The controversial Communist leader who, according to Daily Mail, ruled his country with an iron fist as a one-party state from 1959 to 2008, spent most of his fifty years in the cross-hairs of the U.S. government.
‘If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal’,’ he once said of the multiple attempts on his life.
Fabian Escalante, who protected Castro, claims that there were 638 CIA plots to assassinate him, in plots which would seem at home in a James Bond movie.
From an exploding cigar and exploding seashells, to a poisonous fountain pen and a mafia-style execution, the CIA made countless attempts to topple the Cuban leader in the 1960s.
One of the most famous came when the CIA hired his ex-mistress Marita Lorenz to feed him poisoned capsules.
Lorenz had lived in Cuba as Castro’s mistress until she became pregnant and suddenly fell ill. When she returned to the US, the CIA told her that Castro had secretly arranged for her to have a late term abortion.
They convinced her that she had to return to Cuba to assassinate her former lover for the good of America. Her role was simple: drop a poisoned pill, supplied by the CIA, in Castro’s drink and escape unscathed.
Frightened she would be discovered by Cuban customs, Lorenz resorted to one more subterfuge and hid the pills inside her pot of cold cream.
However, Castro found out about the attempt, and allegedly handed her a gun and told her to shoot him, which she said she could not.
‘I thought he was going to shoot me, but he gave me the gun and asked, ‘Did you come to kill me?’
‘Then he took a puff on his cigar and closed his eyes. He made himself vulnerable because he knew I couldn’t do it. He still loved me and I still loved him.’ Lorenz ejected the bullets and fell into his arms.
And the assassination attempts kept coming.
Castro, who seized power in a 1959 revolution that turned Cuba into a communist state 90 miles away from the United States, survived hundreds of attempts on his life by his enemies, from car ambushes to grenade attacks in baseball stadiums, retired Cuban intelligence officer Fabián Escalante told CNN.
Some of the most imaginative cloak-and-dagger plots were the brainchild of the Central Intelligence Agency.
They included poisoned cigars, an exploding shell meant to be planted in his favorite underwater fishing location and a scuba diving wet suit tainted with toxins.
One of the longest-ruling heads of state in the world, attempts on Castro’s life began early on, and he was reported dead by the Cuban media on at least two occasions as a young revolutionary.
Among early attempts devised by the CIA to discredit Castro was a plan to place chemical powders on his boots that would cause his beard to fall out when he was in New York to speak at the United Nations in 1960.
When that failed, the CIA planned to slip him a box of cigars tainted with LSD so that he would burst into fits of laughter during a television interview, said Escalante, author of a book that documents 167 plots against Castro.
Between 1960 and 1965 the CIA considered at least eight plots to assassinate Castro.
On July 25, 1962, a Top Secret document was prepared for the White House outlining Operation Mongoose, which considered the overthrow of Castro.
According to the document: ‘As desired by higher authority [President Kennedy] on November 30, 1961, the US undertook a special effort ‘in order to help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime’.’
Operation Mongoose involved the ‘acquisition of hard intelligence of the target area.
‘Undertaking all other political, economic and covert actions, short of inspiring a revolt in Cuba or developing the need for US armed intervention.
‘Be consistent with US overt policy, and remain in position to disengage with minimum of loss in assets and US prestige.
The CIA also considered tampering with Fidel Castro’s cigar, either poisoning it or turning it into an explosive
‘Continue JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] planning and essential preliminary actions for a decisive US capability for intervention.’
But it was the CIA’s plans to poison Castro with botulinum toxins in the early 1960s that came closest to succeeding – revealed in 700 declassified pages of secret records detailing some of the CIA’s illegal acts during 25 years of overseas assassination attempts and domestic spying.
The agency’s so-called ‘Family Jewels’ describe the initial efforts to get rid of Castro by using a go-between to convince two top mobsters, Salvatore Giancana and Santos Trafficant, the head of the Mafia’s Cuban casino operations, to assassinate Castro. Giancana suggested poisoning him.
Until Castro’s revolution, US mobsters had paid off Cuban officials to let them operate hotels, casinos and brothels on the island which, while close to Florida, was out of US control.
But Castro changed all that, seizing the mafia-run business and exiling them back to the United States. The situation led to an unusual partnership between the CIA and the mob.
Giancana even said the mob would waive their usual fee to carry out the killing.
Six potent pills were provided in 1961 to Juan Orta, identified as a Cuban official who had been receiving kickback payments from gambling interests, who still had access to Castro and was in a financial bind. But Orta got cold feet.
Over the next decades, Castro claimed he was targeted by hundreds of assassins and as recently as 2000, he called out what he claimed was an attempt by Cuban exile and now former Central Intelligence Agency agent Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles
Escalante said more poisoned pills, one batch disguised in a bottle of Bayer aspirins, were delivered through the Mafia to the former Hilton hotel in Havana, in 1963, which served Castro’s favorite chocolate milkshakes.
But the capsule stuck to the freezer where it was hidden in the cafeteria of the Havana Libre (ex Hilton) Hotel and ripped open when the would-be assassin waiter went to get the poison.
‘That moment was the closest the CIA got to assassinating Fidel,’ retired state security general Fabian Escalante told Reuters.
An earlier attempt had followed the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion which resulted in more than 1,000 CIA-trained Cuban exiles being taken by Cuba.
A US attorney James B. Donovan, sent to negotiate their release, was to become the ‘unwitting purveyor’ of a dive suit contaminated with deadly ‘tuberculosis bacteria,’ according to another CIA document partially declassified in 2015.
But the CIA were foiled when Donovan, who struck up a surprising friendship with Castro, turned down the dive suit as he’d already given one to Castro as a gift.
Over the next decades, Castro claimed he was targeted by hundreds of assassins and as recently as 2000, he called out what he claimed was an attempt by Cuban exile and now former Central Intelligence Agency agent Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles.
‘More people have tried to murder the world’s most famous socialist than any man alive,’ according to the 2006 British documentary ‘638 Ways to Kill Castro.’
Even Castro himself seemed surprised to have survived to his 90th birthday.
‘Never would such an idea have occurred to me,’ he said. ‘It was not the fruit of any effort, it was the whim of fate. Soon I will be like all the rest.’
In a column titled ‘The Birthday’, Castro said added that he had ‘almost laughed at the Machiavellian plans of the US Presidents.’
Yet, despite the hundreds of attempts on his life, Castro lived a surprisingly long life.
He gave up his beloved cigars in 1985, saying: ‘The best thing you can do with this box of cigars is give them to your enemy.’
He also switched to a vegetarian diet to save his health. But in 2006, an intestinal complaint, and several botched medical operations, forced him to cede power to his younger brother Raul Castro.
His health had been failing in recent years, and he had all but retreated from public life in the run up to his death yesterday.