Whether that figure is accurate or not, Cuba’s iconic dictator provided an almost-mythical adversary for what became an obsessive, error-prone assassination campaign by the CIA.
The agency’s attempts to kill Castro ranged from the calamitous to the comical. Many of them were detailed by the Church Committee, a special Senate subcommittee headed by Democratic Sen. Frank Church in 1975.
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Following Castro’s death Saturday, here are seven of the most remarkable.
1. The Exploding Cigar
Perhaps the most famous attempt to kill Castro came in 1960 when the CIA poisoned a box of his favorite cigars.
Just a year after Castro seized power, the agency spiked the cigars with a botulinum toxin strong enough to kill anybody who put one in their mouth.
The cigars were delivered to an “an unidentified person” in 1961, according to the subcommittee, but it’s unclear what happened to them after that.
Needless to say, they were never chewed by “El Comandante.”
2. The Reluctant Cuban
Months earlier, at the end of President Dwight Eisenhower’s term, the CIA used a series of middlemen to enlist two gangsters to help with Castro’s removal.
The agency was willing to pay $150,000 (at least $1.2 million in today’s money), according to the Church Committee’s report.
These mobsters were Sam Giancana, the boss of the Chicago mob, and Santos Trafficant, the head of the mob’s Cuban operations. Both of them were members of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.
Giancana suggested that poison pills were more reliable than guns, so the CIA provided six pills of “high lethal content” to a cash-strapped Cuban official who had access to Castro, the subcommittee said.
However, after several unsuccessful attempts the Cuban got cold feet and the plan was abandoned.
3. The Painted Seashell
Undeterred, the CIA tried an even more elaborate plan in 1963.
Intelligence officials thought they could use Castro’s love of scuba-diving to topple him. They planned to hide explosives inside a large seashell and paint it with exotic colors to lure the attention of the ocean-loving communist.
Like many others, this idea was “discarded as impractical,” according to the committee’s report.
4. The Contaminated Diving Suit
The same year, the CIA planned to contaminate one of Castro’s diving suits with a fungus that would produce a chronic and debilitating skin disease.
The diving suit, as well as an infected breathing apparatus, was meant to be given to Castro by the American lawyer James Donovan, who had been involved in hostage negotiations with the Cuban leader.
This plan was abandoned after Donovan gave Castro a different suit.