While it might seem surprising today, immediately following the assassination there was not all that much suspicion or speculation about Cuba or Castro other than as some sort of ideological inspiration for Lee Oswald. I have a San Antonio newspaper with the next day headline – “Castro Supporter Kills President”.
That pretty well describes matters, although over the next couple of weeks there was a focused, dedicated effort by the DRE and a suite of anti-communist spokespersons including Paul Bethel, a close friend of David Phillips, to tie in Castro. Bethel promoted Pascual Gongora as a member of a Castro hit team; Gongora was found to have been in a mental hospital patient before the assassination. Bethel and other figures inside and associated with the Miami Cuban exile community all very quickly pointed the assassination towards Castro but the Castro did it scenario did not receive that much attention outside Miami and New Orleans.
The Cuban/Castro link was widely touted in the Miami area, with a number of stories being spread which promoted knowledge of secret trips by Oswald to Cuba, contact with Cuban agents – even stories positioning both Oswald and Jack Ruby in the pay of Fidel Castro or his agents. I go into that media campaign pretty extensively in chapter 15 of Someone Would Have Talked.
It’s also fair to say that within days, certain stories were being promoted which claimed to offer more concrete ties between Oswald and Castro – ranging from a series of letters from Castro agents in Cuba (the Pedro Charles letters) Cuba to voluntary sources (Gilberto Alverado) going to the CIA in Mexico City.
The interesting thing about all those efforts is that they appear to have been hastily organized, had virtually no evidence to support them and were deconstructed by the FBI relatively quickly. Mr. Hoover had actually been very interested in some of them, including the letters from Cuba and certain remarks provided by John Martino to the FBI in Miami. He had initially requested that President Johnson at least let him note the possibility of Castro involvement in the initial FBI report on the assassination, however Johnson ignored that request and even Hoover had to admit that the stories had totally fallen apart within a few weeks.
One of the more interesting aspects of the “after the fact” implication of Castro, was how easily the FBI unwound the Gilberto Alvarez CIA story coming out of Mexico City – describing a visitor to the Cuban embassy hearing Oswald being recruited and paid off for the attack. The CIA station and especially David Phillips should have received a few demerits for that and as a matter of fact Phillips review for that year was not all that great.
All in all the effort to point towards Cuba and Castro immediately after the assassination was weak and appears to have been largely spontaneous, there is no sign that any professional work or real pre-planning had gone into preparing materials and a back story which would definitively connect Oswald to Castro. All the names floated as sources or suspects faded after investigation, frequent references to sources inside Cuba never really came to fruition. The FBI even involved the NSA in scouring telephone and radio communications for some evidence of contact between Oswald and Cuba or signs of Cuban involvement, to no result.
What makes this especially interesting is that standard operational tradecraft involved creating backstories, evidence, and essentially very solid materials for “frames”. You find discussion of that in William Harvey’s notes about executive action, you even find it in Latin American plots by Cuban exiles against Castro – with far better incriminating evidence prepared than what we see brought up to connect Oswald to Castro.
The bottom line is that if there was a plan to frame Oswald as being tied to Castro, either it was pretty minimal or somehow the “good stuff” got lost or somehow did not fed into the legal system to implicate him. In that respect, the “Castro did it” angle looks bad after the fact not only because it was so lacking, but it suggests certain things about the conspiracy that was in play. That will move us on to the other side of the Cuba coin, and a discussion of the Cuban exiles “afterwards”, in the next post in this series.