Rolando Cubela

Rolando Cubela

Rolando Cubela was born in Cuba. He trained as a doctor but as a student he became very involved in politics. A strong opponent of Fulgencio Batista, Cubela joined the Directo Revolucionario. In 1956 he assassinated Antonio Blanci Rico, the head of Batista's security forces.

Cubela joined the rebellion led by Fidel Castro and was involved in capturing the Presidential Palace in Havana. At first, Cubela and the Directo Revolucionario refused to surrender the building to Che Guevara but eventually it was turned over to the new revolutionary government.

Cubela was given the highest rank in the Cuban Army. Later he became an official in Castro's government and was leader of Cuba's International Federation of Students.

In March 1961 Cubela approached the Central Intelligence Agency about defecting to the United States. He was persuaded to work for them as an uncover agent in Cuba. He was given the code name AM/LASH and reported to JM/WAVE. However, Joseph Langosch, of the Special Affairs Staff, suspected that Cubela was a "dangle" (a double agent recruited by Castro to penetrate the American plots against him". This idea was reinforced when Cubela refused to take a lie-detector test.

In September, 1963, Cubela had a meeting with the CIA in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was suggested that Cubela should assassinate Fidel Castro. According to a CIA report Cubela asked for a meeting with Robert Kennedy: "for assurances of U.S. moral support for any activity Cubela under took in Cuba." This was not possible but , Chief of the Cuban Task Force, agreed to meet Cubela. Ted Shackley was opposed to the idea as he was now convinced that Cubela was a double-agent.

FitzGerald and Nestor Sanchez met Cubela met in Paris on 29th October, 1963. Cubela requested a "high-powered, silenced rifle with an effective range of hundreds of thousands of yards" in order to kill Fidel Castro. The CIA refused and instead insisted on Cubela used poison. On 22nd November, 1963, FitzGerald handed over a pen/syringe. He was told to use Black Leaf 40 (a deadly poison) to kill Castro. As Cubela was leaving the meeting, he was informed that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

Cubela was now put in touch with Manuel Artime. They met for the first time on 27th December, 1964. At the Madrid meeting Cubela again asked for a FAL rifle and silencer. A CIA report suggests that a "Belgian FAL rifle with silencer" was given to Cubela on 11th February, 1965.

On 23rd June, 1965, the CIA sent out a cable to all stations directing termination of all contact with Cubela and his associates. It stated that there was "convincing proof that entire AMLASH group insecure and that further contact with key members of group constitutes menace to CIA operations against Cuba as well as to the security of CIA staff personnel in western Europe." The CIA had been informed that one of Cubela's associates was having secret meetings with Cuba intelligence.

Eladio del Valle had also told the CIA that Cubela was secretly in league with Santo Trafficante. It is claimed that Desmond FitzGerald came to the conclusion that Trafficante was feeding back information to Fidel Castro in the hope of recovering his gambling dynasty.

Cubela and Major Ramon Guin were arrested by the Cuban security police on 1st March, 1966. The trial of Cubela took place on 8th March. It was claimed that Cubela and his associates confessed to having planned the assassination of Fidel Castro.

Rolando Cubela in 2005
Rolando Cubela in 2005

The chief witness was Juan Feliafel. A member of Cuban intelligence he had been instructed in 1963 to go to Miami, pose as an exile, and infiltrate the anti-Castro movement. This was successful and he was sent on seventeen missions to Cuba. On the eighteenth mission Feliafel stayed in Cuba and provided evidence about Cubela's plans to assassinate Castro. Cubela was sentenced to death but this was never carried out. It was reported that Fidel Castro used to send books to Cubela while he was in prison.

Rolando Cubela was eventually allowed to leave Cuba and now lives in Spain.

Primary Sources

(1) CIA Inspector General's Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro (1967)

Desmond FitzGerald, then Chief, SAS, who was going to Paris on other business, arranged to meet with Cubela to give him the assurances he sought. The contact plan for the meeting, a copy of which is in the AMLASH file, has this to say on cover: "FitzGerald will represent self as personal representative of Robert F. Kennedy who traveled Paris for specific purpose meeting Cubela and giving him assurances of full U.S. support if there is change of the present government in Cuba."

According to FitzGerald, he discussed the planned meeting with the DD/P (Helms) who decided it was not necessary to seek approval from Robert Kennedy for FitzGerald to speak in his name.

(2) Evan Thomas, The Very Best Men (1995)

The Cubans were notoriously leaky, while Castro's security service, the DGI, had been well trained by the East Germans, who had a knack for working double agents."

Shortly before FitzGerald was due to leave for Paris to meet AMLASH, Sam Halpern walked in on a shouting match between his boss and the SAS counterintelligence (CI) officer. "The CI man was telling Des not to go to Paris. He felt Cubela was a dangle, or that he'd talk to his friends. It was a real collision. The CI man wouldn't give and Des wouldn't give." FitzGerald decided to go anyway.

In Miami, Ted Shackley was equally frustrated. "I told Des that it was something he shouldn't do. 'If AMLASH does do something,' I told him, 'it's quite likely they'll track you down. You have a high profile. What are you going to get out of this? The only thing you'll get is the satisfaction of saying you saw the guy!' " said Shackley. "Des shrugged and went on his merry way."

FitzGerald's boss, Richard Helms, "shared the qualms (of the SAS staff)." As the head of the clandestine service, he could have vetoed the trip. "But," Helms later explained, "I was also getting my ass beaten. You should have enjoyed the experience of Bobby Kennedy rampant on your back." Helms signed off on FitzGerald's meeting with Cubela. Although FitzGerald was going in Robert Kennedy's name, Richard Helms decided it was "unnecessary" to tell the attorney general, whom he regarded as an even greater risk-taker than FitzGerald. "Bobby wouldn't have backed away," said Helms. "He probably would have gone himself." It shows the level of pressure felt by the CIA that Helms, normally careful to cover his back, didn't even bother to get Kennedy's authorization.

(3) FBIS report (8th March, 1966)

Cubela during his stay in Europe makes three trips to Spain, on 26 December 1964, and on 6 and 20 February 1965. The revolutionary ringleader Artime goes to Madrid at the beginning of February 1965. A meeting is held between Cubela and Artime in which they agree on the final plan.

This plan would begin with a personal attack aimed at Maj. Fidel Castro Ruz. This criminal act would be followed by an armed invasion of the country 48 hours later by US troops. The attack against Comrade Fidel Castro would be made using a 7.62mm FAL rifle that Cubela owned. This weapon would be fitted with a powerful 4x40 telescopic sight and a silencer.

Artime sent Gallego to the United States to get the telescopic sight and the silencer. Once obtained, this equipment was delivered to Blanco Romariz. He in turn delivered it to Gonzalez Gallarreta who then delivered it to Cubela the day before he left Madrid.

In order to insure the success of his plans, Cubela meets with defendant Guin. Guin had been recruited since September 1963 as a spy for the Yankee CIA. This recruiting was done by CIA agent Miguel Diaz who infiltrated Cuba in order to recruit him, and did so.

Seized in Cubela's residence was a Tasco brand telescopic sight with accessories, the FAL rifle, large quantities of weapons and ammunition for them, fragmentation and incendiary grenades, and other military equipment and materiel.

(4) Dick Russell, JFK and the Cuban Connection (March, 1996)

In September 1963, just two months before the assassination, Cuban UN Ambassador Lechuga was contacted by one of Kennedy's trusted UN delegates, William Attwood. "He told me this was a private interview," Lechuga recalls. "We spoke on three occasions, trying to break the ice between our countries. Attwood said we should begin a dialogue. He said the idea came from Kennedy, but that we should keep the conversations secret because if the Republicans found out there would be a huge scandal in Congress."

Lechuga says he was surprised by the American approach, because exile raids and efforts to destabilize Cuba were continuing. Adds Escalante: "There was a double track happening. One path was continued sabotage and isolation of Cuba, to force us to sit down at the negotiating table under very disadvantageous conditions. So the Cuban government took its time to deeply study Attwood's proposal. In our view, one strategy was coming from the Administration and another from the CIA, the exiles and the Mafia." The Cubans are convinced that word about the secret talks leaked out, and sparked a conspiracy to kill the American President and invade Cuba.

In September 1963, Rolando Cubela travelled to Brazil to meet with CIA contacts about killing Castro. Simultaneously, an American journalist, Daniel Harker, interviewed Castro at a gathering inside Havana's Brazilian Embassy. Harker's article quoted Castro saying: "United States leaders should think that if they assist in terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe." The story, widely disseminated in the US press, would be used by right-wing elements as evidence that Cuba was behind the assassination.

But Escalante says the article was a distortion. He says what Castro really stated was: "American leaders should be careful because [the anti-Castro operations] were something nobody could control." He was not threatening JFK, but warning him.

In late September that year, Oswald left New Orleans for Mexico City. On the way, he showed up in Dallas at the door of Cuban exile Silvia Odio, in the company of two Latins who identified themselves as "Angel" and "Leopoldo," who told Odio they were soliciting funds for the Revolutionary Junta (JURE), Odio's exile organization. After the visit, according to Odio, "Leopoldo" telephoned her and described their US companion as "kind of loco. He could go either way. He could do anything - like getting underground in Cuba, like killing Castro. He says we should have shot President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs."

The Cuban hypothesis is that the Odio incident had a dual design. JURE was run by Manuel Ray, a moderate exile leader opposed by the CIA but in close touch with the Kennedy Administration. But the Cubans say "Angel" and "Leopoldo" were agents from the right-wing exile group Revolutionary Student Directorate (DRE), which operated under the CIA's direction. It was the DRE's propagandists who actively sought to tie Oswald to Cuba immediately after the assassination. Escalante offered a possible identification of "Angel" as DRE leader Isidro Borja, who closely resembled a man seen standing behind Oswald in a famous photo, helping him pass out "Fair Play for Cuba" leaflets in New Orleans.

Then on September 27, 1963, Oswald showed up three times at the Cuban consulate in Mexico City, seeking an immediate visa to visit the island. He also visited the Soviet embassy on the same day. (Some researchers believe this could have been an imposter "Oswald", but the Cubans say it was the real Oswald.) Oswald's request was turned down. He angrily stormed out, and shortly returned to Dallas. Says Escalante: "We believe Oswald was acting according to plan - to travel to Cuba for a few days, in order to appear as a Cuban agent after the assassination. Escalante further claims that when that plan failed, the CIA's David Phillips arranged to have letters addressed to Oswald from Havana. On the final day of the 1995 Nassau conference, a slide-show depicted five letters addressed to Oswald from Cuba; two dated before the assassination, three immediately after. One of these letters, intercepted by Cuban authorities, was dated November 14, 1963 and addressed to "Lee Harvey Oswald, Royalton Hotel, Miami" (where Oswald never, in fact, stayed). It was signed "Jorge". According to Arturo Rodriguez, "The text was of a conspiratorial character. It was written on the same kind of typewriter as the two others, which the FBI has concluded were composed on the same machine. We think all these letters were written by the same person--as part of a plan to blame our country for the assassination."

Felipe Vidal Santiago told Cuban intelligence that on the weekend before the assassination, he was invited to a meeting in Dallas by the CIA's Colonel William Bishop. "It was supposed to be a meeting with a few wealthy people to talk about financing anti-Castro operations," says Escalante. Bishop left on his own "for interviews" numerous times during their stay in Dallas. After approximately four days they returned to Miami.

Not long before his death in 1993, Col. Bishop confirmed to this writer that he had knowledge of the JFK plot. The Cubans indicate that the Vidal-Bishop Dallas trip concerned plans for re-taking the island once Castro's people had been implicated in the assassination. Escalante surmises: "Oswald was an intelligence agent of the US-CIA, FBI, military, or all of these, we don't know. He was manipulated, told he was penetrating a group of Cuban agents that wanted to kill Kennedy. But from the very beginning, he was to be the element to blame Cuba."

"Not less than 15 persons took part in the assassination," Escalante theorizes. "At the same time, knowing a little about CIA operations, we see how they used the principle of decentralized operations - independent parties with a specific role, to guarantee compartmentalization and to keep it simple."

(5) 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.