CIA had numerous plots against Castro

( dpa )- The United States had a long and at times colourful history with Fidel Castro that featured a missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war and the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

In addition to those highly publicized events that underlined the deteriorating relations between Washington and President Fidel Castro, there were plenty of other acts that took place more quietly, including numerous CIA plots to kill or humiliate the Cuban leader.

Not long after Castro came to power in 1959 after ousting dictator Fulgencio Batista at the height of the Cold War, the CIA began planning for the demise of the communist leader with methods ranging from poisonous cigars to an appealing sea shell.

In the end, Castro's departure from power was peaceful. Castro announced Tuesday that he was resigning as president, formally ending his 49-year rule over the island, although he transferred power to his brother in July 2006 because of poor health.

The CIA's activities were mostly kept under wraps until exposed by a Senate committee in 1975 that became known as the Church Committee, named after Senator Frank Church of Idaho.

Church had set out to uncover the CIA's covert attempts around the world to assassinate opponents, but none of them took greater priority than Castro, whose communist agenda, alliance with the Soviet Union and location just 145 kilometres off the coast of Florida was viewed as a major threat.

The plots took place on the sidelines of two major confrontations with Cuba and the Soviet Union in the early 1960s.

In 1961, then president John Kennedy signed off on the Bay of Pigs invasion. The operation consisted of CIA-trained and -backed Cuban exiles landing on the beach to launch a rebellion against Castro. The effort failed after Kennedy called off air support, worried it would raise the profile of the US role. The armed exiles were easily defeated by Castro's forces, most of them ending up captured or killed.

Castro responded by asking the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. When US U-2 spy planes captured images of the deployment of the missiles in 1962, it sparked a major showdown between Washington and Moscow that most historians believe was the closest the Cold War adversaries ever came to the brink of nuclear holocaust. The Cuban Missile Crisis ended when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles.

The Church Committee documented at least eight plots by the CIA on Castro's life. Some of them were put into action, others never left the drawing board.

Other accounts have alleged there were dozens more. The former head of Castro's intelligence service wrote a book describing hundreds of plans to eliminate the Cuban leader, but they have not been confirmed by the US government.

One of the assassination plots involved the use of poisoned cigars. The Church Committee documented that in August 1960, the CIA instructed an official to lace a box of Castro's favourite cigars with a toxin so potent it could kill simply by being placed in the mouth. CIA records showed they were passed on to an unidentified person, but it was unclear if they ever made their way to Castro.

The CIA also tried to use the criminal underworld to assassinate Castro, according to the committee. The CIA made contact through intermediaries to underworld figures in the United States hoping they could make arrangements with gambling syndicates in Cuba.

Before the Bay of Pigs invasion, poisonous pills were passed via the shadowy figures on several occasions to individuals in Cuba who supposedly had access to Castro. Those plots never panned out and eventually agents tapered off their communications with Cuban operatives.

A post-Bay-of-Pigs plot was later launched that again involved the use of the mafia, this time using pills and small arms. But when it appeared the operation would not succeed, it was called off.

The CIA later explored the possibility of using an "exotic seashell" laden with explosives that could be placed in waters where Castro was known to go diving. The shell's illuminating appearance, according to the plan, would lure Castro to it, then blow him up. The plan was later dismissed as "impractical," according to the Church Committee.

The CIA also explored giving Castro a diving suit contaminated with a fungus that would cause a infectious skin disease. That suit, however, never left the laboratory. In another of the plots that went on until 1965, the CIA devised and passed on poison-tipped pens to agents in Cuba.

The CIA also weighed methods of humiliating Castro, including a poison that would cause his legendary beard to fall out, and a chemical agent similar to LSD that would make him look foolish during public speaking events.

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