In 2006, the former head of the intelligence service of Cuba – Fabian Escalante – published a book title, “638 Ways to Kill Castro”.
The text details more than 600 different assassination methods that critics of Fidel Castro, which included the CIA, used to take out the recently deceased Cuban strongman.
These attempts were all hatched under the cover program dubbed, “Operation Mongoose”. Many of which were clever, some were incredibly elaborate while others sounded as though it came out of a grandiose novel.
Funnily enough, one such attempt involved the late grand novelist Ernest Hemingway. In a declassified Pentagon memo, reports emerged that the Cuban dictator was going to pay a visit to a farm owned by the Hemingway family.
The farm had been converted into a museum and according to the writer-turned-Spanish-revolutionary’s wife, Mary, Castro was going to pay homage to her husband.
This was seen as an opportunity by the men in-charge of Operation Mongoose at that time. Brig. Gen. Edward Lansdale, whom President Kennedy had placed in charge of Operation Mongoose stated in the memo:
The Attorney General then mentioned Mary Hemingway, commenting on reports that Castro was drinking heavily in disgruntlement over the way things were going, and the opportunities offered by the “shrine” to Hemingway…If there are grounds for action, CIA had some invaluable assets which might well be committed for such an effort.
The endeavor never pushed through as it was assessed that, contrary to Landsdale’s claim of having “invaluable assets”, Operation Mongoose did not have the capability to pull off such a sophisticated attack.
Perhaps it was the lack of expertise in assassination that drove the CIA to seek help from a group that does, the Mafia. In 1960, intelligence officials met with key Cosa Nostra bosses – a Chicago based group.
Among the big-wigs were Momo Salvatore Giancana, nicknamed: “the successor of Al Capone” and Santos Trafficante, the organization’s head of Cuban operations.
At the meeting it was suggested that “rather than an explosion or a shooting”, the would-be assassin could carry “some type of potent pill that could be placed in Castro’s food or drink would be much more effective”.
Despite concrete developments, the plan was ultimately scrapped after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion would make the Kennedy administration the obvious culprits if such an assassination took place.
However, plots to kill Castro did not stop there. Operation Mongoose sought other avenues to take out the Cuban leader – this included his penchant for women and scuba diving.
In a classic femme fatale angle, Castro’s detractors used a female mistress to carry out an assassination. The Cuban was particularly fond of the company of women and the CIA were especially aware of this.
Marita Lorenz was tasked of doing just that, specifically to poison Castro with pills stashed inside a jar of cream. Fortunately for the Cuban leader, the toxic pills dissolved in the cream thus preventing the attempt to take place.
Castro also loved scuba diving, living in the Carribean presented many diving opportunities. The CIA sought to exploit this hobby of his, rigging a conch shell with an explosive as well as tainting his wet-suit with a deadly toxin.
Just after the Bay of Pigs invasion, in 1961 an aspiring US politician and an associate of Castro’s – Jack Donovan – was set to meet the Cuban leader in Havana for a visit.
Before his trip, the CIA presented him with a dive suit to give Castro as a present. The likelihood of that being a genuine token of gesture was slim given the noteworthy disdain the U.S. government had for the Cuban strongman.
It was later revealed that the fabric was tainted with poisonous chemicals. This would have made Donovan an unwitting assassin, had he not swapped the suit with one he purchased personally.
In another incident, according to a declassified CIA report from 1967 one plan was to rig a bomb inside a conch shell placed on the seabed where Castro frequents in his dives.
The hope was that the shell would be so beautiful that Castro would pick it up and, by doing so, trigger an explosive.
Desmond Fitzgerald, the CIA’s head of Cuban operations that time, went as far as to buy two books on Caribbean mollusks to make the attempt authentic. The plot was abandoned after being deemed too impractical.
These ostentatious and sometimes comical plots tell us just to what lengths the American government would go to dispose Fidel Castro from power. Despite the priority accorded to and the elaborate methodology used in Operation Mongoose, the iconic Cuban leader ultimately passed on his own terms.
This perhaps is Castro’s greatest legacy.