My Brief Encounter with Fidel Castro By Paul Krassner

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February 20, 2008

“I Will Say Only That Cuba is Alert”

My Brief Encounter with Fidel Castro


In 1960, the U.S. State Department was financing counterrevolutionary broadcasts to Cuba from a radio station on Swan Island in Honduras. Program content ranged from telling Cubans that their children would be taken away to warning them that a Russian drug was being added to their food and milk which would automatically turn them into Communists. My friend Lyle Stuart was national treasurer of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which sponsored a trip to Cuba that December, and he invited me to come along.

On New Year’s Eve, at an outdoor dinner celebrating the anniversary of the revolution, 15,000 Cubans, including 10,000 voluntary teachers, were bidding goodbye to the Year of Agrarian Reform and welcoming in the Year of Education. Although Fidel Castro accused the United States of planning to attack Cuba, the few hundred Americans who had been invited were greeted with applause, cheering and kiss-throwing. At midnight the Cubans sang “The 26th of July Song,” and their cardboard plates went scaling through the air, mingling with a display of fireworks.

There was a full-scale learn-to-read-and-write campaign. In several industries, every employee would give one cent a day throughout the year to the Minister of Education. In the Sierra Maestra, where battles once raged, there were now under construction schools and dormitories for 20,000 children, to match the 20,000 Cubans who had lost their lives, many after torture, under the U.S.-supported Batista regime. At one of these educational communities, some young students removed the string that had been set up by a landscaping crew to mark off a cement foundation. Next morning, the school director lectured them about such immorality.

“Even a little thing like that,” he explained, “does harm to the revolution.”

The children of Cuba were being programmed for cooperation rather than competition. This sense of utter involvement in the revolution provided the rationalization Cubans gave when I asked about the lack of a free press, critical of the revolution.

“We get the New York Times,” I was told, “and that’s enough.”

On January 2, there was a parade, with female soldiers marching in conga fashion, heavy tanks ripping away at well-paved streets, and a Macy’s-type float that was actually the reconstructed American space rocket which had been fired from Cape Canaveral the previous November, only to be destroyed just after launching when it proved defective. Fragments had fallen in Cuba, killing a cow. Now the revolutionary slogan, “Venceremos” (“We Will Win”) was temporarily changed to “We Will Win, With or Without Cows.”

One evening, there was a reception at the Presidential Palace for several hundred visitors from around the world. When Castro arrived in the main ballroom, he was surrounded by an eager, protoplasmic circle of admirers and well-wishers. He stood tall and handsome in their midst, uniformed but hatless. The throng of people with Castro at the hub surged forward a few feet at a time toward the end of the ballroom and finally gave way to a line that formed to meet him, one by one. Some asked him to pose with them, which he did. A man with a camera stood on a plush chair for a better angle, but his wife, who was posing with Castro, yelled at him.

“Max! Don’t stand on that chair! This is a palace!”

I gave Castro a copy of my magazine, The Realist, and requested an interview. He told me to set it up with his secretary. Then a palace guard handed him a cablegram from President Dwight Eisenhower–in the final weeks of his lame-duck presidency–calling off diplomatic relations with Cuba. I asked Castro for a statement.

“I do not think it is up to me to comment,” he said, “since it is the United States that has broken relations. I will say only that Cuba is alert.”

There was no official announcement at the Presidential Palace, but the news spread rapidly among the guests as Castro strode across the ballroom and departed.

I had brought Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind to Cuba. The next day, I was in my hotel room, sitting on the bidet and reading his long poem, “I Am Waiting,” while waiting in vain for a call from Fidel Castro’s secretary. But Castro obviously had more important things to do than answer my questions. In retrospect, though, I would like to have asked him, “How do you feel about term limits?”

Paul Krassner is the editor of The Realist. His books include: Pot Stories for the Soul, One Hand Jerking and Murder at the Conspiracy Convention. He can be reached through his website:


BACKGROUND: CIA had numerous plots against Castro

Posted : Tue, 19 Feb 2008 20:39:20 GMT
Author : DPA

America World News | HomeWashington – The United States had a long and at times colourful history with Fidel Castro that featured a missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war and the Bay of Pigs fiasco. In addition to those highly publicized events that underlined the deteriorating relations between Washington and President Fidel Castro, there were plenty of other acts that took place more quietly, including numerous CIA plots to kill or humiliate the Cuban leader. Not long after Castro came to power in 1959 after ousting dictator Fulgencio Batista at the height of the Cold War, the CIA began planning for the demise of the communist leader with methods ranging from poisonous cigars to an appealing sea shell. In the end, Castro’s departure from power was peaceful. Castro announced Tuesday that he was resigning as president, formally ending his 49-year rule over the island, although he transferred power to his brother in July 2006 because of poor health. The CIA’s activities were mostly kept under wraps until exposed by a Senate committee in 1975 that became known as the Church Committee, named after Senator Frank Church of Idaho. Church had set out to uncover the CIA’s covert attempts around the world to assassinate opponents, but none of them took greater priority than Castro, whose communist agenda, alliance with the Soviet Union and location just 145 kilometres off the coast of Florida was viewed as a major threat. The plots took place on the sidelines of two major confrontations with Cuba and the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. In 1961, then president John Kennedy signed off on the Bay of Pigs invasion. The operation consisted of CIA-trained and -backed Cuban exiles landing on the beach to launch a rebellion against Castro. The effort failed after Kennedy called off air support, worried it would raise the profile of the US role. The armed exiles were easily defeated by Castro’s forces, most of them ending up captured or killed. Castro responded by asking the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. When US U-2 spy planes captured images of the deployment of the missiles in 1962, it sparked a major showdown between Washington and Moscow that most historians believe was the closest the Cold War adversaries ever came to the brink of nuclear holocaust. The Cuban Missile Crisis ended when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles. The Church Committee documented at least eight plots by the CIA on Castro’s life. Some of them were put into action, others never left the drawing board. Other accounts have alleged there were dozens more. The former head of Castro’s intelligence service wrote a book describing hundreds of plans to eliminate the Cuban leader, but they have not been confirmed by the US government. One of the assassination plots involved the use of poisoned cigars. The Church Committee documented that in August 1960, the CIA instructed an official to lace a box of Castro’s favourite cigars with a toxin so potent it could kill simply by being placed in the mouth. CIA records showed they were passed on to an unidentified person, but it was unclear if they ever made their way to Castro. The CIA also tried to use the criminal underworld to assassinate Castro, according to the committee. The CIA made contact through intermediaries to underworld figures in the United States hoping they could make arrangements with gambling syndicates in Cuba. Before the Bay of Pigs invasion, poisonous pills were passed via the shadowy figures on several occasions to individuals in Cuba who supposedly had access to Castro. Those plots never panned out and eventually agents tapered off their communications with Cuban operatives. A post-Bay-of-Pigs plot was later launched that again involved the use of the mafia, this time using pills and small arms. But when it appeared the operation would not succeed, it was called off. The CIA later explored the possibility of using an “exotic seashell” laden with explosives that could be placed in waters where Castro was known to go diving. The shell’s illuminating appearance, according to the plan, would lure Castro to it, then blow him up. The plan was later dismissed as “impractical,” according to the Church Committee. The CIA also explored giving Castro a diving suit contaminated with a fungus that would cause a infectious skin disease. That suit, however, never left the laboratory. In another of the plots that went on until 1965, the CIA devised and passed on poison-tipped pens to agents in Cuba. The CIA also weighed methods of humiliating Castro, including a poison that would cause his legendary beard to fall out, and a chemical agent similar to LSD that would make him look foolish during public speaking events.