The CIA against Fidel Castro: The case of the poisoned milkshake and other failed murders
The DNSA has declassified two CIA plots to kill the Cuban leader and his brother Raul. What went wrong?
Or "fine". As Fidel's taster, Chef Flores, who was in charge of tasting his smoothies, would have said. The reason?
The former president's food could be, and in fact was on at least a hundred occasions, poisoned.
In the book How Feed a Dictator, Polish journalist and writer Witold Szablowski recounted an event related to the Cuban leader's passion for dairy products and especially for the cow he loved, Ubre Blanca. Szablowski recalled that in the mid-1960s the US espionage services conspired to introduce a pill containing a toxin into Castro's daily chocolate milkshake at the Hotel Habana Libre, but that it failed when the poison stuck to the wall of the freezer and chef Flores - who had been traumatized by playing Russian roulette for Fidel — realized it.
We don't know if the six documents just declassified by the National Security Archive include this sweet assassination attempt, nor if his brother Raúl was also crazy about chocolate milkshakes, but we do know that in the early 1960s the CIA developed a lethal pill to introduce into Fidel Castro's food.
At least so it appears from these telegrams, memos and files that in August 1960, the agency's director of covert operations, Richard Bissell, authorized "a sensitive mission" to kill Castro and "increase the chances of success" of the 1961 Bay of Pigs operation, which ultimately failed.
The pill, according to declassified reports, was developed by the CIA's Technical Services Division and "had the elements of rapid solubility, high lethal content and little or no traceability" and no fewer than six were made.
Although Szablowski notes in How to Feed a Dictator that there were many attempts at poisoning, the reports refer to this plot as a simple project that "was canceled shortly after the Bay of Pigs episode" and which Peter Kornbluh, director of the DNSA's Cuba project, noted "just as the defeat of the CIA-led invaders at the Bay of Pigs marked a historic turning point for the young revolution".
Kornbluh added that it was the "official beginning of the post-Castro era that marks an important turning point for Cuba's future".
At the 8th Congress of the Communist Party (PCC), which opened last Friday 16 April in Havana, Raúl Castro was replaced by President Díaz-Canel as First Secretary of the PCC, something that, by the way, was already a foregone conclusion.
Declassified documents began to be released on the occasion of the congress, and they also include a simulated plane crash organized by the CIA that was to target Fidel's brother.
The attack was to take place on a flight between Havana and Prague on which Raúl Castro and other members of the PCC were traveling.
The CIA officer in charge in Cuba in 1960, William J. Murray, discussed the plan with Cuban pilot José Raúl Martínez, who was working for Cubana Airlines at the time, and offered him "$10,000 or a reasonable amount in excess of that" to "incur the risk of arranging an accident."
The pilot had previously been recruited by the CIA and asked for US assurances that his children would be raised if he died, the National Security Archive said.
However, the plan did not come to fruition because the aviator was unable to arrange a crash on the return flight, which took place on 21 July 1960. The plotters had assessed the possibility of an engine overheating on the ground or a splashdown "about three hours from Cuba".
Murray had apparently previously received a counter-order overriding the plot, but failed to inform the pilot.
Those were only two of the times the CIA tried to take out the Castros and failed.