When Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in February of 1959, the American government was not happy. Not happy at all. So annoyed were US Presidents and spy chiefs to have a Communist revolutionary in control of an island just a short distance off the coast of Florida that they worked to get rid of him – by any means necessary. Attempts on Castro’s life have become the stuff of legend. Each one was more ingenious than the last. But they all had one thing in common – they all failed.
According to Fabian Escalante, the former head of the Cuban Secret Service, during his five decades in office, Castro survived more than 600 attempts on his life. Indeed, it’s claimed that the Reagan administration alone sanctioned 197 hits on the Cuban leader, while the Clinton presidency was responsible for 21, even though by this point the Cold War was well and truly over.
Some of the attempted assassinations were the stuff of a James Bond movie. The records show that the CIA tried to kill Castro with an exploding cigar, or simply with a cigar laced with poison. As well as cigars – which the dictator was never without – the CIA knew that Castro had several other loves that could be used against him, including diving and beautiful women. As such, there were plans to give him a diving suit laced on the inside with poison or even to plant a bomb in a seashell at a spot where Castro loved to dive. And, of course, the CIA regularly tried to get Castro’s many mistresses to take out their leader. One, Martina Lorenz, allegedly came closest but was unable to feed the poisoned capsules America’s spies had given her to the man himself. According to the legend, Castro rumbled the plot and offered his lover his gun to finish the job. Lorenz simply couldn’t kill him in cold blood.
In 1963, it’s believed the CIA came as close as they were ever likely to in their mission. They got a man inside the Havana Hilton hotel, armed with a capsule of poison. However, when it came to serving Castro an ice-cold (and deadly) milkshake, the capsule had become frozen to the side of the freezer and could not be used. The dictator lived to rule another day. In the end, Castro died of natural causes in 2016, at the age of 90, without giving the CIA the satisfaction of bumping him off.