638 attempts. That’s how many assassination attempts Fidel Castro claims to have survived from 1959 to 2001(Guess he just can’t take a hint, huh?). For context, those are assassination attempts by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) throughout eight presidencies, starting from the Eisenhower administration to the Clinton administration. You’d think that after all those assassination schemes, one would eventually be successful, but Castro claims to have survived them all without as much as a scratch!

Cuban Communism and Castro

Fidel Castro during a public speech in 1985 (www.cadtm.org). Source: https://www.cadtm.org/Fidel-Castro-The-debt-is-unpayable
Fidel Castro during a public speech in 1985 (www.cadtm.org)

The Cuban Marxist, who staged a violent communist revolution that was the first in the Western Hemisphere, promised to the People of Cuba, free elections, full employment, living wages, a free education, and universal health care to all(As do they all). The downside was that it came at the cost of imprisonment and execution of teachers, college professors, the professional classes, homosexuals and pretty much anyone else who didn’t want to be part of his glorious revolution. He shut down anti-Castro media and turned the Cuban economy upside down by abolishing private businesses and nationalizing all US-owned establishments, including oil refineries, factories, farms, hotels and casinos, with Socialists running the economy Cuba went from having the highest standard of living in the Caribbean to competing with Haiti for the lowest.

Soon, the Castro-led Cuban government, after seizing power in 1959, would gradually gravitate toward the Soviet Union’s influence. This is where the United States would start to see the communist government as a security threat. Castro was backed by the USSR in toppling Cuban dictator, President Fulgencio Batista. Batista was a committed anti-communist supported by the US due to economic and military interests.

“At the beginning of 1959 United States companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands—almost all the cattle ranches—90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions—80 percent of the utilities—and practically all the oil industry—and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports,” said former President (then-senator) John F. Kennedy at the 1960 Democratic Dinner. Cuba enjoyed thriving trade with the U.S. and was a favorite for vacationers.

Losing all that economic gain and influence at the height of the Cold War, of course, was seen as a severe challenge for the United States to overcome, beyond the problem of a Soviet client state just 90 miles from the Florida Keys.. The Soviets supported the Cuba heavily subsidized the government’s economy due to its failed state-run economy. Strings attached of course.  Cuba would supply sugar, tobacco and oranges to the USSR and Moscow would send Cuba weapons. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the effects of the US embargo struck Cuba hard sending the economy into further decline.  Due to gross mismanagement by the Castro regime, Cuba was unable to feed its own population despite an ideal climate and good soil for farming.

With little to show for his economic reforms, with multiple generations denied basic political freedoms, repression of virtually all civil and political rights, arbitrary detention, torture, and even killings, he stepped down in 2008 and passed his leadership to his brother Raul.

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis which brought the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war over Soviet nuclear missiles stationed in Cuba, the U.S. made a secret agreement not to invade Cuba(again, see Bay of Pigs invasion)  but we never made any promises about not trying to knock Castro off. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet intelligence agencies were both very active in trying to overthrow governments all over the world along ideological lines, especially in South and Central America.

An Exploding Cigar And A Laced Cigar

Cuban cigars, called by some the world’s finest tobacco, were the guilty pleasure of many influential people, one of which was former President John F. Kennedy, who bought 1,200 Cuban cigars before implementing the US embargo on Cuba.