Front Door to Cuba

Juan Orta

Juan Orta was Director General of the Office of the Prime Minister Fidel Castro when he was recruited in a plot to assassinate the Cuban leader.

On January 26, 1961, while the CIA was still planning the operation, Orta was moved to a different position. Fully aware that the U.S. was planning an invasion, the Cuban government was tightening security, and closing off potential threats. Only the most trusted were allowed access to the leadership.

In March 1961, just over a month before the invasion at Bay of Pigs, Orta received a handful of poison pills developed by the CIA's Technical Services Division (TSD).

Orta got the pills from U.S. mobster Santos Trafficante, who got them from John Rosselli, who got them from the CIA's O'Connell. Their plan was for Orta to drop the pills into something Castro was drinking or eating. Death would not be instant, and he'd have a chance to get away.

According to 1967's Inspector General's Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro, "Roselli reported to O'Connel that the pills had been delivered to Orta in Cuba. Orta is understood to have kept the pills for a couple of weeks before returning them." The mobster's point of view was that "Orta got cold feet."

On April 11, 1961, just under a week before the Bay of Pigs invasion began, Orta sought refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy. He stayed inside for 3.5 years. When Venezuela broke relations with Cuba in November 1961, Orta was forced to stay in the Mexican Embassy. He was allowed to leave for Mexico City in October 1964, and finally arrived in Miami in February 1965.

Upon his arrival, Orta explained for the record that he "didn't get cold feet," but that by the time the pills arrived, he had already lost access to Castro.

Cuba in The 1960s

Bay of Pigs | Rolando Cubela | José Miró Cardona | Tony Varona | Huber Matos

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