Fidel Castro’s Monstrous Lies
John F. Kennedy was dead only about thirty hours when Fidel Castro took to the airwaves to pontificate about the most publicized crime of the last century. It was nearly fifty years ago, on November 23, 1963, when Castro spoke for two hours on Cuban radio and television exclusively about the assassination that occurred the day before.
Lee Harvey Oswald, charged with the president’s murder, was still being interrogated at Dallas police headquarters. No one outside that building had any idea what he was saying. But his affection for the Cuban revolution, and zealous efforts in its behalf, already were being reported in the media. Oswald’s mysterious contacts with Cuban officials that began in 1959 in Los Angeles, and continued in Mexico City in September, 1963, were not yet publicly known. Nor was his determination to defect to Cuba where he hoped to work for his hero, “Uncle Fidel.”
So Castro, who knew vastly more about the accused assassin than he has ever admitted, was aware that he was playing with fire when he spoke. He had to appear credible. Yet, he needed to get safely distant from Oswald, to immunize Cuba from any association with the president’s death. He chose to lie copiously while doing his best to exonerate Oswald.
The real assassin, he said, must have been a right-wing fanatic. Of Oswald, he claimed, “they have manufactured their criminal . . . is he really guilty? …can he be an agent of the CIA or FBI?” With these allegations Castro became the world’s first propagator of bizarre Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.
He went on to proclaim other lies that he and the regime have been parroting ever since: Oswald “had no contact with us,” he insisted. “We never in our life heard of him.” In another speech a few days later, he denied any knowledge of Oswald’s September visits to the Cuban embassy in Mexico where he engaged with Cuban intelligence assets. These would eventually become the most readily refutable of all the lies.
The evidence of Castro’s deceptions is substantial, deriving from several reliable sources, nearly all of them previously overlooked or disregarded by investigators. None of the proof is more compelling, however, than Castro’s own incriminating admissions shared with a trusted FBI agent. Jack Childs, the younger brother half of Operation SOLO, met with Fidel in Havana in May 1964.
Jack and his brother Morris had operated as penetration agents against world communist leaders for years. They were among the most valued secret agents run by the Bureau, and the authenticity of what they reported has never been in doubt.
In the meeting, documented in declassified FBI records, Fidel told Jack that although there must have been at least two other participants in Kennedy’s murder, he was sure Oswald was involved. Never mind that he had publicly characterized Oswald as a “scapegoat.”
Contrary to another of his earlier claims, Castro volunteered to Jack Childs that “our people in Mexico gave us the details in a full report.” He meant that his intelligence officers there had kept him fully informed of Oswald’s visits.
Yet, most remarkably, Castro revealed to Childs that as Oswald was leaving the Cuban consulate in Mexico, he shouted “I am going to kill that bastard. I am going to kill Kennedy.”
Castro lied about this too. Fifteen years later, speaking to members of an American congressional committee in Havana, Castro insisted, “This is absurd. I didn’t say that.” He was not told that Jack Childs was the source; information from Operation SOLO was still too sensitive to acknowledge. In fact, however, Castro had reportedly said exactly the same thing about Oswald’s threat to kill Kennedy to a British journalist.
In Castro’s Secrets, issued this month in an expanded paperback edition that includes new revelations, I explain the reasons for these many lies. Castro had good reasons to fear that Cuba would be implicated in the assassination and that the grieving American people would demand military retaliation.
Kennedy’s murder, he said in November, “may have very, very negative repercussions” for Cuba . . . the most reactionary forces . . . in the United States…may begin immediately to draw up aggressive policies.” A day later Che Guevara expressed his own fears: “The peace of the world will be threatened for years to come.” They were warning the Cuban people that war could be imminent. Military forces were put on alert, to “be ready to repel aggression.”
It is not clear to this day why Oswald, in the presence of Cuban officials, threatened to kill Kennedy. But there can be no reasonable doubt that he did. Childs recounted his conversation with Fidel accurately. Sadly, however, all of Castro’s lies bared by Childs were never brought to the attention of ranking members of the Warren Commission that investigated Kennedy’s death. Even now, fifty years later, that Castro has continued to lie egregiously remains obscure to most.
Dr. Brian Latell, distinguished Cuba analyst and author of the book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader, is a Senior Research Associate at ICCAS. He has informed American and foreign presidents, cabinet members, and legislators about Cuba and Fidel Castro in a number of capacities. He served in the early 1990s as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America at the Central Intelligence Agency and taught at Georgetown University for a quarter century. Dr. Latell has written, lectured, and consulted extensively. His new book, Castro’s Secrets. Cuban Intelligence, the CIA, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, was published in July 2013 by Palgrave Macmillan.