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Document Friday: Juanita Castro Speaks Her Mind

December 11, 2009

This week’s “hot doc” is a December 1969 State Department memcon entitled “Cuban Exile Action-Groups – Plans to Invade Cuba,” which offers a snapshot into the personality of Juanita Castro—the sister of Fidel and Raul Castro—and the historic conflict between the US and Cuba.

Juanita Castro recently made headlines when she revealed that she had been recruited by the CIA in Havana and became a key player in the Agency’s espionage network during the early years of the revolution. Her CIA code name was “Donna,” she admits in a new memoir, Fidel y Raul, Mis Hermanos: La Historia Secreta. She helped the CIA spy on her Fidel’s revolutionary regime under the condition that she would not support any effort to assassinate him or undertake violent operations against Cuba. After Juanita Castro went into exile in 1964, she maintained contacts with militant members of such violent groups as ALPHA 66 and RECE, led by Jorge Mas Canosa, which engaged in acts of terrorism and were dedicated to overthrowing her brother by force. Clearly, she developed an affinity for their efforts and their cause. In a peculiar display of solidarity, according to this week’s “hot doc,” thirty years ago this month she approached the US government seeking their preventative arrest to keep them from going to Cuba, getting caught and, presumably, executed.

On December 19, 1969, Juanita met with State Department official Matthew D. Smith. She began their conversation “with something of a diatribe” against the Nixon administration, Smith reported, for threatening to arrest exile militants who were using Florida as a base for armed incursions into Cuba. She noted that the last infiltration team had been caught and executed by her brother. Nevertheless, members of ALPHA 66 and RECE were planning another incursion before the end of the year, she warned, “as a matter of honor.”

“She then came to what appears to be the point of her visit,” Smith wrote in his memcon: “to suggest that USG enforcement agencies should arrest the individuals before they could go!”

When Smith said he needed names and evidence of a crime being plotted to be able to orchestrate such arrests, Juanita said she would try to convince the plotters that this was the “only honorable way out” for them. “She was most anxious to ensure that the ‘brave men’ who were so determined to arrive in Cuba before January 1, 1970, did not ‘throw away their lives in a useless, romantic gesture.’”

How this curious story of counterrevolution and the Castros ended could not be determined. As the 51st anniversary of the Cuban revolution quickly approaches, the secret archives of the US government continue to yield new and bizarre pieces of information about an era of the US-Cuban conflict which, historically speaking, has yet to be fully laid to rest.

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