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Did Castro Ok The Kennedy Assassination?
On the 45th anniversary incriminating new evidence revealed
Winter 2009 | Volume 58, Issue 6
The stately Harvard campus did not foster the political trench warfare that the University of Havana did, and Jack Kennedy's psychological issues were certainly not as aggravated, but he too underwent a transformation as he made his way out of school, through the war, and into a campaign for Congress in 1946. The unpretentious, honest, and egalitarian PT boat commander of World War II gave way to a cooler peer of the realm, a man whose charm became more calculating. He was capable of kindness, and he understood, intellectually, that power could improve the lives of those less fortunate. But one of his lovers of long standing noted his “tremendous acceptance of inequality at every level. . . . That was absolutely acceptable.” He seemed content to believe that “people who are different have different responses. The pain of poor people is different from 'our' pain.”
It was Jack and Fidel's younger brothers—the naturally empathetic ones, Bobby and Raul—who schooled the older ones in their humanity. When Jack made his run for the presidency, it was Bobby who tutored him in the nuances of American poverty and injustice. When Fidel made his first triumphal tour of the United States after he had vanquished the dictator Fulgencio Batista, it was Raul who waylaid him in a Houston hotel and berated him for not telling Americans that he was a Marxist. The garrulous yet emotionally remote older boys gained depth in the presence of their kid brothers, but conversely, they were also pushed to positions of passionate intransigence, too.
By the early sixties, the brothers had reached their initial goals of winning the American presidency and leadership in Cuba. Castro's victory came at great cost. In the years since, historians have debated whether Fidel ever actually murdered someone. But few question Racal's baptism in blood, nor his ongoing ministry. Of the deaths he has overseen, some were street criminals but the vast majority were political enemies, and estimates of the toll range as high as 14,000, claimed in a Harvard University study. The Cuba Archive project concluded that some 5,600 Cubans have died in front of firing squads and another 1,200 in “extrajudicial assassinations.” Minors and females were not spared.
Under pressure from within and without, Kennedy and Castro began directing their newfound power to destroying each other. When Jack came to power, he considered Fidel to be Cuba's liberator after the corrupt cruelties of Batista, but Eisenhower and Nixon had already been plotting a coup. Elaborate (albeit flawed) plans were already in place. The secret war against the Castros was forced upon the Kennedys by the American Right, by Jack's early disdain for moderating “liberalism,” and by the Hard Left pressure exerted by Raul and Che Guevara. Assassination was only one tool in the American kit, but given the nightmare cults that had so recently empowered Hitler and Stalin, political decapitation was seen as tactically concise and morally expedient. This secret war, however, would leave deeply buried scars on the heart of America.
In November 1961 the CIAs Cuba desk officers Bill Harvey and Sam Halpern had a plan, the next phase in the ongoing attempt to remove Castro. Halpern came up with a name for it: Operation Mongoose, named after a carnivorous predator that kills its prey after stealing its eggs. It thus both dispatches its enemy and removes its progeny, thereby preventing any line of succession—exactly what the Kennedy White House and the CIA had in mind for the Castros and their political descendants.
The plans were to continue fomenting revolution, and, by most estimates, the operation had somewhere between $50 million and $150 million to spend on its endeavor. The logistics would be implemented by Harvey and his “Task Force W.” The White House had taken the Cuban operation out of the purview of the CIAs Western Hemisphere Division and placed it directly under the control of Bobby Kennedy and the White House staff. The president thus had direct oversight.
On March 16, 1962, a meeting convened in the Oval Office with the goal of setting presidential guidelines for Operation Mongoose. The meeting was attended by the president; Bobby; the newly installed director of the CIA, John McCone, and all the rest of the innermost players in the secret war, including Ed Lansdale, Bobby's Mongoose coordinator. It was Lansdale who wrote a memorandum of this meeting, which remains the only known documentary evidence that Jack and Bobby ever endorsed or authorized a hit on Fidel.
The meeting commenced with a briefing from Lansdale about the training of Cuban exile insurgents in the fine points of guerrilla warfare. The president then reiterated that he was not yet ready to approve any direct American military involvement in such plans. Lately he had made many speeches warning against the new insurrectionary forms of war, and calling for improved countermeasures.
Bobby then briefly described a possible opportunity in which members of the Cuban underground might stake out Fidel. Lansdale's memo, written later that same afternoon, called ‘die plan’ “worth assessing firmly and pursuing vigorously. If there were grounds for action, the CIA had some invaluable assets which might well be committed for such an effort.” Lansdale went on: “I pointed out that this all pertained to fractioning the regime. If it happened, it could develop like a brush-fire, much as in Hungary, and we must be prepared to help it win our goal of Cuba freed of a Communist government.”
In the words of a former CIA director, “The language of the memo speaks for itself. The only thing that Robert Kennedy can be referring to is the assassination of Castro. This paragraph should never have been written.”