Before he joined the opposition to Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, Rolando Cubela Secades was a medical student planning a life of treating the sick and helping them stay healthy. It is said that on October 27, 1956 he participated in the execution of Antonio Blanco Rico, chief of the Servicio de Inteligencia Militar (SIM), Batista's secret police.
The following year Cubela participated in an attack on the presidential palace (March 13, 1957) in which 35 rebels and 5 palace guards were killed. On the same day, student leader José Echeverría lost his life after simultaneously attacking a radio station in Havana.
After Batista's sudden departure in the early morning hours of January 1, 1959 Cubela and the Directorio Estudiantil assumed control of the Presidential Palace, and refused to hand it over to Guevara's troops even though an agreement existed between Castro's forces (of which Guevara was a part) and the students. [Hugh Thomas reveals in Cuba, or The Pursuit of Freedom that both Guevara and Cubela signed the agreement.]
Eventually Cubela received the rank of Major in the new Cuban Army, and became the leader of Cuba's International Federation of Students.
By 1961 Cubela seemed anxious to take "action" against Castro, and began to secretly negotiate with the CIA for some type of "action" against the Cuban leader.
Over the next two years, the CIA provided "direct and indirect support" for Cubela's intrigues. Cubela (known to the CIA as AMLASH) "repeatedly insisted that the essential first step in overthrowing the regime was the elimination of Castro himself, which Cubela claimed he was prepared to accomplish." [From the Inspector General's Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro, page 79.]
In March 1961 Cubela and Juan Orta let it be known that they wanted to defect, but the operation was called off when it appeared that Cuban police was suspicious of Cubela.
Just over a year later, Cubela met with the CIA in Helsinki (July 30,
1962). This meeting is described in detail in 1967's Inspector General's
Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro. Cubela agreed to stay in
Cuba, and "felt that if he could do something really significant for the
creation of a new Cuba, he was interested in returning to carry on the fight
"He said he was not interested in risking his life for any small undertaking, but that if he could be given a really large part to play, he would use himself and several others in Cuba whom he could rely upon.
"He said he had plans to blow up an oil refinery, as he felt that the continuing existence of a semblance of normal functioning in Cuba depended upon a continuing supply of petroleum...
"He also wanted to plan the execution of Carlos Rodriguez (a top-ranking Castro subordinate) " (From page 83)
The following month, however, Cubela refused to take a polygraph test, a standard request made at the time of all anti-Castro "assets." This led some in the Agency to suggest that AMLASH may, in fact be a double agent. A cable from headquarters (August 18, 1962) ordered "that no physical elimination missions be given Cubela."
The report filed by the CIA noted that Cubela often referred to himself as "we," and that he disliked the use of the word "assassinate," offering, instead, the word "eliminate" as more acceptable. [Author David Korn describes Cubela as "an erratic fellow who drank excessively," in Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades.]
From August 29, 1962, until September 1963, the CIA claims it had no contact with Cubela.
In September 1963 CIA Officer Néstor Sánchez met Cubela at the Pan American Games in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where they discussed possible ways of "approaching" Cuban military officers. Cubela requested (as he had done previously) to meet with a "high-ranking" government official "outside" the CIA who would insure U.S. support for his actions.
Desmond FitzGerald, CIA Chief of Task Force W, met Cubela in Paris on October 29 1963. FitzGerald gave his name as James Clark, and claimed to be a "personal" representative of US Attorney General Robert Kennedy (which was partly true, as FitzGerald was familiar with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, but Kennedy had not been briefed in advance of this meeting). With Néstor Sánchez interpreting their conversation, they discussed a post-Castro Cuba.
Sánchez provides the following notes of the meeting (from a memo for the record on November 13, 1963); "FitzGerald informed Cubela that the United States is prepared to render all necessary assistance to any anti-communist Cuban group which succeeds in neutralizing the present Cuban leadership and assumes sufficient control to invite the United States to render assistance " [Page 89]
It was later revealed that FitzGerald had been counseled by 2 senior CIA officers against attending this meeting, and that he was aware such a meeting could undermine efforts by the Kennedy Administration (of which the CIA had been left out) to find accommodation with Castro.
Cubela insisted that the CIA provide him a high-powered rifle with a scope and a silencer, so he could "take out" Castro from a distance without sacrificing his own life. But FitzGerald didn't trust this scheme, and developed the now famous "poison pen" option specifically for Cubela.
The plan was to use Black Leaf 40, "a common, easily-obtainable insecticide containing about 40% nicotine sulphate," a deadly poison that could be administered orally, by injection, or by absorption through the skin. In November 1963 the CIA's Technical Services Division (TSD) rigged a Paper Mate ballpoint pen as a syringe that could deliver the poison.
On November 22, in Paris, Cubela met with Néstor Sánchez and accepted the device, without any poison. It would be easy for him to get Black Leaf 40 when he returned to Cuba. Sánchez later recalled that Cubela "didn't think much of the device." Cubela returned to Cuba "fully determined to pursue his plans to initiate a coup against Castro."
At about the same time that Cubela was receiving the pen-device in Paris, President Kennedy was being assassinated in Dallas.
By February 1964, the CIA was beginning to fulfill some of Cubela's requests for weapons, making drops at specified locations, but not providing the frequently requested long-range rifle with silencer. It would be better for the CIA and the U.S. Government, thought FitzGerald, if Cuban dissidents provided Cubela with the weapons he requires. Manuel Artime was perfect for the operation.
The Inspector General's report states that agents "contrived to put Artime and Cubela together in such a way that neither knew that the contact had been engineered by CIA." [On December 10, 1964, Néstor Sánchez filed a memo with the Paris Station: "Artime does not know and we do not plan to tell him that we are in direct contact with Cubela, nor does Cubela know and we do not desire he know that we are in direct contact with Artime."]
Manuel Artíme (a known CIA-asset and leader in the Cuban-American anti-Castro community) and Rolando Cubela met for the first time in Madrid on December 27, 1964. At a second meeting on December 30, Artíme agreed to provide a silencer for the CIA-supplied rifle, or to provide a suitable rifle with a scope and silencer.
Still in Madrid on February 10, 1965, Cubela received a hand gun with a silencer and a long-range rifle with a silencer and a scope. He apparently carried the weapons back to Cuba in his luggage later that month.
In March, various rumors were heard of a military coup against Castro, and it was obvious they were referring to AMLASH. On June 23 1965, the CIA sent out cables terminating all contacts with AMLASH. It had become obvious that too many people outside the trusted sphere knew about the project and the CIA's association.
On March 1, 1966, Reuters reported from Havana that two military officers had been arrested for alleged "counterrevolutionary activities involving the Central Intelligence Agency." The officers were Major Rolando Cubela Secades and Major Ramon Guin Diaz.
The trial began on March 7, 1966 at Havana's La Cabaña Fortress, and included collaborators Jose Luis Gonzalez Gallarreta, Alberto Blanco Romariz and Juan Alsina Navarro. They all confessed their guilt. Cubela, Guin and Romariz would have been sentenced to death by firing squad, but a letter to the prosecutor from Fidel Castro (March 9, 1966) requested "that the court not ask the death sentence for any of the accused."
The verdict came on March 10, 1966; Rolando Cubela and Ramon Guin were sentenced to 25 years imprisonment; Jose Luis Gonzales Callarreta and Alberto Blanco Romariz , 20 years; and Juan Hilario Alsina Navarro, 10 years.
Cubela was released from prison in 1979 and went to live in Spain.
The Inspector General's Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro, released to the public in 1998, points out that "None of Cubela's dealings with the CIA from March 1961 until November 1964 were mentioned in the trial." It further states that "the trial evidence was confined to Cubela's counterrevolutionary activities growing out of those meetings with Artíme in December 1964 and February 1965."
The report then speculates that "Castro may have thought it politically impudent to allow the execution of someone so close to his inner circle, who had merely plotted without acting. If the full details of Cubela's involvement with CIA had come out in court, Castro might have had little excuse for asking for leniency."
- End -
Portions of this article are based on the
Inspector General's Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro
Delivered to CIA Director Richard Helms on April 24, 1967
(All but one copy destroyed May 23, 1967)
Released to the general public on June 23, 1998
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