In The CIA's 1st Plot Against The Castros, Fidel Wasn't The Target Exploding cigars. Poisoned pens. The CIA had lots of failed plots to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro. But the first such plan was directed at his brother Raúl, who just retired at age 89.

In The CIA's 1st Plot Against The Castros, Fidel Wasn't The Target

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Exploding cigars, poison pens, booby-trapped seashells - the CIA concocted a whole lot of outlandish plots to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who died of natural causes at the age of 90. Yet the first such plot was actually directed at his brother Raul Castro, who just retired as the head of Cuba's Communist Party at the age of 89. New details of that are emerging. NPR's Greg Myre has this story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FIDEL CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: In 1960, Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution was just a year old. Jose Martinez, a pilot with the national airline, found himself in a strange position. Martinez was secretly working for the CIA and was chosen to fly Fidel's brother Raul Castro back from a trip to Europe. Martinez shared this with the CIA's man in Havana, American William Murray, who told CIA headquarters. According to CIA documents, the response was swift. Tell the pilot to arrange a, quote, "accident" to remove Raul Castro, then Cuba's military leader.

PETER KORNBLUH: It was a plot of opportunism that fell into the CIA's lap.

MYRE: That's Peter Kornbluh. He's with the National Security Archive, a private research group. Now, time was short. Murray and Martinez discussed options during a car ride to the Havana airport as the pilot prepared to fly to Europe.

KORNBLUH: This was what Murray called an emergency meeting. He only had one opportunity to convey the mission.

MYRE: Martinez raised the possibility of crashing into the Atlantic Ocean, knowing this would be suicidal.

KORNBLUH: He actually said, if I die, will you make sure that my two sons have their college education paid for?

MYRE: The CIA agreed to pay. As Martinez went wheels up in Havana, it wasn't clear what he might do. And shortly after he left, CIA headquarters sent updated instructions to the Havana station - drop the matter. That was problematic. There was now no way to contact the pilot. Let's pause here to note that half-baked CIA plots to kill the Castros are well-documented, part of the larger anti-communist crusade at the time.

Lillian Guerra is head of Cuban studies at the University of Florida.

LILLIAN GUERRA: It's like a combination of extreme American paternalism combined with racism and disdain and contempt for Latin Americans. And so that drives their inability to see things.

MYRE: Peter Kornbluh has researched these schemes for decades. When I casually asked how his day was going, he said...

KORNBLUH: I woke up at 5 o'clock in the morning dreaming of CIA assassination plots in Cuba.

MYRE: A 1976 Senate report made a brief, tantalizing reference to this first CIA attempt to kill either Castro. But the details were redacted. Then, one month ago, as Raul Castro prepared to retire, Kornbluh returned to a massive archive of declassified government documents and found the full story.

KORNBLUH: Very few people are aware of the details of this incredible plot against Raul Castro - and really a plot that deserves to be known in its entirety.

MYRE: Which brings us back to the pilot, Jose Martinez. So what did he do? Ultimately, he delivered Raul Castro back to Cuba safe and sound. Then a few months later, Martinez defected to the U.S. Shortly after this aborted effort, the CIA began work on a much larger operation that also didn't go as planned - the Bay of Pigs.

Greg Myre, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIDDEN ORCHESTRA'S "TIRED AND AWAKE")

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