It’s no secret that the CIA had a problem with Fidel Castro. They tried to assassinate him for years using all sorts of methods- from exploding cigars to poison pens. But despite their best efforts, Castro always managed to survive.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the various assassination attempts made by the CIA and different Cuban exile groups and explore why they failed every time.
Who Was Fidel Castro?
Fidel, born on August 13, 1926, began his political career much as you would expect. He went to the School of Law at the University of Havana.
After graduating, he became a lawyer and became involved in Cuban politics. In 1953, Fidel led an attack on the Moncada Barracks to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Unfortunately, the attack was unsuccessful, and Fidel and his brother, Raul, were arrested and sentenced to 15 years.
While in prison, Fidel’s views on socialism began solidifying, becoming a figurehead for the Cuban Revolution. In 1955, he was released from jail due to an amnesty agreement and went into exile in Mexico.
There, he met Ernesto “Che” Guevara and formed the 26th of July Movement– the group that would eventually overthrow Batista.
The Cuban Revolution began on December 26, 1956, and after two years of fighting, Batista fled the country on New Year’s Eve in 1958.
Fidel Castro then became the Premier of Cuba in 1959, a position he held until he became President. Castro instilled radical policies throughout his reign and established Cuba as a communist state.
Castro’s behavior and policies didn’t sit well with the United States; eventually, they severed most economic ties to Cuba by 1960. Furthermore, Castro signed a trade agreement with the Soviet Union, which resulted in the placement of nuclear missiles on Cuban soil- a move that put the world on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
The Cuban Missile Crisis ended when the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its missiles from Cuba in exchange for the United States withdrawing its missiles from Turkey.
However, this did not improve relations between the United States and Cuba. The Soviet Union also asked the United States to agree to stop seeking to overthrow Castro. During his reign, Castro supported socialist revolutions in other countries and became a thorn in the side of the United States.
The radical leader continued to cement himself as the West’s most notable dictator, and the United States government began looking for ways to remove him from power. However, Fidel Castro remained President until 2008, when he stepped down due to health reasons.
Castro Assassination Attempts: What’s The Story?
According to Fidel Castro’s former head of intelligence, Fabian Escalante, over 600 assassination attempts were made on the dictator. However, the attempts were often comical and failed miserably.
To understand the great lengths the CIA and exiled Cuban groups went to try and take his life, we need to explore some of the most famous assassination attempts on Fidel Castro. Escalante recounted many of these attempts in a book after his retirement.
One of The First Attempts
In one of the earlier attempts, in July of 1960, new details emerged that make the case that Fidel wasn’t the target, but his brother Raul, head of the military, was; the assassination attempt involved a pilot named Jose Raul Martinez.
Martinez was working for the CIA, and the airline chose to use him to charter a flight to pick up Raul, who was currently visiting Prague.
The CIA jumped on this opportunity because the pilot could remove three potential high-level political leaders: Raul, Fidel, and Che Guevara.
In classified documents, the CIA told the pilot to arrange an “accident” and offered him $10,000 as payment, possibly more. Eventually, they jumped on the opportunity, but as the day approached and happened, the CIA changed its mind.
While Martinez was in the air, the CIA sent a message saying to abort the mission, but there was no way to contact the pilot. Luckily, the pilot delivered them safely, citing no opportunity to arrange an “accident.”
The Poisoned Needle in a Pen
Its strategy to assassinate Castro using a hypodermic needle hidden inside a pen was straight out of “James Bond.” The design was supposed to house a needle so small that the victim would overlook its introduction.
Apparently, the CIA was in discussions with a potential Cuban “asset” or a “highly placed Cuban official” that was supposed to rig the needle with poison and administer it to Castro.
However, the Cuban official “did not think much of the device” and complained that surely the CIA could “come up with something more sophisticated than that?”
The potential assassination attempt also suffered a case of bad timing. The “asset” was offered the pen on Nov. 22, 1963, the date of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It should go without saying that the attempt was not successful.
The Ex-Lover Turned Against Him
Marita Lorenz, another of Castro’s lovers, was born in Germany but became an American citizen. Lorentz met him when she was 19 years old; it all started when her father’s ship arrived at Havana’s harbor, and a group of uniformed soldiers boarded the boat–one of which being Fidel Castro.
It was love at first sight, as they say. Not long after Lorenz returned to the U.S., Castro sent a private plane to retrieve her so she could come to stay with him in his suite back in Cuba.
After being impregnated by Castro, she was drugged and kidnapped before he aborted the pregnancy. She was sent back to America, where a CIA agent offered her revenge by poisoning his drink.
Upon returning to Cuba, she reunited with Castro but quickly cracked under pressure and revealed everything to him. He handed her his pistol in response before reportedly telling her she should shoot him if she had the guts.
Ultimately, she did not have the nerve, and they made love before she eventually went back to America together.
Fidel Enjoyed His Cigars
Early in his political career, cigars were part of the communist icon’s image as much as his military attire; therefore, the CIA believed them to be a method of his demise. In 1960, the CIA contaminated a box of Fidel’s preferred cigars with botulin, a bacterial poison.
In another bid in 1966, the CIA attempted to enlist the aid of a police officer in rigging Fidel’s cigars with explosives. However, both schemes were unsuccessful. Eventually, the revolutionary leader gave up smoking in 1985, stating that it was a “critical sacrifice.”
The Dynamite Seashell
Someone in the CIA was attached to using explosives to defeat the Cuban dictator, and sometimes, such ideas led to the creation of ridiculous plots like this one. Another notion was to create a beautiful seashell that would catch Fidel’s attention while he was diving in Caribbean waters.
The dictator reportedly enjoyed diving quite often, so it seems that the CIA had found another method to remove him from power. The seashell was to be packed with explosives and hidden in a location where the leader frequently went diving. Likely, the idea never made it out of the CIA lab, but either way, it was a laughable attempt.
A Toxic Dairy Treat?
While the idea of a poisoned milkshake doesn’t sound so dangerous or practical, it’s another example of the CIA’s ridiculous attempts. A server was supposed to deliver poisoned ice cream or a milkshake to Fidel. However, different versions claim that the poison got frozen in the freezer and spilled before being served.
The Plots Were Motivated by Anti-Communist Attitudes
Fidel Castro and those like him were utterly at odds with the American way of life, and that political difference was one of the primary motivations for the CIA’s attempts to remove him from power.
The agency saw Castro as a liability to the United States and its allies, mainly, but not solely, because of his close relationship with the Soviet Union. The CIA’s attempts on Fidel’s life were partly an extension of the much larger Cold War waged at the time. Unfortunately, it’s also likely that contempt for Latin Americans and a general sense of racism played a role in the CIA’s actions.
Ultimately, Castro lived a long life, dying of natural causes at the age of 90 in 2016. He outlived eleven American presidents who unsuccessfully tried to remove him from power in their own fashion.
The CIA’s methods may have changed over the years, but their goal remained the same: to assassinate Fidel Castro; if we learned anything from their failed attempts, the Cuban leader was a hard man to get to. They only made him stronger by trying not to prove him as the charismatic strongman he was to his people.