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Films and Commentary from Saul Landau » Article / Op-Ed

Brian Latell's Well-Known "Fidel" Secrets

April 6, 2012 · · Originally published in Progreso Weekly

The exiles and government officials who upbraid him have yet to thank Fidel for providing them with long-term employment.

For 53 years, U.S. officials and Miami exiles have tried to assassinate Fidel Castro 638 times. They've tried to overthrow his revolutionary government. And they blamed him for numerous sins.

The exiles and government officials who upbraid him have yet to thank Fidel for providing them with long-term employment. Given their levels of incompetence in carrying out bloody but unsuccessful terrorist acts, writing of inane and inaccurate reports and uttering of supercilious predictions about Cuba’s reality and its future, they appear unfit for other work – well, maybe as TSA screeners.

One Fidel beneficiary, retired CIA analyst Brian Latell, condemns Castro for simply failing to inform the U.S. government about Lee Harvey Oswald’s intentions to kill Kennedy.

To support this accusation, Latell rehashes defecting Cuban intelligence agents' information to the CIA about Castro's knowledge of Oswald's murderous intentions, which he screamed in the Cuban Consulate in Mexico City while trying in vain to obtain a visa. Latell omits that CIA Agents in Mexico, including Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos, had reported this information to the Agency and that Fidel had disclosed the incident in a November 27, 1963, speech. Latell doesn't even ask why Oswald wanted a Cuban visa or why his CIA colleague David Attlee Phillips sent him on such a quest.

Over decades, U.S. heavies (including President Johnson and journalist Jack Anderson) believed Castro had masterminded the JFK hit. But who in his right mind would blame Castro for withholding such data from a government trying to assassinate him? Unless, of course, one is dealing with someone whose mind doesn’t heed facts or reason.

In March 1977, responding to a Bill Moyers question about Senator Robert Morgan’s (D-NC) accusation that he killed Kennedy in retaliation for attempts to kill him, Castro explained "it would have been absolute insanity on Cuba's part… to risk that our country would have been destroyed by the United States. Nobody who is not crazy would have had such a thought."

Logically, Castro continued, "why eliminate a known adversary for an unknown?" We understood Kennedy from "observing his behavior at the Bay of Pigs and Missile Crisis."  Finally, Castro said assassination didn’t change policies. "It would have been easier to kill Batista than wage two years of guerrilla war, but it would not have changed the system," reported CBS in June 10, 1977.

Latell ignores such statements. Setting a pattern for future writing, in an October 18, 1965, intelligence memorandum he offered a fact-free analysis for the CIA. Che Guevara plays a declining role in Cuban policy. Che "never wavered from his firm revolutionary stand, even as other Cuban leaders began to devote most of their attention to the internal problems of the revolution," wrote Latell. His departure from Cuba left "no doubt that Castro's more cautious position on exporting revolution, as well as his different economic approach, led to Che's downfall."

In fact, Che had returned from his unsuccessful assignment in the Congo to prepare for his and Fidel's attempt to foment – in vain – revolution in Bolivia. Fidel assigned his best guerrilla fighters to accompany Che. Moreover, Cuba adopted Che's basic economic perspectives from 1966 to 1971 and expanded its role in Africa from 1975 on.

Likewise, Latell's derives his "evidence" of Fidel's advance knowledge of the Kennedy assassination from a conversation with defecting Cuban intelligence officer Florentino Aspillaga. On the fatal day, Aspillaga claimed he received orders to monitor CIA radio signals from Dallas. Surprisingly, Aspillaga didn't reveal that information when he defected! "I don’t say Fidel Castro ordered the assassination," Latell said, but that he didn’t inform U.S. officials.

Latell admits "predicting the demise of the Castro brothers' regime has been a losing proposition for all of the 51 years they have exercised power. There have been a number of occasions when observers on and off the island let themselves be convinced that the final chapter was being written. I believed that once myself."

Instead of acknowledging he owes his career to Fidel, Latell conjectures that Castro's speeches hid encoded messages to him. "For years I had been a high priority target of Cuban intelligence and knew that Fidel was interested in what I said and wrote about him," Latell wrote.

In his previous book, "After Fidel," he reveals the method behind his madness. On September 11, 1989, Fidel spoke about the Salvador Allende Hospital in Havana, once the home "of a mango grove." In February 1990, at a University of Miami speech, Latell admonished Castro for having ordered the cutting of a mango tree. Latell, trying to show Fidel’s autocratic micromanaging, had read translations not the Comandante's words in Spanish, and thus twisted the story. Cuba’s President never ordered the cutting; nor did he refer to one tree.

Fidel returned to the mango tree issue on February 5, Latell claims, just to answer the former CIA analyst, but without mentioning Latell’s name. Fidel actually spoke on February 3, two days earlier, but didn’t mention either a mango grove or tree.

Latell believes Fidel thought so intensely about him that he placed spies at the University of Miami to record his speech. "I recognized that what I said would be in his [Fidel] morning intelligence briefing within a day or two, probably after being taped by someone in the audience [at the University of Miami] and then transcribed and translated in Havana."

Finally, for possible smoking guns in the Kennedy assassination, Latell should look at his Cuban exile friends and former CIA colleagues. They believe Kennedy betrayed them at the Bay of Pigs, during the Missile Crisis, by paying ransom for Brigade 2506 and by the rumors that there were unacknowledged negotiations between the two countries during 1963. When Kennedy died, more than a few rightwing Cuban exiles celebrated.

Like others who have for half a century participated in U.S.-Cuba policy, Latell evokes the infamous Bourbon kings of France: they learn nothing and forget nothing; so facts and reason cannot confuse them.

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