Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder
By Gus Russo and Stephen Molton
Bloomsbury. 484 pp. $32.50
Fidel Castro looms large in fewer than a dozen books among the hundreds written about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Two of them are the work of irrepressible conspiracy theorist and researcher Gus Russo. In his 1998 book, Live by the Sword, and now in Brothers in Arms, written with Stephen Molton, Russo labors to implicate Castro in the murder in Dallas.
It is not an unreasonable postulation. No one had more compelling motive to eliminate the president than the Cuban leader who had known of CIA and White House plots against his life since at least 1961. His regime was the target of unrelenting American assaults—sabotage operations, assassination plots, support for guerrillas, and encouragement of military coup plotters—that began with the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, persisted after the missile crisis in October 1962, and lasted the entirety of the Kennedy administration.
On the receiving end, Castro had no illusions about the source of all this or how determined his enemies were to annihilate his revolution. He feared Kennedy and had every reason to plot against him in a similar fashion. In early September, 1963, during an impromptu press conference in Havana, Castro even warned the Kennedy administration that “We are prepared to fight them and answer in kind. United States leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe.” Never one to issue idle threats, or to let enemies conspire against him with impunity, Fidel, at a minimum, must have considered retaliation in kind.
By the early 1960s, Castro was amply experienced in plotting and ordering assassinations of adversaries. As a university student in the late 1940s, he was implicated in three or four attempts, once even seriously proposing the murder of Cuba’s president during a visit with other students to the presidential residence. As a revolutionary in Mexico in 1956 he ordered his brother Raúl to execute a Cuban who was no longer trusted. Once in power in 1959, Fidel ordered many other executions and murders of foes at home and abroad. And by late 1963, as the conspiratorial czar of Cuban intelligence, he had built up one of the world’s most proficient and lethal covert capabilities.
These capacities encompassed all manner of medidas activas (active measures), including sophisticated disinformation campaigns devised to point the finger of suspicion for Kennedy’s death anywhere but toward Havana. Within a few days of the assassination, Castro went to his speaker’s platform and launched a propaganda campaign to suggest that right-wing conspirators, probably linked to the CIA, were really responsible. Later, two international conferences sponsored by Cuban intelligence pushed the same exculpatory line. Indeed, to this day the Castro regime is responsible for a ceaseless stream of books, feature articles in the controlled-Cuban press, and other publications that have one thing in common: they all attempt to pin the Kennedy assassination on a right-wing conspiracy.
But explaining away Lee Harvey Oswald’s Cuban connections has not been easy for Cuban intelligence. As an impressionable young Marine in California in 1958, he fantasized about going AWOL to join Castro’s guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra. He hung Fidel’s picture on the wall of his apartment in New Orleans. He mused about naming his unborn first child Fidel. The alias he used when he bought the assassination rifle (A. Hidell) rhymed with Fidel. He tried to talk his wife Marina into helping him hijack a plane to Cuba so he could fight for “Uncle Fidel.” He read copious amounts of print propaganda about his idol and was adept at repeating it.