Following his successful military campaign, Fidel Castro replaced Fulgencio Batista as leader of Cuba on 9th January, 1959. In its first hundred days in office Castro's government passed several new laws. Rents were cut by up to 50 per cent for low wage earners; property owned by Batista and his ministers was confiscated; the telephone company was nationalized and the rates were reduced by 50 per cent; land was redistributed amongst the peasants (including the land owned by the Castro family); separate facilities for blacks and whites (swimming pools, beaches, hotels, cemeteries etc.) were abolished.
Some of Castro's new laws also upset the United States. Much of the land given to the peasants was owned by corporations in the United States. So also was the telephone company that was nationalized. The United States government responded by telling Castro they would no longer be willing to supply the technology and technicians needed to run Cuba's economy. When this failed to change Castro's policies they reduced their orders for Cuban sugar.
Castro refused to be intimidated by the United States and adopted even more aggressive policies towards them. In the summer of 1960 Castro nationalised United States property worth $850 million. He also negotiated a deal where by the Soviet Union and other communist countries in Eastern Europe agreed to purchase the sugar that the United States had refused to take. The Soviet Union also agreed to supply the weapons, technicians and machinery denied to Cuba by the United States.
President Dwight Eisenhower was in a difficult situation. The more he attempted to punish Fidel Castro the closer he became to the Soviet Union. His main fear was that Cuba could eventually become a Soviet military base. To change course and attempt to win Castro's friendship with favourable trade deals was likely to be interpreted as a humiliating defeat for the United States. Instead Eisenhower announced that he would not buy any more sugar from Cuba.
In April 1960 two CBS newsmen, Robert Taber and Richard Gibson run a full page ad in the New York Times in order to make a statement on the importance of the Cuban revolution. The authors received more than a thousand letters of people ready to take action. This included Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Norman Mailer, Dan Wakefield, Truman Capote, John Henrik Clarke, Alan Sagner, James Baldwin, Julian Mayfield, John O. Killens, Robert F. Williams, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Linus Pauling and Allen Ginsberg. It was later discovered that the Cuban government provided $3500 towards the cost of the newspaper advert.
As a result of this advertisement the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) was established. The main objective of the FPCC was for the United States to end its economic boycott of Cuba. Within six months, the FPCC had 7000 members in 27 "adult chapters" and 40 student councils on various college campuses with emerging student leaders such as Saul Landau and Robert Scheer.
It was not long before the CIA was taking a close interest in the activities of the FPCC. Two days after the publication of the advert, William K. Harvey, head of the CIA's Cuban affairs, told FBI counterintelligence chief Sam Papich: “For your information, this Agency has derogatory information on all individuals listed in the attached advertisement.” Other documents show that James Jesus Angleton and Jane Roman were also taking a close interest in the activities of the FPCC.
In November 1960, the LA chapter of the FPCC held a press conference where they “called upon Congress to investigate immediately the widespread reports indicating that the Central Intelligence Agency is implicated in the training of armed forces for an invasion of Cuba. Persistent reports from Guatemala, Nicaragua and Florida of invasion forces in these areas being tied to the CIA raise into question U.S. observance of the principle of nonintervention into the domestic affairs of other countries.”
On April 27, 1961, J. Edgar Hoover himself ordered his agents to focus on pro-Castro activists, stating that the FPCC illustrated "the capacity of a nationality group organization to mobilize its efforts in such a situation so as to arrange demonstrations and influence public opinion.” Under orders from Hoover, Cartha DeLoach began a red-baiting campaign against the FPCC during May 1961. According to Bill Simpich: "As part of his counterintelligence responsibilities, DeLoach developed a Mass Media Program that included over 300 newspaper reporters, columnists, radio commentators, and television news investigators."
In April, 1961, Dr. Enrique Lorenzo Luaces told Army Intelligence that Robert Taber introduced him to “Lt. Harvey Oswald, an arms expert” while having drinks at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Havana. Tony Varona later testified that he believed Lee Harvey Oswald was in Cuba during 1961.
The FBI also decided to infiltrate the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Its main spy was Victor Thomas Vicente (T-3245-S), who became the head of the Social Committee for the FPCC. In May, 1961, Vicente supplied the FBI with the FPCC mailing list. Released documents suggest that the FBI was concentrating on FPCC operatives in Dallas, Tampa and Miami.
Athan G. Theoharis, professor of history at Marquette History and the author of The FBI and American Democracy (2004), has claimed the FBI carried out eight black bag jobs to the FPCC (in a black bag job, the documents are photographed rather than stolen, so that the target does not know that its privacy has been compromised).
Robert Taber resigned from the FPCC in February, 1962. The following month he was interviewed by the CIA and FBI (19th March). He was never charged with any offence but according to Bill Simpich: "Many people claim that Taber had gone over to the CIA at this point. The real question is more subtle - it isn't whether he asked to be an informant, but whether his offer was ever accepted."
On July 16, 1962, Richard Gibson wrote a letter to Thornton Hagert, the stepbrother of Philip Reiss of the Dept. Of Agriculture, telling him that he wants to make contact with the CIA. On 16th August, 1962, Gibson was interviewed by agent James Day. A report on this interview says: “We advised Attorney General (Robert F. Kennedy) re (Gibson’s) interview with New York office on 8/16/62 (redacted) wherein he wanted money to denounce FPCC and wanted US to grant fugitive Robert Williams immunity from prosecution if he returned from Cuba. We told AG Gibson was untrustworthy and we were not initiating any more communication with him. Data herein will be given AG, as well as CIA and State Department, which agencies are aware of the previous interview.”
Vincent T. Lee, president of the Tampa chapter, replaced Gibson as the head of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He was told that Gibson had intitially fled to Canada and that he arrived in Algeria in September 1962.
Another document confirms that Richard Gibson offered to work for the government: "Gibson indicated that he was willing to publicly denounce the FPCC, say he was duped, that the FPCC is a tool of the Cuban government, that it is ineffective, and anyone still remaining loyal (to the FPCC) was just wasting his time, or any other tactic subsequently determined to be the most effective course of conduct. However, there was an undertone that he expected to be paid for any efforts in this regard. He stated that it was his personal opinion that it would be much more effective to use the FPCC as a cover for intelligence and counter-intelligence purposes, but when questioned for his specific thinking in this regard, he commented only that this could possibly be worked out later."
The FPCC was active during the Cuban Missile Crisis. One demonstration on 27th October, 1962, drew about 2500 people. Over 3,500 attended the meeting organized by the San Francisco chapter.
Vincent T. Lee went on a speaking tour for the month of April, 1963. Lee told the FPCC: "Victor Vicente will handle anything of importance that happens during his absence." Victor Thomas Vicente, who was the FBI spy at the FPCC, arranged for agents to enter the office on 21st April.
On 26th May, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald wrote to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and proposed "renting a small office at my own expense for the purpose of forming a FPCC branch here in New Orleans". Three days later, without waiting for a reply, Oswald ordered 1,000 copies of a handbill from a local printers. It read: "Hands Off Cuba! Join the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, New Orleans Charter Member Branch, Free Literature, Lectures, Everyone Welcome!" Oswald also rented an office for the FPCC at 544 Camp Street. No one joined the FPCC in New Orleans but Oswald did send out two honorary membership cards to Gus Hall and Benjamin Davis, two senior members of the American Communist Party.
According to Bill Simpich: "4/18/63 is the postmark date of the letter sent from Dallas by Oswald to the national FPCC office in New York. An FBI memo about this letter refers to “photographs of the below listed material made available by NY 3245-S* on 4/21/63...in the event any of this material is disseminated outside the bureau, caution should be exercised to protect the source, NY 3245-S*, and the communication should be classified “Confidential”".
David Kaiser claims in The Road to Dallas that: "In July 1963, the agency infiltrated an informer from the New York chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a Puerto Rican named Victor Thomas Vicente, into Cuba, probably through Mexico City. Vicente declined to settle there, as the CIA hoped he might, but he met both Castro and Che Guevara and was debriefed after he returned.”
On 9th August, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was giving out his Fair Play for Cuba Committee leaflets when he became involved in a fight with Carlos Bringuier. Oswald was arrested and on 12th August, he was found guilty and fined $10. While in prison he was visited by FBI agent, John L. Quigley.
Five days later Oswald debated the issue of Fidel Castro and Cuba with Bringuier on the Bill Stuckey Radio Show. Oswald explained: "The principals of thought of the Fair Play for Cuba consist of restoration of diplomatic trade and tourist relations with Cuba.... We are primarily interested in the attitude of the US government toward Cuba. And in that way we are striving to get the United States to adopt measures which would be more friendly toward the Cuban people and the new Cuban regime in that country."
Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy the offices of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee were closed down (December, 1963).
In his book The Kennedy Conspiracy (2002), Anthony Summers claims that released documents show that both the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation penetrated the FPCC. Summers points out that the CIA side of the operation was directed by David Atlee Phillips and quotes CIA officer, Joseph Smith as saying: "We did everything we could to make sure it was not successful - to smear it... to penetrate it. I think Oswald may have been part of a penetration attempt."