbed Operation Mongoose aimed at toppling the Cuban government. The assassination attempts reportedly included cigars poisoned with botulinum toxin, a tubercle bacilli-infected scuba-diving suit along with a booby-trapped conch placed on the sea bottom, an exploding cigar (Castro loved cigars and scuba diving, but he quit smoking in 1985), a ballpoint pen containing a hypodermic syringe preloaded with the lethal concoction "Blackleaf 40", and plain, mafia-style execution endeavors, among others. There were plans to blow up Castro during his visit to Ernest Hemingway's museum in Cuba.
Some of the plots were depicted in a documentary film entitled 638 Ways to Kill Castro (2006) aired on Channel 4 of the British public-service television. One of these attempts was by his ex-lover Marita Lorenz, whom he met in 1959. She agreed to aid the CIA and attempted to smuggle a jar of cold cream containing poison pills into his room. When Castro learned about her intentions, he reportedly gave her a gun and told her to kill him but her nerves failed. Some plots aimed not at murder but at character assassination; they, for example, involved using thallium salts to destroy Castro's famous beard,:30 or lacing his radio studio with LSD to cause him disorientation during the broadcast and damage his public image. The last documented attempt on Castro's life was in 2000, and involved placing 90 kg of explosives under a podium in Panama where he would give a talk.
Besides attempts on Fidel Castro, the CIA has been accused of involvements in the assassination of such foreign leaders as Rafael Trujillo, Patrice Lumumba and Ngo Dinh Diem. The Church Committee rejected political assassination as a foreign policy tool and declared that it was "incompatible with American principle, international order, and morality.":1 It recommended Congress to consider developing a statute to eradicate such or similar practices, which was never introduced. Instead, President Gerald Ford signed in 1976 an Executive Order 11905, which stated that, "No employee of the United States government shall engage in, or conspire in, political assassination."
- Pape, Matthew S. (2002). "Can We Put the Leaders of the "Axis of Evil" in the Crosshairs?". Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly. XXXII (3): 64.
- "Alleged Plots Involving Foreign Leaders", U.S. Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, S. Rep. No. 755, 94th Cong., 2d sess. PDF Archived September 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
- Escalante, Fabián (1996). CIA Targets Fidel: Secret 1967 CIA Inspector General's Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro. Melbourne, Vic., Australia: Ocean Press. ISBN 1875284907.
- Snow, Anita (June 27, 2007). "CIA Plot to Kill Castro Detailed". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. AP. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
- Trying to Kill Fidel Castro. The Washington Post, June 27, 2007.
- Juan Orta, historyofcuba.com, accessed on October 29, 2013.
- Holland, Steve and Sullivan, Andy (June 27, 2007) CIA tried to get mafia to kill Castro: documents. Reuters.
- "Family Jewels". CIA Archive, pp. 12–19
- Johnson, Alex (June 26, 2007). "CIA opens the book on a shady past." MSNBC,
- Brown, Stephen Rex (November 26, 2016) Fidel Castro survived over 600 assassination attempts, Cuban spy chief said. NY Daily News
- Escalante Font, Fabián (2006). Executive Action: 634 Ways to Kill Fidel Castro. Melbourne: Ocean Press. ISBN 1920888721.
- Fidel Castro: Dodging exploding seashells, poison pens and ex-lovers. BBC (November 27, 2016)
- Campbell, Duncan (November 26, 2016) Close but no cigar: how America failed to kill Fidel Castro. The Guardian
- Epstein, Edward Jay (January 2000). "The Plots to Kill Castro". George Magazine. 5: 60–63.
- Corn, Davis and Russo, Gus (March 26, 2001). The Old Man and the CIA: A Kennedy Plot to Kill Castro? The Nation.
- Campbell, Duncan (August 3, 2006). "638 ways to kill Castro". London: The Laura Nuessbaum. Retrieved August 16, 2006.
- Aston, Martin (November 23, 2006). "The Man Who Wouldn't Die". Radio Times.
- "The Castropedia: Fidel's Cuba in facts and figures". The Independent. January 17, 2007. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
- Johnson, Boyd M., III (1992). "Executive Order 12,333: The Permissibility of an American Assassination of a Foreign Leader". Cornell International Law Journal. 25 (2): 406.
- Executive Order No. 11,905, 3 C.F.R. 90 (1977).