Last week featured the debut on German television of a new documentary entitled Rendezvous with Death, the latest work to repeat the claims that Cuba was behind the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. The film comes at a time when the ongoing saga of troubled tensions between the U.S. and Cuba has taken its latest twist, with the U.S. unwilling to extradite alleged terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela, ostensibly based on fears that he would be handed over to Castro.
If there is anyone who doubts the clout of the Cuban exile community with the Bush Administration, they have only to look at the story in the Miami Herald (1/6/06), that "The U.S. government will decide by Jan. 24 whether to free Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles from an immigration facility in El Paso and allow him to stay in the country under supervision." Apparently what is not under consideration is the possibility of trying him for the terrorist bombing of a civilian airliner in 1976, for his assassination attempts against Castro in 2000, or even of extraditing him to countries where he is wanted for these crimes.
In this context, a film reviving very old stories about Oswald killing JFK for Fidel Castro deserves our attention for its political implications. Normally it would be best to suspend judgment until having seen the film, but the Posada outrage confirms that these are not normal times. What follows, then, are some thoughts on the film from what has been written about it.
Although the film relies on some new sources, it also revives some old and very discredited sources from the past, notably:
a) Sam Halpern, ex-CIA. Halpern was a prominent source for Gus Russo's Live by the Sword. Quoting from an essay by one of us (Scott) on the History Matters website (http://www.history-matters.com/pds/DP3_Chapter5.htm): "Halpern has been one of the most vociferous anti-Kennedy voices among CIA veterans, and some statements of his to Gus Russo can only be called disinformation." In the lengthy discussion of Halpern there, Scott considers an affidavit (believed to be by Halpern) to be "highly misleading if not perjurious."
b) Antulio Ramirez Ortiz. As Paul Hoch has noted, the HSCA stated in its Final Report:
- "The committee, in executive session, questioned Ramirez, who had been returned to the United States to serve a 20-year Federal sentence for hijacking.(149) He testified he was unable to describe the photograph he had allegedly seen and that the writing in the file was in Russian, a language he does not speak. …In the end, … the committee was forced to dismiss Ramirez' story about the "Osvaldo-Kennedy" file. The decisive factor was the committee's belief that the Cuban intelligence system in the 1961-63 period was too sophisticated to have been infiltrated by Ramirez in the manner he had described. While some details of his story could be corroborated, the essential aspects of his allegation were incredible." (see HSCA Report, p. 121).
Ramirez, author of a manuscript entitled "Castro's Red Hot Hell" (see CIA document 104-10408-10077), is not the only Cuban source for the film. Some are apparently new, though the film’s story of a red-haired negro and a $6500 payment to Oswald is certainly not.
There have always been people eager to invent, promote, or revive "Castro-did-it stories." Some of these attempts were crude and likely simple acts of opportunism. Other stories were, at least at first, promoted by CIA personnel and other insiders including the Ambassador to Mexico. Among these stories was the tale of Gilberto Alvarado Ugarte, who contacted the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City on November 25 1963. Alvarado claimed that he had earlier witnessed Oswald in the Cuban Embassy, taking $6500 from a red-haired negro to kill Kennedy. CIA personnel including David Phillips at first took Alvarado quite seriously, despite his initial false claim of being a Nicaraguan Communist (it was quickly learned that he was a penetration agent working on behalf of Somoza). Alvarado's story soon unraveled, and he ultimately failed a lie-detector test. For humor value, perhaps, his story included this exchange:
Red-haired Negro: "I want to kill the man."
Oswald: "You're not man enough. I can do it."
While Rendezvous with Death apparently does not rely on Alvarado's account, it incredibly has new sources for the very same story: red-haired negro, $6500 given to Oswald in the Cuban Embassy to kill Kennedy. Either Alvarado was truthful, which seems highly dubious, or he happened to invent the precise scenario which the film’s new witnesses say actually happened, which is preposterous. The only other logical possibility would seem to be that they are all making the story up.
It is worth noting that this story has appeared in other forms from other sources - a man named Pedro Gutierrez Valencia told the authorities after the assassination that, back around the 1st of October 1963, he had seen Oswald taking money from a Cuban outside the Cuban Embassy. Apparently Oswald was being handed money in and around the Cuban Embassy on multiple occasions. He must have spent it quickly, given that his flight from the Texas School Book Depository on November 22 relied on a public bus.
Working with German filmmaker Wilfried Huismann on Rendezvous with Death has been Gus Russo, author of Live by the Sword, a book which portrays John and Robert Kennedy as obsessed with Castro, with a bewildered CIA dragged along. This flies in the face of such obvious truths as the fact that the plots to murder Castro began before Kennedy took office, and continued after he had been suddenly removed from it. The record is clear that hardliners in the CIA and military were, along with the Cuban exiles who had lost their homeland, far more militant than Kennedy on the matter of Cuba.
Another allegation of Cuban involvement in the JFK murder, discussed ominously in Russo's book, related to a Cuban Embassy employee named Luisa Calderon, who on the afternoon of the assassination was heard uttering on a tapped phone line: "I knew almost before Kennedy." This single statement, at best ambiguous, was pushed by CIA at the time of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. The HSCA devoted significant effort trying to determine if Calderon were indeed expressing "foreknowledge" of the assassination. If an "assassination buff" overheard a U.S. official uttering such a line and tried to twist it into a conspiracy allegation, they would be rightly ridiculed. In any case, the problem with this story is that CIA files all along held the answer to the "mystery," in the form of a prior tapped call from the same day. In that earlier call, Calderon expressed complete surprise on hearing the news of Kennedy's death. Live by the Sword selectively quotes from the exonerating conversation to make the conspiracy allegation seem even more disturbing, while failing to mention that the same conversation renders the entire affair moot. For a fuller version of the Calderon story, see the essay More Mexico Mysteries, part 3, on the History Matters website).
To quote from the recently published book Ultimate Sacrifice (p. 772), by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann: "Even within the CIA, there were suspicious (eventually discredited) 'Castro-did-it' reports involving Miguel Casas Saez and Gilberto Lopez. David Morales and especially David Atlee Phillips were sources for such stories."
"Castro-did-it" stories, like "mob-did-it" stories, suffer from a central weakness: How could Castro plan for the Dallas parade route to pass under the windows of the Texas School Book Depository? How could Castro have arranged for Oswald to take a job at the TSBD? Could Castro have arranged for Oswald to be taken off the FBI Watch List just weeks before the assassination, with the result that he was not under any kind of surveillance on November 22? Could Castro have inspired the deliberate falsifications contained in pre-assassination CIA cables and other documents about Oswald, which suggest that in September-October 1963 (as well as earlier) the CIA was using Oswald documents in some kind of intelligence operation? And the "hired hand" Oswald theory suffers from the same central problem that the Warren Commission's lone gunman scenario suffered from--the glaring evidence, too lengthy to be recounted here, that Kennedy was fired upon by multiple gunmen.
There are indeed some mysterious aspects of the Oswald trip to Mexico City in the fall of 1963, the backdrop for most of the "Castro-did-it" allegations. Prime among them is the question of who impersonated Oswald on tapped telephone lines, seven weeks before he was to be arrested in Dallas. The FBI determined less than 24 hours after the assassination that the voice on these tapes did not match that of the captured Oswald. This was only one of several instances in which Oswald was impersonated prior to the assassination, usually in ways which accentuated his purported ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union, or made him appear to be a would-be killer. On the morning after the JFK murder, FBI Director Hoover informed President Johnson about an imposter "using Oswald's name" in Mexico City, noting that it "appears there was a second person down there." Surveillance photographs of a "mystery man" who may have been the impersonator were in the hands of the CIA and FBI on the afternoon of November 22. This, the best lead to the true conspirators behind Kennedy's murder, then received no follow-up whatsoever. Why?
There is also the problem of Warren Commission Exhibit 16, the typed “Kostin” letter of November 9, 1963, allegedly from Oswald but almost certainly not by him. In the letter “Oswald” plants intriguing clues suggesting an inexplicably deep relation between the writer and the Mexico City Soviet and Cuban Embassies. There were other false clues, notably a US Army Intelligence cable saying that Oswald had once defected to Cuba, that suggested an illicit relationship between Oswald and Castro’s Cuba. Are we to believe that either Oswald or Castro would lay down these false trails of evidence leading to both of them?
"Castro-did-it" stories have been revived from time to time in the past, notably in 1967 and 1971 (Jack Anderson, reporting the allegations of Johnny Roselli) and 1976 (Phillips again). Both of these occurred at a time when new investigations into Kennedy's murder were afoot (Garrison in the first instance, the Church Committee and House Select Committee in the latter). Such is not the case today, though the massive declassification of government files in the mid- and late-1990s provided startling new information about Kennedy's struggles with his own government over Cuba, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union. It also re-energized research into the assassination, and has engendered a growing consensus among those who study it, that Kennedy's murder was likely the result of the striking divisions within the U.S. body politic.
Although there is legitimate concern that the latest revival of this theory at this time may be a prelude to a revival of anti-Castro operations, it is also possible that it is a diversion. A diversion from the increasing revelations about the games that the CIA was playing with Oswald files just before the assassination. And a diversion from the growing consensus that previously-suppressed facts about Kennedy's policies on Cuba and the Cold War, which placed him at odds with powerful hard-liners in his own country, may indeed lie at the heart of the mystery about his murder.
- Peter Dale Scott
- Rex Bradford
For more information on Oswald's trip to Mexico and the allegations of communist conspiracy which quickly emanated from it, see these sources:
- Deep Politics II, by Peter Dale Scott, JFK Lancer Productions and Publications, 1996
- Overview to Deep Politics III: The CIA, the Drug Traffic, and Oswald in Mexico, by Peter Dale Scott
- The Fourteen Minute Gap and The Fourteen Minute Gap: An Update, by Rex Bradford
- More Mexico Mysteries, by Rex Bradford