When Fidel Castro said ‘If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, then I would win the gold medal’, he was most certainly correct. Overall, nearly 650 attempts on the Cuban dictator’s life have been made, making him one of the most targeted men in the universe. And one of the luckiest. But why?
Born in Cuba in 1926, Castro began a campaign of guerrilla warfare to oust and overthrow the Cuban dictator and all round bad guy, Fulgencio Batista. With a number of rebel forces backing him, some of which included the revolutionary leader Che Guevara and Castro’s own blood, younger brother Raúl, Castro was finally appointed the country’s new leader in 1959. However, with change not always necessarily a good thing, Castro began fiddling with the country’s political approach. Becoming known for his communist policies and relationship with the Soviet Union, Castro was automatically a concern for the once supportive and influential USA.
With the relationship excessively souring, and a number of stormy events, diplomacy between the two finally came to a halt during the explosive Cuban Missile Crisis in which Castro and the Soviet Union were dangerously treading on thin ice. Accused of provoking communist revolutions in other countries around the world, enough was enough for the CIA, with the USA conducting a number of failed assassination attempts on the Cuban dictator, who, incidentally, was much loved by his powerless nation. From former lovers to the Mafia, you can’t say the Americans didn’t try, with nearly 700 attempts ranging from complete madness to intricate and detailed plots. In the end, though, the Americans never did quite get their man.
But with the collapse of communism in 1991, things began to thaw, leaving a negative impact on Cuba’s economy, which in turn led Castro to relax his complete ban on Western policies and relations. Handing over power to his brother Raúl in 2008 due to failing health, Castro has of late, been out of the limelight. With the US citizens now allowed to enter Cuba and a much more relaxed atmosphere between the two, Castro’s fear of assassination appears to be over. Or so we are led to believe.
16. The Poisoned Milkshake
In 2006 when a British documentary tactfully named 638 Ways to Kill Castro was released, the whole world was intrigued. Detailing the number of times the CIA had tried to kill the Cuban leader, each attempt seemed more and more absurd. The film, which is mainly centered on Castro’s former protector Fabian Escalante, claimed that over 600 plots were foiled with the majority being attempted by Cuban exiles that had been trained by the CIA.
But it was the poisoned milkshake that made the headlines, with Escalante himself claiming it was the closest they had ever gotten to getting the job done. On a visit to the then glamorous Havana Hilton, Castro was to be given a chocolate milkshake laced with poison. However, when the would be assassin attempted to spike the drink, the intended pill stuck to the freezer causing it to rip open along with the plan. Escalante later confirmed that ‘that moment was the closest the CIA got to assassinating Fidel.’
15. The Temptress
Never short of a lady or two, Fidel was known to have many mistresses, with German born Marita Lorenz high on the list. Landing in Havana in 1959, the 19-year-old Marita quickly started an affair with the newly established leader. During the romance it was said that Marita had become pregnant but aborted the child in the 7th month of pregnancy, although it was also rumored that she had bore the child. Fed up with Castro’s regime, Marita was quickly and subsequently recruited by the notorious James Bond-inspired secret agent, Frank Sturgis.
It was then arranged that Marita would attempt to poison Castro using capsules hidden in face cream. However, bottling it at the last minute, Castro uncovered the plot, shocked and appalled that his lover could ever do such a thing and pulled out a gun. Marita claimed that Castro handed her the gun and asked her to kill him, to which she refused and instead confessed her love. However, this wasn’t the last time Marita graced the history books with reports that she once drove to Dallas with Lee Harvey Oswald, and worked as a spy for the FBI in a low rent New York apartment. In fact, Marita is so interesting that Hollywood has decided to pay homage to her life with none other than Jennifer Lawrence taking on the role of the notorious femme fatale.
14. The Hypodermic Needle Pen
With President John F. Kennedy renowned for being a great fan of the Ian Fleming novels about James Bond, it is no surprise to find out that many of the attempts on Castro’s life were loosely inspired on the actions of Fleming’s most famous character. In fact, Kennedy was such a fan that he once invited the famous author to the White House, reportedly asking what Bond would do in such a situation.
Clearly paying attention, a number of Bond inspired assassination attempts were used on Castro throughout the years with the ballpoint hypodermic syringe being no exception. Although it is not known if the device was actually used, the plan was most definitely concocted, with an ordinary ball point pen rigged with lethal poison designed to silently inject Castro without his knowledge. Sound familiar?
13. The Poisoned Wetsuit
Again another Bond-inspired effort, the poisoned wetsuit was devised to give Castro a lethal skin disease. According to recent documents, the idea was that the American lawyer and political negotiator James B. Donovan would present the suit as a gift in order to negotiate the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners in 1969. The suit would then be laced with poison and bacteria. What could go wrong? While Donovan did indeed begin to form a strained relationship with the Cuban leader, the idea that killing Castro during his love for scuba diving was somewhat absurd and failed before the CIA could even get their hands on it. What a surprise. Surely that one was a winner, right?
12. The Exploding Cigar
In the 2006 documentary 638 ways to kill Castro, Fabian Escalante asserted that over the years every president had notched up a number of times that they had each tried to kill Castro individually. He claimed that Eisenhower had tried to kill Castro 38 times, Kennedy a lengthy 42, Johnson took things further with 72, Nixon with a whopping 184, Carter relaxing things a little with 64, Reagan starting things up again with a massive 197, Bush Sr. a measly 16 and Clinton reining it in with 21. Obviously Escalante could be construed as being a little dramatic but there is no doubting that the CIA were serious in their threats.
But it was the exploding cigar that really became renowned for being one of their most famous, albeit hilarious plots, in which the American government were seemingly scraping at the bottom of the barrel. Designed to basically blow Castro’s brains out with the one thing he loved the most, the Cuban cigar, the tobacco was intended to be removed and replaced with as much gunpowder as feasibly possible. The plan, like the others, never quite fulfilled its destiny.
11. The Poisoned Cigar
With Castro such a fan of Cuba’s most famous accessory, wherever Castro went the cigar wasn’t far behind. In fact, Castro himself often stated how important the cigars were to the Cuban economy, and still are, maintaining it to be one of the most important export items of the country. Putting two and two together, the CIA began to put together different methods in which the cigar could help them catch their man.
From blowing him to smithereens to having him choke on his beloved smoke, it was the contaminated cigar that managed to get that little bit further. Filled with a toxin that would wipe Castro out in an instant, the CIA got as far as hiring an agent and actually supplying the deadly cigars. However, just before the plan was about to take off, the agent got cold feet, with Cuba’s most famous cigar aficionado free to smoke another day, safely and at ease.
10. The Deadly Handkerchief
During the height of the Cold War the American government was starting to get desperate, which coincidentally saw the CIA clinging at straws. With Castro publicly declaring himself a Marxist-Leninist in 1961, the Kennedy administration began to massively freak out. Cuba were now becoming extremely friendly with the Soviet Union and began depending on their support as well as their actions.
However, things all kicked off when the USA discovered that Castro and Cuba had been ‘looking after’ nuclear missiles, causing the CIA to make it their number one priority to remove and eliminate the Cuban dictator. So what did they come up with? A plan was devised consisting of a handkerchief and an obscene amount of bacteria. The idea was for Castro to be handed the germ ridden hankie that would then spread deadly bacteria all over his face and hands- eventually covering him head to toe in harmful and damaging toxins. Sound a little adventurous? Well it was, and obviously never made it past the thoughts of one forlorn and hopeless CIA agent.
9. The Mafia
In the pre-Castro days of Fulgencio Batista’s glamorous and untouchable ‘La Habana,’ the Mafia were a huge and imposing presence, especially in the nation’s capital. With notorious mobsters such as Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano and Nicholas “the Fat Butcher” Di Costanzo running the show, the mob was enjoying a life of Caribbean luxury. However, things took a turn for the worse when Castro came into power and Batista fled, leaving the mob to collect their belongings and get out.
Rumors flew that the CIA were working with the Mafia in a joint attempt to get rid of their mutual enemy. It was said that famous mobsters Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli, who still had contacts hidden away in the depths of a communist soaked Cuba, were hatching a plan to poison the dictator inside a restaurant often frequented by the man himself. With the plan called off at the last minute, the Mafia were hushed away, but not for very long……….
8. The Mafia (Again)
Originally born in Cuba, ex-prime minister, political activist and anti-Communist Manuel Antonio De Varona (Tony) became embroiled in a number of plots to kill and finally dispose of Castro once and for all. Again with Frank Sturgis and a number of other CIA agents, a planned counter-revolution was arranged. However the plan was foiled and never fully took off.
Hurriedly, Varona departed to the United States where he then established the Movement for the Recovery of the Revolution (MRR Party) with a number of other Cuban exiles and anti-Castro revolutionaries. Along with members of the MRR Party, Varona also had known ties to the Mafia, in particular Johnny Roselli. Again like previous attempts, the pair devised a plan to poison the Cuban dictator, however yet again the plan was exposed, leaving Varona to keep on trying, in which he very much did throughout his life.
7. The Hair Loss Scam
Up there with the most laughable, this hair brained scheme really saw the CIA getting desperate. With the American government going for character assassination rather than killing him off, the idea was to discredit the leader in front of his millions of passionate followers. The scheme, which involved thallium (a powerful depilatory used to cause hair loss), was to have Castro’s beard fall out; therefore eventually damaging his image and reputation. Sound crazy?
Apparently the aim was to leave him completely bald, unrecognizable and powerless, thus killing his image and his overall persona. Not as far fetched as it sounds, the plot actually had some backbone due to the nature of Castro’s beard and how powerful chin hair actually was. Known to be ‘anti-bourgeois’, the beard quickly became Castro’s signature look, as he later claimed, ‘If you save 15 minutes a day by not shaving your beard, you gain about 10 days a year that you can devote to work, to reading, to sport, to whatever you like. And you save on razors, soap and hot water, too’.
6. The Acid Trip
Again along the lines of character butchery, the idea of drugging the Cuban leader was brought up many of times throughout the years. One in particular, however, seemed a lot more far-fetched than the average spiking or lacing one’s food. The plot, which was intended to embarrass the mighty leader, was devised to attack Castro during one of his many radio broadcasts. While on the air, Castro was to be given, albeit unwittingly, a high dose of LSD, causing him to trip out in all its glory live on air to his faithful followers. The plot, however, was not intended to kill him but to convince the general public that their most honored leader was in fact a raving lunatic.
5. The Exploding Seashell
With Castro’s love for scuba diving already noted with the poisoned wetsuit, it was no surprise to see another attempt on the dictator’s life using the ways of water. The idea, which was formed by CIA agents, was to find an usual and attractive seashell that would stand out to an unsuspecting Castro. With the colors and shapes becoming so irresistible, Castro would then go and collect the said shell and blow himself up. Sounds great, right? Loaded with explosives, the seashell would then momentously explode as Castro gripped his inquisitive little hands around it. The scheme unsurprisingly never happened, due to the absolute impracticality of it working and the fact that it was just undoubtedly ridiculous.
4. The Shoe Dusting Scheme
With plans already intact to cause Castro’s beard and hair to fall out, another plan was quickly composed to resolute the same intention. In one particular scheme, a plan was devised to try and eat away at Castro’s charismatic appeal by dusting his shoes with thallium, again causing chronic hair loss. Loved and supported by most of the population, Castro was extremely popular, mostly due to his charming attitude and excellent public speaking skills. With promises to restore Cuba to its former glory and his handling of previous dictator Fulgencia Batista, Castro was very much trusted. Therefore the CIA obviously concluded that without a beard, Castro would be immediately distrusted by his followers and look as charismatic as a piece of paper. Well I guess you never know?
3. The Bounty Hunter
Although predominantly loved, Castro still had his non-believers with the amount of Cuban exiles, that fled during the revolution, nearing a million. Even to this day, a number of Cubans want out, fighting against what they believe to be a failing regime. However, with restrictions on who may leave and the application process taking a lengthy amount of time, it can be extremely difficult to finally get that passage of freedom. Seizing the opportunity, the American government devised a plan to target the number of Cubans who wanted out or who were unhappy with Castro and his cronies. With leaflets stating a bounty on Castro’s head and a cushy reward, planes began dropping them over the island with the intention that someone would step up and do the job for them. They never did.
2. The Big 3
When Fidel Castro finally seized power in 1959, the USA were beginning to worry. With Castro’s ever leaning toward the Soviet Union’s sway and Communist policies, the Americans had decided enough was most certainly enough. However, what came next resulted in the most spectacular failure in the history of American warfare, embarrassing then president JFK and the country itself.
The invasion, now known as The Bay of Pigs, began when a CIA-financed group of Cuban refugees loaded with American weapons, landed on the Cuban coast on a mission to defeat and remove the Cuban dictator. They were not expecting a counterattack, and the Cuban military and air force overthrew the refugees, killing over 100 exiles and capturing the rest. Highlighting Che Guevara as the man with the plan, the CIA devised a plot to poison Castro, his brother Raul and Guevara with pills containing botulinum toxin. With the plan in progress for over two years it was ultimately a failure along with all of the others.
1. The Faked Terrorist Attacks
With the disastrous Bay of Pigs behind him, JFK seemingly continued with his fight for Castro’s head. In 1961, ‘Operation Mongoose’ was designed, which saw not only the CIA but the defense department, the state department, and Kennedy’s own family all dipping their fingers in the pie. The operation itself included a range of ideas- all of which had the main objective to topple Fidel Castro and the Communist regime.
With rumors of faked terrorists attacks that could be blamed on Castro, and in-depth assassination operations, the contents of Operation Mongoose are still extremely murky. However, with the Cuban missile crisis reaching a deadly high in 1962, the operation was suspended, and only a year later the famous American president was dead.