Courage is knowing what not to fear. – Plato
Back when the century was young, before the horror of September 11, 2001, I had the privilege of interviewing former Ambassador Raúl Castro several times at his office in
Nogales, Arizona. Raúl Castro was in the thick of the Cold War (1947-1991) in the Western Hemisphere. Born in 1916 in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico , Raúl Castro moved to Southern Arizona when he was ten years old. Driven to succeed, he became an American citizen and a lawyer determined to rid society of the discrimination against Hispanics that he witnessed and felt. President Lyndon Johnson appointed him the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador (1964-68), and President Jimmy Carter used his skills as the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia (1968-69). Raúl Castro returned from Bolivia and made a successful entrance into politics when he was elected the first Mexican-American governor of Arizona (1975-77). His country needed him again. Richard Nixon asked Castro to take the U.S. ambassador post in Argentina, where he served from 1977-80. During those interviews, Raúl Castro related many humorous stories, and some not so humorous, related to the confusion of his name with the other ‘Raúl Castro’, Fidel Castro’s brother.
A born teacher, Raúl Castro, who had met Fidel Castro in Mexico, talked at length about the
Castro brothers. The stories he told were incongruous with what I thought I knew. The Ambassador argued that Fidel Castro was a political atheist when he finally gained control of Cuba in January 1959 and that the U.S. had made a terrible mistake by shunning him. If Ambassador Castro is correct, and there is some indication he may be, thee pieces of the Cuba/America puzzle fall smartly into place; one corner piece, one boundary piece and one interior piece. The corner puzzle piece that fits neatly is Fidel Castro’s sudden rush into Nikita Khrushchev’s arms in 1960. The boundary puzzle piece that falls into place is the interval of time after the revolution it took to form a ‘Communist Party’ in Cuba. The interior puzzle piece is the CIA’s apparently excessive energy expenditure attempting to embarrass and assassinate Fidel Castro.
Fidel Castro made the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. in April 1959, a short four months after he wrested power from Fulgencio Batista. The U.S. government viewed Batista as a stabilizing influence in the Caribbean and liked him. Batista’s rise to power was linear. In 1921, he found his salvation from poverty in the Army where he attained the rank of sergeant. Batista’s engaging persona attracted followers loyal to him (as opposed to the Army or Cuba) and, in September 1933, he organized the “sergeants’ revolt”, “which ousted the provisional regime of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, which had replaced the dictatorial regime of Gerardo Machado y Morales.”
The unqualified success of Batista’s revolt made him the most powerful man in Cuba, but he chose to lead the country through others until 1940, when he was elected president. At this time
Batista was supported by the Communist Party. It is easy to see why the U.S. thought highly of Batista in spite of his Communist Party supporters. He was an effective leader. Batista became very, very rich through his strong bonds with U.S., various corporations and his association with the mob. His thirty year friendship with Meyer Lansky, the ‘Mob’s Accountant’ illustrates how high his ties ran up the food chain. While Batista was busy building his personal wealth, he was careful to govern Cuba so that its citizens received visible benefits; he expanded the educational system, developed a public works program to knit Cuba’s infrastructure together, and grew the economy.
In 1944, Batista left office and Cuba to enjoy his new-found wealth and make it multiply. Eight years later Cuba was barely recognizable. Public services had degraded, graft and corruption was over the top and, once again, the people were suffering. Batista returned in 1952. He overthrew the elected president, Carlos Prío Socarrás. Most everyone in Cuba was delighted to have Batista back, but Batista had radically changed leadership styles. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Batista was now a fully hardened authoritarian dictator.
Fidel Castro with his two year old law degree and avid political interests was busy trying to get himself elected to Cuba’s House of Representatives when Batista returned in 1952. Castro did what any lawyer would do; he took Batista and his coup d’état to court. He lost his constitutional arguments and the case died. This is when Castro reached back to his college days as a driven political activist in the Caribbean Legion, an energetic group of political exiles and reformists from various Caribbean countries determined to free the Caribbean of dictators, and formed his own paramilitary group of rebels called simply The Movement. The Movement’s first step to overthrow Batista was taken on 26 July 1953. Fidel and Raúl Castro along with about 160 rebels attacked the second largest military base on Cuba, the Moncada Barracks in Santiago. A secondary attack was mounted on the barracks in Bayamo. What were they thinking? It was a disaster but symbolic of youngsters who believe they are bullet-proof. The miserable failure resulted in many deaths including the public torture and execution of Fidel Castro’s deputy, Abel Santamaría.
Fidel and Raúl Castro were captured and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. At the conclusion of
the trial, Fidel Castro delivered the first of his noted, long-winded speeches during which he said “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.” In 1955, within two years, The Castro brothers were free and in Mexico to regroup. Their band of brigands was rebranded as the 26th of July Movement and Argentina’s Che Guevara joined the team. The battles escalated over the next four years. On January 1, 1959 at about 2 a.m., Batista, his family and closest associates board a plane at Camp Columbia, and leave Cuba. Revolutionary forces take control of Havana. For services rendered, Guevara was declared a Cuban citizen in February 1959.
When, in April 1959, Fidel Castro journeyed to the U.S. capitol to ask for Washington’s help rebuilding his country and proclaim his neutrality in the Cold War, he was smart enough to hire a
public relations firm to help his image. During his April visit, Fidel Castro was charming and witty. Looking every bit like the ‘regular joe’ hero with his rumpled fatigues and scruffy beard, he answered impertinent questions with humor, visited Lincoln’s Memorial, and seemed to enjoy the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers. President Eisenhower, however, did not buy Castro’s image or his neutrality. When Castro came calling, Ike went golfing, and Castro met with Vice President Nixon for three hours. During the meeting Castro assured Nixon that he had no intention of nationalizing businesses or seizing lands. “Nixon asked about elections, and Castro told him that the Cuban people did not want elections. Nixon complained that Castro was “either incredibly naive about communism or under communist discipline.” His guess, he said, was the former.”
Fidel Castro left Washington, D.C. with his hat in his hand and angry at the lack of support. He may have been mad at the U.S. government but he remained a Lincoln fan and kept Lincoln’s bust in his office. Castro wrote that Lincoln was devoted “to the just idea that all citizens are born free and equal.” Upon his return to Cuba, Castro turned a different direction and by October 1959, that ‘thing’ about not nationalizing businesses or seizing lands was off of the table. Guevara was appointed head of the Department of Industry of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) and, in November, he was named the president of National Bank of Cuba. Life would soon become ugly for U.S. interests in Cuba and for many professional and land-holding Cubans.
At this point, Russia appeared to have no idea who Fidel Castro was or why he overthrew Batista. “Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev advised them to consult Cuba’s Communists who reported that Castro was a representative of the “haute bourgeoisie” and working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.” This would change in February 1960 following Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Mikoyan’s visit. Mikoyan recommended that Russia help Castro’s new administration both economically and politically. Fidel and Raúl Castro had found a willing and able ideological home. By 1965, Cuba’s Communist Party was run by Raúl Castro and was the ruling party of Cuba. It still is.
A strong Soviet satellite in the Western Hemisphere was a nightmare for Washington. Fidel Castro became a strong dictator of the type he had despised a few short years before and his success in nationalizing industry, collectivizing agriculture, and seizing American-owned businesses and farms made him a hated dictator. The U.S. government, companies like United Fruit, and mob interests had all lost a bundle in the Castro takeover and decided he should die; preferably sooner rather than later.
According to the 1976 Church Committee’s Interim Report: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving
Foreign Leaders, there was sufficient concrete evidence to support the committee’s decision to document eight planned or executed assassination attempts against Cuba’s Fidel Castro. In addition to Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the report also reviews the evidence of attempted assassinations of the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, and Chile’s General Rene Schneider.
Early on, at least by 1960, the CIA had teamed up with the mafia to ‘Get Fidel’ to hasten a return to glory days. The CIA met with Johnny Roselli who, in turn, coordinated with the rest of the mob leaders. In addition to the standard belt and suspenders operations that used high-powered rifles complete with telescopic sights, the operations included more exotic and imaginative plans. Poison pills delivered by his lover and poison hypodermic pens in the hands of friends were considered and attempted. Taking advantage of Fidel Castro’s love of diving, the conspirators also planned exploding conch shells and poisoned wet suits. Of course, we must not overlook the exploding cigar plan. This team of geniuses also tried to embarrass Fidel Castro using various artifices like using thallium powder so that he would lose his beard.
The bulk of the efforts to kill or discredit Castro appear to have taken place between 1959 and 1965. While the Church report cites only eight planned or executed attempts on Castro’s life, Fabian Escalante, formerly responsible for Castro’s safety, claims 638 attempts have been made on Castro’s life. Escalante also maintains that the assassination efforts continued through the Clinton era.
Fast acting cancers used as an assassination mechanism is indirectly covered in the Church Committee documents. There is cause to believe that the U.S. attempted to infect Castro with cancer at least once. Fidel Castro warned Hugo Chavez that the U.S. had developed the cancer and used it. Certainly there are documents that circumstantially link the CIA, United Fruit and the Infectious Disease Laboratory at the Public Health Service Hospital in New Orleans run by Dr. Alton Ochsner in the development of fast acting cancers as a weapon. It is interesting that Frank Church died of pancreatic cancer three months after the diagnosis in 1984. Another little problem conveniently bites the dust.
Castro is reported to have said: “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.” True enough, it seems. Whether the CIA attempted to kill Fidel Castro eight or 638 times, the point is the man appears to have outlived them all. He is the last man standing in this insane blood-feud.
[Author’s Note: Fidel and Raúl Castro along with Che Guevara are and were nasty dictators, trouncing their own countrymen as well as interfering in and exporting terror to Central and South America. Bolivia is a prime example. United Fruit Company did what many corporations of that era did, including the Rockefellers and Standard Oil. United Fruit shows up frequently in the Caribbean rim countries because that was the seat of their operations and they lobbied the U.S. government to fight diplomatic and military battles on their behalf. Additionally, United Fruit was in bed with the CIA. They hired CIA agents and CIA contract operators to provide cover for them. One of the United Fruit directors, Allen W. Dulles, was the CIA DCI. United Fruit was a poster child for that time and policy period. This post was written from a slightly different perspective…What if Ambassador Castro had analyzed the Castro phenomenon correctly?]
 Enclyclopaedia Britannica; Fulgencio Batista; http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/56027/Fulgencio-Batista
 Iconic Photos; Castro at the Lincoln Memorial; http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/tag/lincoln-memorial/
 The Guardian ; Duncan Campbell; Wednesday, 2 August 2006; 638 ways to kill Castro; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/aug/03/cuba.duncancampbell2