Juan Almeida Bosque

Juan Almeida Bosque

Juan Almeida Bosque was born in Cuba on 17th February, 1927. He attended the University of Havana where he met Fidel Castro, who was a candidate for Congress for the Cuban People's Party. He was a superb public speaker and soon built up a strong following amongst the young members of the party. The Cuban People's Party was expected to win the election but during the campaign, General Fulgencio Batista, with the support of the armed forces, took control of the country.

Juan Almeida, like Fidel Castro, came to the conclusion that revolution was the only way that the Cuban People's Party would gain power. In 1953, Castro, with an armed group of 123 men and women, attacked the Moncada Army Barracks. The plan to overthrow Batista ended in disaster and although only eight were killed in the fighting, another eighty were murdered by the army after they were captured.

Almeida and Castro were both imprisoned but in 1955 Fulgencio Batista decided to release the men. Castro and his men went to live in Mexico where they began to plan another attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

After building up a stock of guns and ammunition, Almeida and eighty other rebels arrived in Cuba in 1956. This group became known as the July 26 Movement (the date that Castro had attacked the Moncada barracks). Their plan was to set up their base in the Sierra Maestra mountains. On the way to the mountains they were attacked by government troops. By the time they reached the Sierra Maestra there were only sixteen men left with twelve weapons between them. For the next few months Castro's guerrilla army raided isolated army garrisons and were gradually able to build-up their stock of weapons.

Juan Almeida (second from the left) with Fidel Castro.
Juan Almeida (second from the left) with Fidel Castro.

When the guerrillas took control of territory they redistributed the land amongst the peasants. In return, the peasants helped the guerrillas against Batista's soldiers. In some cases the peasants also joined Castro's army, as did students from the cities and occasionally Catholic priests.

In an effort to find out information about Castro's army people were pulled in for questioning. Many innocent people were tortured. Suspects, including children, were publicly executed and then left hanging in the streets for several days as a warning to others who were considering joining Fidel Castro. The behaviour of Batista's forces increased support for the guerrillas. In 1958 forty-five organizations signed an open letter supporting the July 26 Movement. National bodies representing lawyers, architects, dentists, accountants and social workers were amongst those who signed. Castro, who had originally relied on the support of the poor, was now gaining the backing of the influential middle classes.

Fulgencio Batista responded to this by sending more troops to the Sierra Maestra. He now had 10,000 men hunting for Fidel Castro and his 300-strong army. Although outnumbered, Castro's guerrillas were able to inflict defeat after defeat on the government's troops. In the summer of 1958 over a thousand of Batista's soldiers were killed or wounded and many more were captured. Unlike Batista's soldiers, Castro's troops had developed a reputation for behaving well towards prisoners. This encouraged Batista's troops to surrender to Castro when things went badly in battle. Complete military units began to join the guerrillas.

In 1958 Almeida was promoted to Commander and head of the Santiago Column of the Revolutionary Army. Leaving the Sierra Maestra mountains, Castro's troops began to march on the main towns. After consultations with the United States government, Batista decided to flee Cuba. Senior Generals left behind attempted to set up another military government. Castro's reaction was to call for a general strike. The workers came out on strike and the military were forced to accept the people's desire for change. Castro marched into Havana on January 9,1959, and became Cuba's new leader.

Almeida became a General of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba and in 1966 became a member of the Central Committee and Political Bureau. In 1976 he was elected to the National Assembly of People's Power. He has also held the posts of head of the Directorate of Logistics of the General Staff of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

On 27th February, 1998, Almeida was granted the title, "Hero of the Republic of Cuba". For many years he was the third ranking member of the Council of State for Cuba, with the title of Vice-President. He also headed the National Association of Veterans and Combatants of the Revolution. In 2003 Almeida announced he was cutting back on his political activities because of heart problems.

In their book, Ultimate Sacrifice, published in 2006, Larmar Waldron and Thom Hartmann argued that in 1963 Almeida was involved in a plot with Che Guevara to overthrow Fidel Castro. The authors wrote: "In 1963, Juan Almeida was the powerful Commander of the Cuban Army, one of the most famous heroes of the Revolution - and he was going to lead JFK's palace coup against Fidel. Commander Almeida had been in direct contact with John and Robert Kennedy's top Cuban exile aide since May of 1963, and both men would be part of Cuba's new, post-coup Provisional Government. By the morning of November 22, 1963, Almeida had even received a large cash payment authorized by the Kennedys, and the CIA had placed his family under US protection in a foreign country."

John Simkin argued that: "This seems to me like a CIA limited hangout.... This has more to do with David Talbot’s forthcoming book than Ultimate Sacrifice. The CIA has been willing to accept the naming of CIA agents like David Sanchez Morales and Rip Robertson as being involved in the assassination. They are much more concerned with the exposure of top figures such as Richard Helms and James Jesus Angleton being involved in the cover-up."

Larry Hancock, the author of Someone Would Have Talked (2006) agreed: "I'm pretty sure we will hear more detail on how they (the CIA) were forced into this position by the additional documents that we are beginning to see."

The Cuban government took the view that this was a CIA plot to destabilize the regime and took no action against Almeida.

Juan Almeida Bosque died of a heart-attack in Havana on 11th September 2009. Fidel Castro issued a statement that said: "I didn't know, neither did any of us, just how much pain news of his passing would bring. I was a privileged witness of his exemplary conduct during more than half a century of heroic and victorious resistance."

Primary Sources

(1) John Fenton Wheeler, Dateline Havana (24th September, 2006)

In 1967, the Vietnam War was front-page news in the United States and much of the world. The AP already had another John Wheeler, writing from Vietnam with an established byline. Before I went to Havana, I had to find another name. I took my mother’s maiden name, which also was my middle name, and became Fenton Wheeler. When anyone addressed me as Fen-tone, the Spanish pronunciation, it indicated they knew the byline better than they knew me. The fact that they knew the byline at all was a pleasant surprise. AP reporters in foreign trenches often complained that many newspaper editors knocked their bylines off AP stories, either because it was the newspaper’s policy, an editor’s whim or possibly to save one line of space. Wags said the agency’s initials should have meant written by an Anonymous Person, not The Associated Press. Castro knew better.

The Havana AP office during my time had six to 10 Cuban employees, working to distribute news and photos seven days a week to Cuban government clients. None performed news functions. All were male, two-thirds of them black. Before Castro, there had been considerable racial discrimination, coupled but not tempered by widespread mixing as evidenced by the multitude of mulattos across the island. Batista, for example, was mulatto. The true social dividing line, however, always had been economic, separating the Spanish and then the U.S.-beholden rulers and the economically elite from the thousands of poor, especially the guajiros - peasants - in the countryside. Castro had only one black man in his Cabinet in 1967, Juan Almeida. But that was because Castro had restricted those posts almost exclusively to men who had fought with him or served in other areas as revolutionaries. Almeida was among the best of those on both counts.

(2) Don Bohning, The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba (2005)

In March and June 1964 the JMWAVE station in Miami dispatched two separate arms caches to Cuba for Cubela as part of the ongoing AMTRUNK operation, which was targeted at military officials. In May Cubela let it be known he wanted a silencer for a Belgian FAL submachine gun as soon as possible. But it first had to be modified and there wasn't time to do it for the June cache. Cubela was subsequently notified that it was not feasible to make a silencer for a FAL. By late 1964 Cubela was increasingly insistent that assassination was a necessary first step in a coup. In a memorandum, Sanchez suggested Cubela be put in touch with Artime. The memo said: "AM/LASH was told and fully understands that the United States Government cannot become involved to any degree in the `first step' of his plan. If he needs support, he realizes he will have to get it elsewhere. FYI: This is where B-1 [Artime] could fit in nicely in giving any support he would request."

The CIA's seven-page November 5 memo to the 303 Committee is essentially a review of the Artime operation until that time and the agency recommendations for the operation, concluding with the recommendation to continue it in conjunction with Cubela. Following the Sierra Aranzazu incident, Artime suspended operations until after President Johnson's victory in the November presidential election. Despite news reports to the contrary, the agency said Artime had "maintained close contact and good relations" with top officials in both Nicaragua and Costa Rica, "where he continues to receive their complete cooperation and support." Enrique Peralta, Guatemala's military president, had invited him to a meeting. "President Robles of Panama has promised Artime his full cooperation and any support he may need," and "President Reid of the Dominican Republic provided Artime a forward operating base in his country. Artime is in the process of surveying the base site." The memo then got to the crux of the matter.

"As a result of the publicity Artime received over the past year for his anti-Castro activity and the fact that at present he is considered the strongest of the active Cuban exile groups, an internal dissident group established contact with him and proposed joining forces," the CIA reported. "An emissary from the internal dissident group met with one of Artime's representatives in Europe in early October 1964 and proposed a 'summit' meeting between Artime and their 'top guy' as soon as the latter can travel to Europe, probably between 15 and 30 November 1964."

The CIA memo reported that Artime and his aides had come to the conclusion that the internal dissidents included at least a half-dozen prominent revolutionary figures, among them Efigenio Ameijeiras, Juan Almeida, and Faustino Perez, all of whom were with Castro aboard the Granma when it sailed from Mexico to Cuba in late 1956 to begin the guerrilla campaign against Batista. "Reports from independent sources confirm the discontent of this particular group," the memo reported. "In late 1963 an Agency representative had several meetings with a Cuban officer [Cubela] closely associated with this group who reported their anti-regime feelings and plans for a coup against Castro with the support of this group. It is known that the emissary who established contact with Artime's representative is a confidant of this officer."

In urging continued,support for Artime in light of the Cubela connection, the CIA argued:

"Whereas the incident of the Sierra Aranzazu raised serious doubts about the desirability of continued support to Artime, the contact of Artime by a potentially significant internal dissident group introduces an entirely new dimension to the problem. It is believed that within sixty to ninety days a reasonable evaluation of the potential and plans of the internal group can be made. Therefore, it appears desirable to defer any final decision on support (if any) to Artime until we have the opportunity to evaluate the potential of the internal group. It is assumed that the internal group established contact with Artime because of their belief that his paramilitary capability is based on close relations with the United States. Hence, if Artime is to maintain his attractiveness and continue developing this contact, it is necessary for Artime to maintain a good facade in terms of his paramilitary capability. While we feel it is desirable to give Artime every opportunity to develop an operation with the internal group, we believe the groundwork should be laid for a phase out of support to the paramilitary aspect of the program. Artime will be unhappy with any decision to terminate support regardless of how such a decision is implemented, but we believe a negotiated phase out dovetailed with support to develop the internal operation will reduce the number of problems and best protect the deniability of United States complicity in the operation, provided Artime cooperates."

It recommended:

"a. Artime concentrate on developing the internal operation, maintaining his paramilitary posture to the degree necessary to preserve his attractiveness to the internal group.

b. Support to Artime at approximately the present level be continued for the next sixty to ninety days in order to give Artime an opportunity to develop an operation with the dissident internal group which has sought him out.

c. Should it be considered vital in order to maintain his attractiveness to the internal group and hold his own group together, permit Artime to conduct one raid and plan but not execute at least one more during this period."

The November 5 memo gave no indication how contact between Artime and Cubela might have been contrived to put them together "in such a way that neither of them knew that the contact had been made by the CIA." There also is a discrepancy as to when the initial contact with the Artime group was made. The Church Committee report said "documents in the AM/LASH file establish that in early 1965, the CIA put AM/ LASH in contact with B-1 [Artime], the leader of an anti-Castro group."

The November 5 memo said the contact was made in October 1964. A chronology in the CIA inspector general's 1967 report on assassination plots, said that Artime "received information through Madrid" on August 30, 1964, "that a group of dissident members of the Castro regime desired to establish direct contact" with him. On October 7, 1964, "an Artime associate [Quintero] went to France for a meeting with an intermediary from the dissident group."

Then, on November 13, the CIA chronology cites a contact report of a meeting in Washington with Artime: "Artime agreed to talk to AMLASH1 [Cubela] if it turns out that he is the contact man for the dissident group. Artime thinks that if AMLASH-1 is the chief of the dissident group we can all forget about the operation." Three weeks later, on December 4, a request was prepared "for $6,500 as an extraordinary budget expenditure for the travel of Artime for maintaining contact with the internal dissident group's representative in Europe during November and December 1964. There is no direct indication in the file that the request was approved, but indirect evidence indicates that it was. Artime did travel to Europe and maintained the contacts."

Sanchez, the CIA's AMLASH case officer, met Cubela again in Paris on December 6-7. On December 10 he reported in a memo: "Artime does not know and we do not plan to tell him that we are in direct contact with Cubela [one and one-half lines censored; presumably referring to assassination/coup plot].... Cubela was told and fully understands that U.S. Government cannot become involved to any degree in the 'first step' of his plan. If he needs support, he realizes he will have to get it elsewhere. FYI: This is where Artime could fit in nicely in giving any support Cubela would request." A parenthetical note follows with comment from the investigators, which says:

"Sanchez explained to us that what had happened was that SAS [CIA's Special Affairs Staff] contrived to put Artime and Cubela together in such a way that neither knew that the contact had been engineered by CIA. The thought was that Artime needed a man inside and Cubela wanted a silenced weapon, which CIA was unwilling to furnish to him directly. By putting the two together, Artime might get his man inside and Cubela might get his silenced weapon-from Artime. CIA did not intend to furnish an assassination weapon for Artime, and did not do so."'

Washington obviously considered an internal coup the last-best hope it had of unseating Castro; so much so that by year's end representatives of the CIA, Defense, and State had prepared "A Contingency Plan for a Coup in Cuba" and what the U.S. response would be. They sent it to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A December 30, 1964, cover letter signed by Cyrus Vance noted, "Bundy has been advised ... and requested to inform the President of the existence of the plan on a suitable occasion." As foreseen in the plan, the U.S. response would vary depending on whether it had "up to forty-eight hours" advance notice of the coup. If so, it would then send in a "special team" to make a decision on whether to provide support; otherwise "a longer time would be required." The plan laid out the criteria that had to be met for U.S. support:

"(1) Have some power base in the Cuban army or militia in order to survive.

(2) Be prepared to establish a provisional government, however rudimentary, with some sort of public claim to political viability to provide an adequate political basis for covert U.S. action (not required if Soviet troops

were clearly fighting Cuban patriots).

(3) Neutralize the top echelon of Cuban leadership.

(4) Seize and hold significant piece of territory, preferably including Havana, long enough to permit the United States plausibly to extend support and some form of recognition to the provisional government.

The contingency plan emphasized, "The US does not contemplate either a premeditated full scale invasion of Cuba (except in the case of Soviet intervention or the reintroduction of offensive weapons) or the contrivance of a provocation which could be used as a pretext for such action."

Quintero, the MRR representative who made the initial contact with the internal dissidents and was the first to meet with Cubela, said the link began with Alberto Blanco, one of the dissidents on the Cuban embassy staff in Madrid. Quintero said he went to Mallorca to talk with a ship captain about hijacking a passenger liner as Portuguese rebels had done three years earlier with the Santa Maria off the coast of Brazil. When he got back to Madrid from Mallorca, "Cuco" Leon, a former Cuban legislator who was friendly with Somoza, told him "there's a bigger thing here than that... a big comandante in Cuba, they're planning a plot against Cuba." The hijacking plan was canceled "in order not to get any kind of publicity that could hurt the operation with Cubela." The August 30 meeting with Blanco was arranged for Paris, beginning the MRR relationship with the Cubela dissidents.

(3) Liz Smith, New York Post (22nd September, 2006)

If a man cannot keep a measly affair secret, what is he doing in charge of the Intelligence Service?" asks the spy novelist Frederick Forsyth.

If you were an investigative reporter, would you save your biggest book revelation for the trade paperback publication? Well, maybe a lot happened between the pub date and the paperback. That seems to be the case for the JFK-invasion-of-Cuba conspiracy book "Ultimate Sacrifice," which we've written about in this column.

Author Lamar Waldron is set to tell the following sensational details in the paperback on Oct. 9. In the hardcover edition of his book, Waldron went to great lengths to conceal the identity of the Cuban official who was working with President John F. Kennedy and for U.S. interests back in the '60s. Now the CIA has decided to reveal who the man is. Author Waldron advised them not to, but the powers that be feel the man's best protection is wide publicity after the trade book's release. Castro can't take action against him in secret as he did back in 1990.

The "him" is one of the top officials in Cuba today, a leader standing below only Raul Castro, his brother's heir. The secret conspirator is Commander Juan Almeida, head of the army, famous hero of the revolution, best friend to the late Che Guevara. Almeida was in direct contact with Bobby Kennedy's top Cuban exile aide in the summer and fall of 1963; he was to receive $500,000 for helping stage a coup and the down payment was delivered before JFK was assassinated.

Almeida's wife and sons had wisely already been sent out of Cuba because he feared reprisals against them if the coup failed. The sons are said to have been paid a lot of money by the U.S. government and are today living as capitalist businessmen in Cancun and Madrid. Their father remains the No. 3 man in Cuba.

Four days before Kennedy died in Dallas, he made a speech that the CIA now says contained messages intended directly for Commander Almeida to assure him of the president's personal support. The background for all this appeared in the hard cover version of "Ultimate Sacrifice," telling the story of how three Mafia bosses - Johnny Rosselli, Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello - infiltrated JFK's coup plan in their own effort to assassinate the president. Waldron says that after JFK's death, the CIA and Bobby Kennedy were forced to cover up a lot of information to Congress and the public in order to protect Almeida.

In 1965, Castro put Che Guevara under house arrest for conspiring with Almeida, but he allowed the latter to rejoin his government in 1995. Almeida is one of the highest black officials in Cuba; some believe his race is a major reason why Castro failed to exact retribution from him. It wouldn't have been popular in Cuba. Evidently, Castro considers Almeida to be "safe" since he has no family to retaliate against in Cuba and he could now never stage a coup for the CIA.

The revelation of his name at this late date should be big news all over, and now that we know Castro is still alive, it might even influence the political situation in Cuba today or in the near future.

These astounding revelations also remove the last legitimate reason for the CIA to continue holding 1 million files related to JFK's assassination. And for dear old Uncle Sam to at last let the entire truth come out.

(4) Larmar Waldron and Thom Hartmann, Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK (revised edition, 2006)

Eighteen years ago, Thom Hartmann and I began writing a book about the battles of President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F Kennedy, against the Mafia and Fidel Castro. In 2005, using new information from almost two dozen people who worked with John and Robert Kennedy-backed up by thousands of files at the National Archives-we exposed for the first time JFK's top-secret plan to overthrow Castro and invade Cuba on December 1, 1963. "The Plan for a Coup in Cuba" (as it was titled in a memo for the joint Chiefs of Staff) would include a "palace coup" to eliminate Castro, allowing a new Cuban "Provisional Government" to step into the power vacuum. The coup would be supported by a "full-scale invasion" of Cuba by the US military, if necessary.

However, even as JFK's secret plan was nearing its final stage, he had two emissaries making last-ditch attempts to avoid a potentially bloody coup and invasion by trying to jump-start secret negotiations with Fidel Castro. One long-secret November 1963 memo about those negotiations states that "there was a rift between Castro and the (Che) Guevara ... Almeida group on the question of Cuba's future course." Che Guevara is still widely known today, perhaps even more than in 1963. But most people in the United States have never heard of Che's ally against Castro, Juan Almeida, even though in 1963 he wielded more power inside Cuba than Che himself. In some ways, Almeida was the third most powerful official in Cuba in 1963, after Fidel and his brother Raul - and even today, in 2006, the CIA lists Juan Almeida as the third-highest official in the current Cuban government.

In this new edition, we can now reveal for the first time that Almeida wasn't just allied with Che against Castro in November of 1963: Almeida was also allied with President Kennedy. In 1963, Juan Almeida was the powerful Commander of the Cuban Army, one of the most famous heroes of the Revolution - and he was going to lead JFK's "palace coup" against Fidel. Commander Almeida had been in direct contact with John and Robert Kennedy's top Cuban exile aide since May of 1963, and both men would be part of Cuba's new, post-coup Provisional Government. By the morning of November 22, 1963, Almeida had even received a large cash payment authorized by the Kennedys, and the CIA had placed his family under US protection in a foreign country.

The "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" was fully authorized by JFK and personally run by Robert Kennedy. Only about a dozen people in the US government knew the full scope of the plan, all of whom worked for the military or the CIA, or reported directly to Robert. The Kennedys' plan was prepared primarily by the US military, with the CIA playing a major supporting role. Input was also obtained from key officials in a few other agencies, but most of those who worked on the plan knew only about carefully compartmentalized aspects, believing it to be a theoretical exercise in case a Cuban official volunteered to depose Fidel.

(5) The Guardian (14th September 2009)

Tens of thousands of Cubans lined up yesterday to pay their respects to Juan Almeida Bosque, a vice president and hero of the country's 1959 revolution whose death at the age of 82 further thinned the ranks of the communist-run country's old-guard leaders.

Almeida, one of just three surviving rebel leaders who still bore the title "Commander of the Revolution," died on Friday of a heart attack.

President Raul Castro led the ceremony at Havana's Revolution Square, sombrely placing a pink rose in front of a large photograph of Almeida. Flags flew at half-staff throughout the country.

There was no sign of Castro's older brother, former leader Fidel Castro, who has not been seen in public since turning over power to his brother in 2006.

He released a statement later yesterday afternoon, writing: "I didn't know, neither did any of us, just how much pain news of his passing would bring."

"I was a privileged witness of his exemplary conduct during more than half a century of heroic and victorious resistance," he added.

Raul Castro did not speak at the ceremony, but other Cubans filing past hailed Almeida as a great and simple man.

"We have lost a party stalwart," said Manuel Perez, a 59-year-old labourer. "He was a man of great importance in the revolutionary fight."

Osmar Orozco, a 61-year-old retiree, added that Almeida's loyalty to Fidel Castro and the revolution was "without limit."

"That is why all Cubans could not fail to be here on this day," he said, wiping back tears.

Lines of thousands formed early and snaked through Revolution Square on Sunday. Some bowed before Almeida's photograph, while military men and veterans saluted.

Almeida was a member of Cuba's ruling elite, sitting on the Communist Party's politburo and serving as a vice president on the Council of State, the country's supreme governing body. He cut back on activities in December 2003, citing heart problems.

Almeida met Fidel Castro in 1952 at the University of Havana, where both were studying law, and he had been at Castro's side ever since, through his imprisonment on the Isla de la Juventud, exile in Mexico and return to Cuba aboard the American yacht "Granma" in 1956 to launch the revolution.

Almeida, the Castro brothers and Argentine-born Ernesto "Che" Guevara were among only 16 rebels who survived the landing, in which most of the rebels were killed by government troops.

"No one here gives up!" Almeida shouted to Guevara at the time, giving the Cuban revolution one of its most lasting slogans and ensuring his place in Cuban communist history.