Fidel Castro’s sister Juanita Castro. Photograph: AP
Memoir reveals details of secret messages and codes
by Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent and Giles Tremlett in Madrid
To the CIA she was Donna: a Cuban spy who hid documents inside cans of food and sent secret messages via a clandestine radio and two tunes – a waltz and a song from the opera Madame Butterfly.
Today, Donna was revealed to the rest of the world as Juanita Castro – the sister of Fidel and Raúl, rulers of Cuba and legendary conquerors of US espionage efforts – when she blew the whistle on her career as a CIA agent.
The rogue sibling revealed extraordinary details of her hidden identity in a memoir, Fidel and Raúl, My Brothers: The Secret History, which could force a partial revision of the CIA’s role in Cuba. For half a century its efforts against Fidel were considered fiascos, prompting recrimination and ridicule. It tried and failed to kill him, tried and failed to invade Cuba, and tried and failed to foment revolt.
Cuba was just 90 miles off Florida, but its ruler was thought too wily and his regime too hermetic for the hapless American spies. Now, in what she describes as the family’s best-kept secret, Juanita has revealed that the CIA infiltrated the world’s most famous communist clan.
The 76-year-old Miami exile recounts how she sheltered government opponents in her Havana home, among other subversive acts, before leaving Cuba in 1964 and publicly denouncing Fidel and Raul as despots, a bombshell which damaged the revolution’s image in Latin America.
There had been widespread speculation for many years about Juanita’s recruitment, said Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst who is now a senior researcher in Cuba studies at the University of Miami, and author of the book After Fidel. “She was considered a success by the CIA. It was very pleased with her, especially after she left Cuba. She was very outspoken and played a critical propaganda role in travelling around Latin America. She had quite an impact in Chile’s 1964 election.”
Juanita initially hailed the revolution’s 1959 triumph over the US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and supported its social programmes by working in health clinics. But executions of opponents and the squelching of democratic hopes disillusioned her. She was already discreetly aiding dissidents when, according to her book, the wife of the Brazilian ambassador in Havana, Virginia Leitao da Cunha, asked her to meet a CIA agent, Tony Sforza. Sforza had previously worked on a Cuba-related CIA project known as Operation Mangosta.
“Many of our men are working there [in Cuba] and run the risk of being discovered,” Sforza told her at the Hotel Camino Real in Mexico City. “The mission involves protecting them and helping them move from one place to another with as much security as possible, finding them places to stay in houses that are safe.” Her family links gave her invaluable access to prisons, he added.
Juanita agreed to take on the code name Donna and gave Sforza two tunes that, when played over a clandestine radio, would signify that she had, “or did not have”, a message. One of them was Madame Butterfly; the other was a waltz, Fascinación.
Her first mission was to take money, messages and documents back to Cuba from Mexico, hidden inside cans of food. She also carried a codebook back with her and, after receiving a shortwave radio, persuaded two former school friends to aid her. She says she refused to take part in anything that would cause bloodshed and refused payment for her services.
Her cooperation was a rare cold war success for spymasters tasked with toppling the Soviet Union’s tropical ally. The Kennedy White House authorised many CIA assassination attempts – ensuing decades racked up 638 efforts, according to one estimate – as well as the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion by exiles.
Juanita held no senior government rank and was not thought to be privy to official secrets, but her enlistment by the US, if verified, dents the reputation of Cuba’s formidable intelligence service.
Raúl, the then defence minister and now president in place of the ailing Fidel, knew of their sister’s wayward political views in 1964, but still approved her trip to Mexico, where she defected.
The revelation that the CIA appeared to have been pulling strings, and not simply applauding, is likely to annoy Cuba’s government, even though the events were so long ago, said one western diplomat in Havana. “Under Obama, relations between the US and Cuba are going in a slightly better direction. This won’t help that process.”
State media will report the news if authorities calculate they can turn the story to their advantage, said the diplomat. “Even if the media here ignore it, the story will do the rounds among the public. But it’s history, and Cubans are used to not being surprised by anything.”
This week the UN will take its annual vote against the US embargo of the island, a 49-year-old policy widely deemed anachronistic and unjustified.
It is unclear why Juanita, who spent the past two decades quietly working in a pharmacy in Miami, waited until now to tell her story. She began working on the book, published by Santillana, with her co-author, the journalist Maria Antonieta Collins, in 1999, but then stopped and resumed only this year.
Published simultaneously in the US, Mexico, Colombia and Spain, the memoir had Harry Potter-style secrecy and was kept in sealed boxes and secured pallets to avoid leaks.
• “Fidel always had a strong personality … He was always the leader of the brothers. He got on well with all his siblings, though he was never as affectionate, attentive or kissy as the others.”
• “Ramon, Fidel and Raul were all very independent and different to each other. Raul was mother’s favourite, perhaps because he was the youngest. She called him “my little muse” and he, in turn, was always very close to her.”
• “Fidel’s radical conversion to communism was not made from political conviction but simply because he needed power, which is the only thing that he has ever cared about. Without the Russians he would not have been able to carry on.”
• Juanita believes, however, that Eisenhower missed a chance to change the history of Cuba by failing to meet Fidel Castro when he visited the US shortly after the revolution in April 1959. Eisenhower instead sent his vice-president, Richard Nixon. “That was taken in Cuba as if they had turned their back on Fidel,” she explains.
“The polls at that time showed that 90% of Americans supported Fidel,” she continues.
“That decision put an end to any chance of reconciliation. If things had not happened that way Fidel might not have turned to the Soviet Union.”
William A. Wieland, who led the State Department’s Caribbean office in Washington, told Earl Smith, who was ambassador to Havana in 1957: “Cuba has been assigned to you to oversee the fall of Batista. The decision has been made: Batista must go.”
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro with Vice President Nixon at The White House in April 1959 following his takeover of Havana earlier that year.
In his well read column Drew Pearson revealed, on May 23, 1961, that persistent rumors in the diplomatic corps indicated that the CIA had been helping to put Castro in power for years. The rumors had further stated that the CIA agents, in their efforts to get rid of President Batista, had supplied arms and ammunitions to Castro during his guerrilla war in the mountains.
There are more reasons to believe that the CIA, in fact, delivered weapons to Fidel. When he was in the Sierra Maestra fighting Batista’s troops. Castro received some weapons delivered by the International Armaments Corporation, the company that sent weapons to Guatemala, under the CIA’s orders, to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz’s government, and also because the Company was organized by Samuel Cummings, a former CIA operative.26 Also, there is evidence, that between October 1957 and the middle of 1958, the CIA gave no less than fifty thousand dollars to Castro’s men in Santiago de Cuba.
Robert Hill, US ambassador to Mexico, said under oath in a Senate hearing: “Individuals in the State Department, and individuals in The New York Times, put Castro in power.” These individuals included Robert McNamara, Theodore C. Sorenson, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr, Roy Rubottom, McGeorge Bundy, J. William Fulbright, Herbert Mattews, and Roger Hilsman.
The afore-mentioned William A. Wieland claimed that the authorities and the military intelligence knew in advance of Castro’s plans to enforce communism. Even so, the American press portrayed him as a patriotic and benevolent leader. Several observers were of the opinion that the Bay of Pigs operation on 17 April 1961 intended to get rid of Castro, was a deliberate failure.
Sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as Ambassador to Havana in 1957, Mr. Smith resigned in 1959, soon after the fall of the Government of Fulgencio Batista. He contended that Mr. Castro could not have come to power without the aid of the United States.
His account of the Communist revolution in Cuba appeared in his 1962 book, “The Fourth Floor,” which is to be published again next month by the Selous Foundation Press of Washington. His main theme was that Mr. Castro’s victory was a disaster for both Cuba and the United States and could have been avoided.
If we are to intervene sufficiently to bring about the overthrow of dictatorships, then we should intervene to whatever extent is required to fulfill our purpose. Otherwise, in my opinion, we must wait for the normal self-development of a people and not assist revolution. And we must be prepared to receive the criticism of supporting friendly governments recognized by the United States, although they have been labeled dictatorships. To make my point more clear, let me say that, we helped to overthrow the Batista dictatorship which was pro-American only to install the Castro dictatorship which is pro-Russian.
There is the possibility that Castro’s Cuba is a large scale experiment in social engineering, a test run of the New World Order before its implementation worldwide.
This perhaps explains why some people at the State Department, the CIA, and at the highest levels of the American society, helped Castro to come to power in Cuba. It may also explain why President Kennedy changed the original invasion plans and sent the Cuban patriots to die at the Bay of Pigs and why Castro, unchallenged by the U. S., has been in power in Cuba for more than forty years creating havoc all around the world.
William Bundy’s brother McGeorge Bundy (CFR) (Skull& Bones) was National Security advisor during the Vietnam War where he practiced the “no win” strategies of George Kennan. Like a loyal Illuminati “wise man” Bundy screened all material that went to the President. The installation of Castro’s Communism in Cuba can be laid at his feet. McGeorge Bundy was President of the Ford Foundation. Another former president of the Ford Foundation, H. Rowan Gaither Jr., said the Ford Foundation’s …”purpose was to so alter the United States that it would comfortably merge with the Soviet Union.”
“For more than a century ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents such as my encounter with Castro to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions. Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as ‘internationalists’ and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure–one world, if you will. If that’s the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it.”
In his extensive world travels, flying from country to country in his private jet, he has met a vast range of world leaders, including Fidel Castro, Nikita Khrushchev, Mikhail Gorbachev and, notably, Saddam Hussein. Other notable figures whom he has counted amongst his personal friends include members of the Rothschild, Henry Ford and Dulles families, along with such high profile individuals as Katharine Graham, of the Washington Post, Brooke Astor, Nelson Mandela and Peter G. Peterson, chairman of the Blackstone Group, who succeeded Rockefeller as chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations in 1985.
Abbey Rockefeller (b. 1943) — The eldest and most rebellious daughter, she was drawn to Marxism, was an ardent admirer of Fidel Castro and a late 60’s/early 70’s radical feminist who belonged to the organization Female Liberation, later forming a splinter group called Cell 16. An environmentalist and ecologist, and an active supporter of the Women’s Liberation movement, she also funded Ramparts, a left-wing magazine.