The Latell Report: Oswald in Mexico
By Dr. Brian Latell at UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies:
Oswald in Mexico City
Seven weeks before he fired the shots that killed President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald loitered in Mexico City for five days and nights. The visit has remained the most tantalizing of the unresolved mysteries surrounding the assassination. Yet, evidence that has accumulated since 1963 indicates that Oswald’s engagement with Cuban intelligence agents and assets in the Aztec capital was more extensive than previously known.
He arrived by bus from Texas the morning of September 27 and departed the same way on October 2, lodging at an inexpensive hotel thought by senior American officials to have been a center of pro-Castro activities. His choice of the Hotel del Comercio raised the possibility that he had somehow been in touch with the Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence, the DGI, before arriving in Mexico.
Oswald was determined to defect to Cuba. To achieve that, he visited the Cuban and Soviet consulates where it is known he interacted with ranking intelligence officers. He also dealt with Silvia Duran, the Mexican receptionist at the Cuban mission, a dedicated Marxist and Cuban intelligence asset.
Oswald left few traces during the remainder of the approximately 120 hours he spent in Mexico City –including all five nights, most of Saturday, September 28, and all of the following Sunday. So, the Warren Commission completed its investigation of the president’s death in September, 1964 with scant information about the assassin’s puzzling stay. Years later declassified American intelligence reports revealed that Oswald likely had additional contact with the DGI, and reliably showed that the Castro regime had prior knowledge of his intent to kill the president.
The first important defector from Cuba’s intelligence service told his CIA handlers in the spring of 1964 that Castro lied about Oswald in a speech soon after Kennedy’s death. “We never in our life heard of him,” Castro insisted. The defector, who was familiar with Cuban intelligence operations and personnel in Mexico, knew this was not true.
This trusted source also reported that “before, during, and after” his Mexico trip, Oswald had been in contact with Cuban intelligence. I have found no evidence that these incriminating revelations ever figured in the Warren Commission’s deliberations. The defector and his CIA debriefer, a senior counterintelligence officer, were not interviewed.
Similarly, a highly prejudicial report form a trusted FBI penetration agent never reached the commission. The agent, Jack Childs, an influential member of the American Communist Party, met with Fidel Castro in Havana in May 1964. The Cuban leader told him that as Oswald left the Cuban consulate in Mexico, he shouted, “I am going to kill Kennedy for this!”
Childs told the FBI that Fidel was “in a very good mood and “not under the influence of liquor” when they met. The bureau’s New York field office reported that there was “no question about the accuracy” of what Castro had said. J. Edgar Hoover signed a misleading and incomplete Top Secret summary of the Havana meeting in June, 1964, but, for unknown reasons, it never reached the Warren Commission.
If these reports had been considered by the commission the possibility of Cuban regime involvement in Kennedy’s death would no doubt have become a more urgent investigative priority. Even in the absence of any smoking gun directly linking Cuban intelligence to Kennedy’s death, the commission would surely have felt obliged in its report to express misgivings about Castro’s veracity and Cuban intentions.
In subsequent years considerably more about Oswald’s stay in Mexico has risen to the surface. He was long been rumored to have attended a party at Duran’s home, and then, in 1967, a reliable CIA agent in Mexico learned from Duran that she had an affair with Oswald. “She had gone out with him several times,” the agent recalled, “and liked him from the start.” On a page in his address book stored at the National Archives Oswald jotted down Duran’s name and phone number.
In 1967 still more was learned about Oswald’s visit. Oscar Contreras, a Mexican journalist, told an American embassy official that when he was a pro-Castro university student he too had spent time with Oswald. The assassin sought his help to get to Cuba.
More recently, in his bestseller A Cruel and Shocking Act, Philip Shenon reveals that he learned this year from Contreras that he had also seen Oswald at a reception at the Cuban embassy. “I saw him at a distance, talking to people,” Contreras told Shenon. The author concluded that this “suggested far more extensive contacts between Oswald and Cuban agents.”
Shenon also managed to track down another credible Mexican witness. Francisco Guerrero Garro, a prominent Mexican journalist was also a university student at the time of Oswald’s Mexico sojourn. He revealed that he had been at a party at Duran’s home, and is certain he saw Oswald there too. “His face was unmistakable. . . . I can swear that he was there.”
Brian Latell is the author of Castro’s Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, the CIA, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). A former National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, he is now a senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.