Castro: 'Oswald Could Not Have Been the One Who Killed Kennedy'

Self-preservation was also on his mind in the days after the assassination. He understood, he said, that he would be blamed for J.F.K.’s death, especially after it was learned that Oswald had vociferously opposed American policy toward Castro’s Cuba. Castro tried hard to communicate to the Americans that he had nothing to do with J.F.K.’s death, and as Philip Shenon reports in his new book, A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, Fidel even arranged to be interviewed by a Warren Commission staffer on a yacht in the water off Cuba. “Immediately after the assassination, Castro very justifiably worried that he would be blamed, and he was worried that if he were blamed, there would be an American invasion of Cuba,” Shenon told me. But Castro’s denials were credible, Shenon said. Despite the many arguments advanced by conspiracy theorists, he said, “there is no credible evidence that Castro was involved personally in ordering the assassination.”

Whether Fidel’s agents or sympathizers encouraged Oswald, on a visit to Mexico, to assassinate J.F.K., is another question, one that Shenon explores in his book. “My question is whether people thinking that they were acting in Castro’s best interest might have provided the motivation,” he said. The second question: Whether Oswald believed that killing Kennedy was what Fidel Castro wanted him to do. “In September of 1963, Castro gives an interview to the AP in Havana in which he seems to suggest that Kennedy’s life is at risk: ‘I know the Americans are trying to kill me and if this continues there will be retribution,’ was the message," Shenon said. "This report runs in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and Oswald reads the Times-Picayune avidly. Perhaps Oswald said, ‘Ah ha, I’m going to kill Kennedy.’”

This is what might be called the Jodie Foster theory of the Kennedy assassination: Oswald sought to demonstrate his loyalty to the man he admired above all others, Fidel Castro, by killing the president.

Fidel told us at lunch—as he would—that none of his associates or officials had anything to do with the assassination, and that the Cuban embassy in Mexico City, which Oswald had visited, denied him permission to visit Cuba, fearing that he was a provocateur.

I asked Fidel why he thought Oswald could not have acted alone. He proceeded to tell the table a long and discursive story about an experiment he staged, after the assassination, to see if it were possible for a sniper to shoot Kennedy in the manner the assassination was alleged to have happened. “We had trained our people in the mountains during the war”—the Cuban revolution—“on these kind of telescopic sights. So we knew about this kind of shooting. We tried to recreate the circumstances of this shooting, but it wasn’t possible for one man to do. The news I had received is that one man killed Kennedy in his car with a rifle, but I deducted that this story was manufactured to fool people.”

He said his suspicions grew especially pronounced after Oswald was killed. “There was the story of Jack Ruby, who was said to be so moved by the death of Kennedy that he decided to shoot Oswald on his own. That was just unbelievable to us.”

I then asked Castro to tell us what he believes actually happened. I brought up the name of his friend, Oliver Stone, who suggested that it was the CIA and a group of anti-Castro Cubans (I used the term “anti-you Cubans” to describe these forces aligned against Castro) that plotted the assassination.

“Quite possibly,” he said. “This is quite possibly so. There were people in the American government who thought Kennedy was a traitor because he didn’t invade Cuba when he had the chance, when they were asking him. He was never forgiven for that.”

So that’s what you think might have happened?

“No doubt about it,” Fidel answered.

We talked a bit more about Kennedy and his legacy. He told us about his many subsequent contacts with members of Kennedy’s family, including with Maria Shriver. “She’s the one who married Schwarzenegger,” he said. “The world is a very small place.”

We turned to other subjects, but Fidel came back to Kennedy once more, the next day, when he said to me, apropos of nothing, “Kennedy was very young.”

I later asked Julia Sweig what this might have meant. For Castro, she said, Kennedy may forever stand for something out of reach. “He’ll never know what would have happened had J.F.K. lived. He may have reserved for Kennedy in his own mind the possibility of greatness. It’s completely fascinating and frustrating to him.”

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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