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The Anti-Latell Report (II): Calderon Phone Conversation

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Fidel Castro with JFK secret envoy, French journalist Jean Daniel, in Varedero Beach on November 19, 1963
(image by Marc Riboud)
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The CIA did not inform the Warren Commission of Luisa Calderon's November 22, 1963, phone conversation because --as its Office of the Legislative Counsel definitively stated to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) on February 15, 1979-- "the overall Calderon discussion is better fiction than professional fact and analysis." Dr. Latell has recycled it for his non-fiction book.

On November 22, 1963, the CIA center LIENVOY intercepted a phone call at 5:30 pm to the Cuban Commercial Office in Mexico City. The first transcribed line sparked brouhaha: "HF asks LUISA if she heard the latest news and LUISA, in a joking tone says, "Yes, of course, I knew almost before KENNEDY'." It was a mistranslation of her joke in Spanish: "S, claro, me enteré casi antes que Kennedy." The right English version should have been: "Yes, of course, I found out (or learned about it) almost before KENNEDY'."

Dr. Latell leaves the mistranslation to stand by itself and goes further to cull out another "incriminating comment about Oswald" from the CIA transcript: "Oh, yes, he knows Russian well, and also this fellow went with Fidel's forces into the mountains, or wanted to go, something like that." Dr. Latell forgets to tell the reader that this comment by the caller [HF] ended thusly: "who knows how it was." And some lines above, the CIA transcriber had written down: "LUISA interrupts and asks if it was a gringo that killed him [Kennedy] and HF says yes."

If that wouldn't be enough for ruling out any foreknowledge, another Calderon's phone call tapped by LIENVOY at 1:30 pm on the same day --and ignored by Dr. Latell fifty years later-- puts the issue at rest. According to the CIA transcript, an "unidentified woman calls LUISA (inside the Cuban Embassy). Caller asks LUISA if she knows about the news of Kennedy's death. LUISA is surprised" says it is a lie and asks who? Caller [says] is an attempt in Texas. LUISA further surprise and again asks if news is official and when did it occur."

Dr. Latell is obsessed with "the mysterious Luisa Calderon" to the extreme of deeming her as key witness who "would confirm what I know believe." Dr. Latell believes in Castro foreknowledge of Oswald, an old story broke by late British journalist Comer Clark: "Fidel Castro Says He Knew of Oswald Threat to Kill JFK" (National Enquirer [London], October 15, 1967, pages 4-5 ).

On July 9, 1967, Clark flew to Havana for interviewing Castro. His request was denied, but he reported that an impromptu interview had taken place on a sidewalk at a pizzeria in front of a cheering crowd. Castro would have told him: "Yes, I heard of Lee Harvey Oswald's plan to kill President Kennedy. It's possible I could have saved him. I might have been able to, but I didn't. I never believed the plan would be put into effect." Castro would have also explained that Oswald visited the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City twice; the last time "he said something like: "Someone ought to shoot that President Kennedy'. Then Oswald said --and this was exactly how it was reported to me-- "May be I'll try to do it.' This was less than two months before the U.S. President was assassinated."

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It's implausible that Castro had given an interview about such a sensitive matter before a crowd outside a pizzeria. "It's a lie from head to toe," Castro replied in an interview conducted by an HSCA panel in Havana on April 3, 1978. It's just as hard to swallow that Castro knew Oswald was going to shoot at Kennedy and chose to remain silent.

Even the Hungarian Ambassador in Havana, János Beck, was aware of Castro position. On March 31, 1963, Beck reported it to Budapest: "Among the possible presidents at present, Kennedy is the best". On September 20, Kennedy authorized William Attwood's to contact with Cuban ambassador to the U.N. Carlos Lechuga. The first U.S.-Cuba talks on the potential accommodation took place in a corner of ABC News reporter Lisa Howard's apartment in Park Avenue (New York). On November 19, while JFK secret envoy Jean Daniel was already in talks with Castro, the U.S. President was waiting for an agenda proposal from Castro to "decide what to say [and] what we should do next."

In My Life: A Spoken Autobiography (Simon and Schuster, 2008), Castro clearly summed up his ethical pragmatism: "Ethics is not a simple moral issue (") It produces results" (page 211). If Castro would have had foreknowledge of Oswald's criminal intention, he would have reacted as in 1984 with the worse U.S. President for him at the time. Castro was advised about an extreme right-wind conspiracy to kill Ronald Reagan. A DGI officer furnished all information to the U.S. Security Chief at United Nations, Robert Muller, and the FBI proceeded to dismantle the plot in North Carolina.

Dr. Latell claims that Castro " feared Kennedy" and wanted him dead, because in Castro's mind, "he was probably acting in self-defense." However, Dr. Latell adds that Castro warned the Kennedy Brothers and everyone else with an advertising piece of his "personal bailiwick" before Oswald "promised to shoot Kennedy to prove his revolutionary credentials."

On September 7, 1963, Castro attended a reception at the Brazilian Embassy in Havana. He talked with Associated Press correspondent Dan Harker. In his report, "Castro Blasts Raids on Cuba" (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 9 September 1963), Harker quoted Castro: "U.S. leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe". According to Dr. Latell, Castro not only wanted Kennedy death as an act of self defense, but also broadcasted his intention through AP to the world.

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In fact, Kennedy had already the same idea. On November 9, 61, he met with reporter Tad Szulc, who noted him " under terrific pressure from advisors (") to okay a Castro murder." A few days later, aide Richard Goodwin discussed it with JFK, who remarked: "If we get into that kind of thing, we'll all be targets" (Richard Mahoney: JFK: Ordeal in Africa, Oxford University Press, 1983, page 135).

Shortly after JFK was killed, Cuban exile Dr. Emilio Nuñez, former diplomat of the Batista administration (1952-58), recycled Hacker's quote as a threat from Castro and even sharpened it: "Let Kennedy and his brother Robert take care of themselves since they too can be the victims of an attempt which will cause their death." The enlarged quote appeared in the front-page article "John Kennedy and his brother can be victims of an assassination attempt, Castro threatened" (El Universal [Mexico City], November 25, 1963).

Ironically, Harker also quoted Castro saying: "Kennedy is the Batista of our time." Castro started his revolution against the Batista dictatorship by attacking the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953. The same day, Batista was attending a regatta festivity at Varadero Beach. As Cuban American Professor Dr. Antonio R. de la Cova has related in The Moncada Attack (University of South Carolina Press, 2007), some rebels insisted on blending in with the spectators and killing him there, but Castro chose to attack the barracks.

He even disapproved the attempt against Batista by the Student Revolutionary Directorate on March 13, 1957. Castro simply reasoned: "It would have been easier to kill Batista than wage two years of guerrilla war, but it would not have changed the system" (CBS, June 10, 1977).

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Former Professor of Law at the University of Havana Former Instructor of Journalism at the University of Miami Contributor to CTKA on the JFK assassination Contributor to History Today and The Miami Herald


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