John F. Kennedy:
By Manuel Alberto Ramy
On Nov. 22, 1963, in the city of Dallas, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Forty years later, one of the most talked about murders in the history of humanity remains without a convincing solution. The Warren Commission, created to ascertain the truth, ended its task by declaring that the assassination was the work of a lone gunman. But it sealed most of the documents it handled for a period of 50 years.
Thousands of newspaper articles, dozens of books and several movies have broached the event with greater or lesser credibility. Generally, they disagree with the official version. There are too many holes and contradictions. Who actually shot the charismatic president? Was it a conspiracy? If so, who took part in it and what were their motives? Was Lee Harvey Oswald a pawn used for dual purposes?
In an exclusive interview, Division Gen. (retired) Fabián Escalante Font, who for years was chief of Cuban Security and the Cuban counterespionage services, outlines a theory that he develops in a book soon to appear; the assassination was a dual-purpose operationkill the President of the United States and link the deed to Cuba, so as to go ahead with a definitive military action.
Since Escalante retired, in the mid-1990s, he has devoted much of his time to write about The CIAs Secret War Against Cuba, the title that covers the four books he has published.
Tall, athletic-looking, with a reflective gaze and straightforward speech, the former general welcomes me to his study, a small, neat and simple room: a bureau, two chairs, computer, papers, books. Two cups of coffee await us. Between sips, we chat about the recent torrential rains, the Havana Art Biennale (he loves painting), baseball and literature (hes a voracious reader). When we reach the topic of his writings, I push the button on my tape recorder.
Fabián Escalante (FE): A book I recently completed will be published soon, part of a series on the secret war the United States has waged against Cuba for more than 40 years. It tackles the CIA project in 1963 to assassinate Fidel Castro and how it intended, almost from the time it was conceived, to involve Cuba in the murder of President Kennedy and later justify a direct military aggression by the U.S. against Cuba.
Progreso Weekly (PW): How do you reach those conclusions?
FE: I have carefully studied the Warren Commission Report [which President Johnson entrusted with the investigation of Kennedys assassination]; the report by the Select Committee [on Assassinations] of the U.S. House of Representatives, which between 1976 and 1978 investigated the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King; the Senate report by the Church Committee, which carried out an investigation of the assassination attempts on foreign politicians; and the investigations of numerous American researchers, including Mark Lane, Jim Garrison, Gaeton Fonzi and others, who in some way have studied the Dallas assassination.
PW: Did you find in those sources something that other investigators may have overlooked?
FE: What I did was to interpret some information that meant little to the American researchers and investigators because it dealt with Cuban émigrés but that meant something to us, who knew those émigrés. We also analyzed the resulting information. As you know, analysis also produces information.
PW: How long have you been interested in the topic?
FE: On Nov. 22, 1963, I headed a small counterintelligence unit and the Dallas assassination caught us all by surprise. Two days later, Fidel appeared on Cuban television and made a minute and accurate analysis of the causes, the conditions, the preceding events and the probable motivations behind the crime. In his analysis, Fidel foresaw the forces behind the crime.
PW: Which were they?
FE: The American military-industrial complex, the U.S. far right and, of course, the Cuban counter-revolutionary émigrés, the same émigrés who in 1961 were defeated at the Bay of Pigsand who blamed Kennedy for their defeatwho in October 1962, with the end of the Missile Crisis, had lost every hope that the U.S. might strike Cuba militarily; the same émigrés who watched how the veterans of Brigade 2506, held captive in Cuba after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, returned humiliated to the U.S. in 1962 after being exchanged for fruit jam and medicine.
PW: The Warren Commission reached the conclusion of a lone gunman, and others have spoken about a conspiracy. What makes you think that the Cuban émigrés played a role in Kennedys assassination?
FE: In the first place, because they had the motive [the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis], the means and the opportunity. There is much evidence and a lot of information that indicate that people of that sector of the exile community were in Dallas.
Second, through clues we discovered years later, in 1965, while we were investigating a CIA operationnamed Amlash by the agencyto assassinate Fidel Castro. It was an operation the CIA began in 1961 when it recruited a former commander of the Rebel Army, Rolando Cubelas Secades. Cubelas was in Paris precisely on the day of Kennedys assassination, meeting with a CIA official who gave him an artifact manufactured especially to assassinate Fidel Castro. Thats a coincidence that has never been explained, at least not convincingly.
Why was the CIA on Nov. 22, 1963, delivering to an important agent a device to assassinate Fidel Castro? Several CIA officials have given explanations and even Richard Helms, then the agencys director, talked about the topic. But none of the explanations were convincing and probably are not true. On that occasion, we discovered that that planwhich we began to investigate in early 1965 and frustrated in early 1966had had a previous edition in 1963, because we still didnt know about the Paris episode.
PW: How did you find out?
FE: We found out later, when the Church Committee published the result of its investigations into the CIAs plans to assassinate Fidel Castro and other foreign political leaders. That was the second instance we came across it.
The third instance was in 1978, when members of the House Select Committee [on Assassinations], who were investigating the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., came to Cuba. They came with a questionnaire. At that time, I was chief of the Department of State Security and was in charge of supervising the answers that were given. They asked about specific people, about émigrés in general, and of course they carried under their sleeve the theorymaliciously createdthat Cuba had had something to do with Kennedys assassination.
PW: What did the Cuban-involvement theory consist of?
FE: Allow me not to answer that right now, because later Im going to explain how it was part of the Kennedy assassination project to blame Cuba and to use that as a pretext to launch a military invasion. It was during that process, in 1978, that I became involved in the topic, and it was also on that date that I began to read the documents I cited earlier and also the books that eventually came into my hands.
PW: With the public information you collected, along with the information you handled in the performance of your duties, did you think at the time you might write about the topic?
FE: No, that didnt happen until the second half of the 1990s, when I had retired and had more time. So what leaped first before my eyes when I began to investigate? My book is divided in two parts. The first is the plot against Cuba in 1963, the plot that had as its centerpiece the assassination of Fidel Castro.
PW: Are you referring to Amlash, Cubelas operation?
FE: Yes, Amlash. Cubelas operation had many abnormalities, because in fact he shouldnt have been in Paris on Nov. 22; he should have returned to Cuba earlier. He remained in Paris because he was intentionally delayed.
FE: The CIA knows. They delayed him. The person who was meeting with him, the person who delayed him, was a CIA official, probably the supervisor of the operation. That has got to have an explanation. The first part [of my book] deals with that situation. The second part deals with the investigation we carried out to, in the first place, demonstrate that there was a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy, precisely what the official versions insisted on denying at any cost. The version of Oswald as a lone gunman is a tale similar to Little Red Riding Hood. Kennedy was the victim of a plot that was hatched many months earlier and its elements can be found in the American literature itselfthe Warren Commission papers, the papers of the House Select Committee, and the materials collected by several U.S. researchersso Im saying nothing new.
PW: If your theory is that there was a plot and there was no lone gunman, what was Oswalds role?
FE: Lee Harvey Oswald was a young man who enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of 17, lived in New York and, for a time, in New Orleans. His mother had some relations there, in New Orleans, and her husband was linked to the gambling syndicate and to the capo of the local Mafiaa man named Carlo Marcelo. This detail will be important later, which is why I mention it. Oswald joins the military and, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, he ends up in a super-secret base in Japan from which U-2 planes took off to spy on the Soviet Union and China.
At the base, Oswald worked on the radars that provided the parameters of flight. At that base, he learned to speak Russian and, after his tour of duty, returned to the base at El Toro, Calif., where he spent 1959. We have a tip from that period. One of his companions at the base, named Nelson Delgado, told the Warren Commission that Oswald was a lousy shooter.
One day between September and October, Oswald asked to be discharged because he said his mother was gravely ill. He traveled to New Orleans and boarded a ship to Britain. In Britain he got a visa, took a plane, went to Finland and from Finland went on to Moscow as a tourist, in November or December 1959. There, he went to the American Embassy, ripped up his passport and said he would remain in the USSR because he was convinced that communism was marvelous.
PW: Did Oswald have any background of political sympathy for communism?
FE: No background. Hes a 19- or 20-year-old kid and has never shown any interest in or affinity with socialist, communist or Marxist thinking. Its the year 1959, and the Soviets tell him No. Oswald puts on a big show in the bathroom of the hotel where hes staying, attempts to commit suicide and the Russians give him permission to stay. They place him in Minsk, give him an apartment and a job in a radio factory.
This is surprising for those who knew the Soviet Union back then. It makes no sense for the Soviet KGB to grant asylum to a 19- or 20-year-old American citizen without any record as a political fugitive or links to the U.S. Communist Party or participation in social activism, who all of a sudden shows up and says hes more communist than Karl Marx. Yet the Soviets give him political asylum.
And heres an interesting fact. Beginning in November or December, the U-2 flights over Soviet territory were suspended and were not resumed until May 1, 1960, the eve of talks between Nikita Khrushchev and President Eisenhower. Precisely on May 1, a U-2 piloted by Gary Powell was shot down. For the first time, Soviet rocketry downed a U-2 plane. How interesting! Because it turns out that Oswald was a specialist in radar who should have known the flight parameters of U-2 planes.
PW: Do you think that Oswalds asylum was somehow related to that fact?
FE: I think the cover story about asylum for Oswald was to deliver that information, so the Soviets could down a U-2 and foil the first talks on disarmament in the history of the Cold War. And, as is known, the talks failed. Who else could be behind that plot if not the military-industrial complex denounced by Eisenhower himself at the end of his term? Who else could be behind it if not the Central Intelligence Agency itself? I cant tell you for sure, but circumstantial evidenceas the Americans sayallows me to make that conjecture. It is very strange that long before Oswald sought asylum there were no flights, and that when the flights resumed the first was shot down. Until Oswalds appearance, [the Russians] hadnt managed to do it.
PW: How long did Oswald remain in USSR?
FE: He marries a Soviet citizen, has a daughter and in late 1960 begins to give signs that he wants to return to the U.S. In early 1961, he goes to the same consulate and meets with the same consulwho, of course, is a CIA officialand asks for a new U.S. passport. He asks for a U.S. passport for his wife Marina and incredibly the American Consulate grants all his requests. It gives a passport to Oswald, to his Soviet wife Marina and their daughter and pays the fare back to the U.S. for all three. In June or July 1962, Oswald arrives in New York, where hes met by an American who happens to be the president of an anti-communist society, probably an agent of the CIA. The names are in my book.
PW: Does he carry out any activities in New York?
FE: No, he goes to Dallas with his wife and daughter and there links up with the Russian émigré community. In June or July 1962 he finds a job, amazingly, in a company that manufactures the maps used by the U-2 pilots. Its supposed to be a place that demands high reliability, yet Oswald, who comes from the Soviet Union; Oswald, who has declared himself to be a communist, a devout Marxist; Oswald, who has a Russian wife; Oswald, who has a Russian daughter; comes to Dallas and quickly finds work in a place thats engaged in the production of military maps for U-2 planes.
Then he links up with a woman named Ruth Paine, whose husband works at the Bell helicopter factory, in other words, he links up with a series of persons who, I imagine, were related to the American intelligence services. Were talking about white Russians, were talking about people connected to the military-industrial complex, people who have security clearances, and Oswald has no problems, nobody suspects.
PW: Despite his background, he wasnt investigated?
FE: The FBI special agent in charge of Oswalds case closes the file because he has no elements to suspect that Oswald is a foreign agent. Then, in late 1962, James Hasting, another FBI agent, reopens the case, but he probably opened it for other reasons. Oswald arrives in New Orleans on April 24, 1963, around the date we think the plot to assassinate Kennedy was started. With whom does he meet in New Orleans? Why, with friend David Ferrie, an anti-communist eccentric who has participated as a pilot in weapons drops over Cuba, and with a whole lot of characters linked with a counter-revolutionary organization called Friends of a Democratic Cuba.
The offices are in the same building that housed the offices of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, a CIA front at the time of the Girón Beach invasion [Bay of Pigs]. Around that time, a group of Cuban counter-revolutionary leaders were there, such as Carlos Bringuier and José Arcacha. And thats the first picture we have of Oswald linked to the Cuban counter-revolutionaries and elements of the CIA.
The head of that office was a former FBI agent, Guy Bannister, president of the Friends of a Democratic Cuba Society, who was an FBI agent in Chicago. Thats in April 1963. In May, Oswald makes a 180-degree turn in his political stance and writes to an American named Vincent T. Lee, president of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, saying that he would like to organize a branch of that committee in New Orleans. In July, he writes to the Soviet Embassy saying he wants to return to the Soviet Union and makes his wife write another letter, saying she wants to return. All those letters were intercepted by the FBI, according to the Warren Commission investigation.
On July 30 or Aug. 1, the FBI raids a training camp operated by the Friends of a Democratic Cuba in Lake Pontchartrain, very near New Orleans, and arrests a number of people. The camp was owned by a character named Mike MacLaine, who had run the gambling casino at the Hotel Nacional. He was linked to the Mafia family of Santos Traficante and the family of Sam Giancana in Chicago. The FBI seizes an arsenal and arrests at least nine Cubans. The names of two of them were never learned; nobody knows who they were.
On Aug. 1, Oswald goes to a commercial establishment in New Orleans called Casa Roca, owned by Carlos Bringuier Expósito, an old Cuban counter-revolutionary who was a member of the Manuel Salvat group. Here, Oswald again makes a 180-degree turn and offers his services for the counter-revolutionary cause. He tells Bringuier he is a veteran, a Rambo, I imagine, Superman, and that hes ready to help the cause of the Cuban counter-revolutionaries and can train them. Thats on Aug. 1.
That same day, or the following day, he writes to the president of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, Vincent T. Lee, and tells him he had an incident with the counter-revolutionary Cubans and they beat him up. But that incident in reality didnt happen until Aug. 9.
PW: Are you saying that Oswald wrote about an incident before it happened?
FE: Indeed. He says so in a letter that also appears among the Warren Commission documents. He gives Lee the addresses of all these characters, addresses that were known to the FBI, and tells him about an episode that still hadnt happened, that wouldnt happen until Aug. 9, 1963.
PW: What really happened on Aug. 9?
FE: That day, he is handing out leaflets in support of Cuba. Carlos Bringuier finds out, calls up two or three friends, also Cubans, they go to a main street in New Orleans, Canal I think its called, and they have a row with Oswald. They shout at him and get into a fistfight. The police intervene, arrest everybody and take them to the police station. The only one who remains in jail is Oswald, who of course summons an FBI agent. The fine imposed to Oswald was paid by his stepfather, that character who, according to the Warren Commission, was linked to Carlo Marcelo.
Oswald is released and, by happenstance, is met by a journalist, an old CIA collaborator, who proposes to him to hold a radio debate with Carlos Bringuier so each may explain his political position. Oswald accepts and on Aug. 21 there is a radio debate between Carlos Bringuier and Lee Harvey Oswald, at which the latter declares himself to be a Marxist believer, a Castro supporter, a communist, a friend of Cuba and a sympathizer of the Cuban revolution. Of course, that debate was duly recorded and would be utilized later as proof of the links between Oswald and Cuba.
PW: Utilized by the Warren Commission?
FE: Utilized after Kennedys assassination to prove that Oswald is a communist and a Castro sympathizer. In other words, a series of events is taking place, a series of clues is being sown, among them the application made by Oswald in early September for a Mexican visa, a fact noted by all the researchers who studied the case. Right away, he makes a trip; he goes to Dallas and there he apparently participates in a meeting at the home of a Cuban émigré, Silvia Odio.
PW: The same Silvia Odio summoned as a witness by the Warren Commission?
FE: Yes, the same one. In a statement made after the assassination, she identified him as the person who was in the company of two Cubans at her home, in early or mid-September 1963. Oswald told her that the culprit of all the ills suffered by the Cubans was Kennedy and that he had to be eliminated.
In other words, Oswald, without apparent reason, without knowing Silvia Odio, shows up with two Cubansalways the presence of Cuban exilesmakes that strange statement and later goes to Mexico.
PW: Whats the purpose of the trip to Mexico?
FE: To travel to Cuba. That is, he goes there to ask a visa to travel to Cuba.
PW: And what reason does Oswald give to go to Cuba?
FE: Remember that he had sent a letter to the Soviet Embassy in Washington in June or July. Then he arrives with that background and says at the Cuban Embassy that he wants to travel to the Soviet Union and he shows all his documentation, passport, talks about his relationship with Cuba, shows a letter of application to the Communist Party of the U.S.A., all the clues that have been dropped. Cuban Consul Eusebio Azcue, who has since died, tells him theres no objection but that, according to Cuban law, for Oswald to get a transit visa he must already have a Soviet visa.
On Sept. 27, Oswald goes to the Soviet Embassy and is received by a KGB official who I met years later, Pavel Yaskov (Pablo), and he tells Oswald that the waiting time for a visa is three or four months. Oswald returns to the Cuban Embassy to force the situation, because what he wants is to come to Cuba. The visa application says he wants to come to Cuba for two weeks. If you are in transit to the Soviet Union, why would you need to spend two weeks in Havana?
PW: Is the application still extant?
FE: Yes, of course. With Oswalds picture, not the picture of a double, because there was talk of a double who never existed. The picture on the application is Oswalds picture. Its impossible for someone to request a visa and submit someone elses picture, because the functionary in charge will immediately notice it.
As I said, Oswald tried to force the situation and the Cuban consul expelled him from the consulate for disrespectful behavior. Several Cuban diplomats watched the situation, in addition to Mexican secretary Silvia Durán de Tirado who later, poor girl, was arrested by the Mexican police and tortured by order of the CIA.
Oswald cannot travel to Cuba, he has to return, and in my judgment the plan had to be changed for that reason. I must say that at that moment the head of the CIA group was David A. Phillips, a veteran of the covert war against Cuba, who later became chief of the CIAs Western Hemisphere Division.
PW: What role does Phillips play in this operation?
FE: Hes everywhere. The agency had a photographic surveillance station across the street from our consulate. We photographed that station while they photographed our people with telephoto lenses. In other words, everyone who entered the Cuban consulate was photographed and we knew that the man taking the photos was a Cuban agent for the CIA. We knew everything.
PW: Then they had pictures of Oswald entering the consulate.
FE: It turns out that on that day they didnt photograph Oswald, who entered the Cuban consulate three times. The consulate was full of CIA microphones, yet no conversation was recorded. The telephones were tapped by the CIA but they contributed nothing. They recorded conversations that later turned out to be not Oswald. At least those that were shown or delivered to the Warren Commission. Nothing worked.
PW: Judging by what you say, part of the plot consisted in leaving clues that would involve Cuba in the presidents assassination. The visits to the Cuban Consulate in Mexico are some of those clues, but the objective of traveling to Cuba fails. What happens then?
FE: In view of the failure, they prepared several letters and mailed them through the Cuban postal system, sent to Oswald by alleged agents of Cuban intelligence who gave him instructions in a coarse, vulgar language and hinted at the assassination of Kennedy. Of course, those letters were to be seized in Dallas, as it happened, after Kennedys assassination. They were written on Nov. 10 and Nov. 14.
At that time, the mail between Cuba and the United States was very slow. It had to go to Mexico first, where there was a reception center, and later would be sent to the United States. Normally, letters took a month or more to reach their destination in the U.S. But those letters arrived, of course, after the assassination. Two came out of Cuba and two were sent from the U.S. by alleged Cuban counter-revolutionary exiles, dealing with the same topics but in another sense.
PW: In what sense?
FE: They told Robert Kennedy that his brother had been the victim of a plot by Cuban intelligence and then identified the signers of the Cuban letters as the people responsible for the plot and the Cuban Embassy in Mexico as the center where the plot was planned. The entire operation was directed by one person, who in my judgment was David Phillips.
Manuel Alberto Ramy is chief correspondent of Radio Progreso Alternativa in Havana, Cuba, and the editor of the Spanish-language pages of Progreso Weekly (Miami).
An interview with retired Cuban Division Gen. Fabián Escalante Font (Part One). We hope to present part two of this interview in the January, 2004 issue of Socialist Viewpoint.