10. “A Carefully Thought Out Plot”

Title Quote: Antonio Veciana

In 1961, Veciana was involved in an assassination attempt against Fidel Castro—that much is certain. Given Veciana’s lack of credibility when reporting facets of his life story and the ambiguities surrounding his discernable biography, the challenge for researchers is to determine which plot he was involved in and the nature of his participation. Veciana’s earliest version of the story, as told to reporter Jay Mallin in November of 1961, goes as follows.1

In October of 1960, Veciana rented apartment number 8A at Residencial Misiones No. 29 in Havana and installed his mother-in-law to avoid suspicion. This eighth-floor dwelling provided a perfect view of the north terrace of Castro’s Presidential Palace. The plan was to launch a bazooka from the apartment during a celebration for the return of Cuban President Dorticós on October 5, 1961. Since the distance from the apartment to the north terrace was reportedly a mere 120 yards, Castro would be a sitting duck.

On the day before the celebration, Veciana smuggled the bazooka into the apartment in a gift-wrapped package concealed in a lamp. Although the area was heavily patrolled, Castro’s guards never suspected anything untoward evidently due to the cleverness of Veciana’s ruse. The next day, the rally proceeded as planned but the bazooka inexplicably failed to fire.

While the basic shell of Veciana’s story as told to Mallin remains, his 2017 book inexplicably adds details that Veciana never related to Mallin, Fonzi or anyone else. And, as he regularly does, Veciana included Bishop/Phillips as an integral part of the revised story.2

In his final version of the story as told in Chapter One, the apartment is still number 8A, but the building is now a structure at Avenida de las Misiones (Avenue of the Missions). Veciana was able to obtain the apartment because the American spy who lived there was returning to the United States. The apartment was a meeting place for agency operatives and indeed the alert Cubans had observed Bishop/Phillips there. The Cubans had also observed Veciana on September 15th when he met with the “core group of assassins.” Despite this apparent intense surveillance, the Cubans were somehow still fooled by Veciana’s package hidden in a lamp and failed to confront him. Also curious is the fact that Veciana says his mother-in-law had to sign a lease even though his description of the apartment indicates that it had all the characteristics of a CIA-operated safehouse.

According to Veciana, ten thousand souls filled the plaza at the Presidential Palace on the night of the planned attack. Despite the scrutiny by Cuban authorities, the assassins waited in the apartment ready to strike. They were Bernardo Paradela, Luis Caicedo, and a man known only to Veciana as “Freddy.” The assassins, dressed in Cuban military uniforms, would escape after the attack on Castro with the help of co-conspirators in the crowd using diversionary grenades and pistol shots. Veciana himself, however, was not in the apartment. At the urging of Bishop/Phillips, the previous night he and his mother-in-law had left for “the coast” where he had arranged for a small boat to take them to the United States.

What is the truth about Veciana’s involvement in a 1961 Castro assassination plot?

When the term “Castro assassination plot” is mentioned, most people think of something like the infamous 1963 AM/LASH plot when the CIA provided Rolando Cubela Secades with a poison pen.3 Less known are the Castro plots that occurred in 1960 and 1961. In January of 1960, the Special Group, a subcommittee of the National Security Council consisting of the National Security Advisor, the assistant secretaries of state and defense and the CIA director, authorized “covert contingency planning” against the Communist regime.4 Only two months later, President Eisenhower had approved a formal plan to overthrow Castro.5

While Eisenhower’s plan did not explicitly mention assassination, it did establish the principle of using Cuban exiles to remove Castro without overt American involvement.6 Accordingly, exiles who were agents or assets of the agency were involved in assassination efforts that contained no direct link back to Langley. Only two of these plots, Operations Patty and Liborio, jibe with Veciana’s biography.

The available information regarding these “hidden” assassination plots (so christened by San Francisco author and researcher Bill Simpich) comes primarily from three sources—CIA files, Cuban State Security files and the dubious and often contradictory recollections of Veciana and other alleged participants. The Cuban version of events has long been promoted by Fabian Escalante who was Castro’s Head of State Security. Unfortunately, Escalante has been engaged in a disinformation campaign for years, the purpose of which is to blame the CIA for the assassination of President Kennedy and other unsubstantiated misdeeds.7 Naturally, the CIA has sought to place their own spin on all their covert actions. Despite these hurdles, enough commonality exists among these disparate sources of information to ascertain Veciana’s true role in the 1961 plots.

In the most often told version, Operation Patty was scheduled to culminate on July 26, 1961, with the assassinations of Fidel Castro in Havana and Raul Castro in Santiago. A simultaneous provocation would be launched from Guantanamo Bay to trigger an invasion by US forces.8 The effective genesis of Patty was a May 15th trip to Miami by Alfredo Izaguirre Revoi, a former journalist and member of the Unidad Revolucionaria (UR). Izaguirre, who was debriefed on that occasion by a JMWAVE case officer, stated he represented most of the anti-Castro factions excluding the MRP who had recently stopped resistance activities at Manuel Ray’s direction.9 Izaguirre made it clear that the purpose of his visit was to answer two essential questions. First, would the US continue to provide “material and financial assistance” to resistance groups? Secondly, what was the new plan to overthrow Castro and how could “inside elements” be most useful in achieving that goal?10

The next leg of Izaguirre’s journey saw him fly to Washington to meet with Robert Wiecha of the CIA.11 Izaguirre was initially quite tense and reluctant to speak with Wiecha even though the pair were already acquainted. Their late-night conversation on May 20th extended into the early morning of the 21st and centered on the mood among the anti-Castro groups following the Bay of Pigs disaster. Izaguirre told Wiecha that he was adamantly opposed to paying a ransom for the Bay of Pigs prisoners. “There is nothing special about these men,” he insisted, and maintained that such a release would be “an affront to the thousands of internal assets who have been jailed and executed with no one going to their aid.” Izaguirre also complained about the way he and other CIA assets had been handled by the agency.

On May 22nd or shortly thereafter, the “determined” Izaguirre began a series of key meetings in the US capital. According to Escalante, Izaguirre had a conference with CIA agent Gerald Droller (alias Frank Bender) which served as a getting-acquainted session. Droller informed Izaguirre about the Taylor Commission and their investigation into the Bay of Pigs.12 Sometime later, Izaguirre went to the Pentagon to meet with General Maxwell Taylor himself.13 Izaguirre told Taylor that “all of the men in all of the clandestine organizations in Cuba” could not overthrow Castro. Izaguirre went away from that session with assurances that the US would provide the resources desired by the resistance movement but that they should not expect that “the Marines will come in cold.”14 Izaguirre later confided to Droller that one take-away from the discussions was that the US needed a pretext to invade Cuba and an attack on Guantanamo would provide such an excuse.15

If Escalante is correct and the Patty plot did involve a Guantanamo provocation, then the involvement of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) on some level would be necessary. However, the evidence of such involvement is sketchy, at least as far as original sources are concerned. Much of what is cited by authors and researchers originates with the book Deadly Secrets by Warren Hinckle and William Turner. The authors report that New York Times correspondent Tad Szulc stated in a 1975 Esquire magazine article that he was “vaguely aware” of a “scheme elaborated by Military Intelligence officers … to kill Castro and his brother … using Cuban marksmen who were to be infiltrated into Cuba from the United States Naval base at Guantanamo.” Hinckle and Turner go on to describe an ONI plot and name the potential assassins as Luis Balbuena and Alonzo Gonzales, citing interviews with the former by authorities.16

A key individual supporting at least the idea of nefarious goings on at Guantanamo is none other than Fidel Castro himself. “Castro’s Black Book” was a document given to Senator George McGovern in 1975 that contained assertions based on Cuban Intelligence. According to Castro, the plotters attended a “conspiracy” session at Guantanamo where they received, “a lot of warlike material and equipment.” One of the “most aggressive organizers” at this meeting was Navy Captain Carl Schoenweiss. It should be noted that the chronology of the anti-Castro plots indicates that this alleged confab would fall under the auspices of Operation Liborio rather than Patty.

A scholar who supports the theory of ONI involvement in Operation Patty is Bill Simpich. In his article “The Hidden Castro Assassination Plots,” Simpich provides additional support for Balbuena’s involvement in Patty and his association with ONI. Simpich writes that Balbuena was “scooped up” by ONI after the CIA lost interest in him. Furthermore, Simpich believes that Balbuena was in “direct contact” with Harold “Hal” Feeney who was Chief of Intelligence at Guantanamo. Support for Feeney’s potential involvement in such a plan is offered by researcher and author John Newman in his book Into the Storm. Newman quotes Feeney as saying that he had his own “espionage ring” at the base. Lastly, Newman points out that Hinckle and Turner noted that Izaguirre’s boss was a “Navy Lieutenant Commander,” which was Feeney’s rank.17

In late May, Izaguirre returned to Cuba and began the task of uniting the counterrevolutionary groups. In early June, he had a meeting with the heads of the various anti-Castro organizations at the FOCSA building in an exclusive Havana neighborhood. At the meeting, Carlos Bandin was designated to head a coalition of the factions while Izaguirre and José Pujals Mederos, another CIA recruit, were charged with maintaining liaison with the agency.18 In late June, Jorge García Rubio, who served as radio operator for Patty, transmitted the final details of the plan to the agency. On July 12, Pujals traveled to the US to give a report on the operation.19

According to the best information available, Patty was to proceed in the following manner. On July 26th, a series of coordinated actions designed to encourage a general uprising were to begin that included sabotage of the infrastructure and the assassination of leading revolutionaries. However, the main events would take place in Santiago and Havana where Raul and Fidel respectively would be assassinated during celebrations for the holiday. At the same time, the Guantanamo provocation would begin in the form of mortar attacks on both the US Naval base and the nearby Cuban military instillation. The purpose of these raids was to make both sides believe that the other was attacking thereby creating a general conflict on the island. The resulting chaos would provide the excuse for US intervention and the removal of the remainder of the Castro regime.20 But it was not to be. On or about July 22nd, Cuban State Security forces arrested Izaguirre and the other principal plotters effectively dismantling Operation Patty.21

According to Escalante, Veciana had been a part of a contingency plan for Patty since early 1961. The key component of the plan involved Veciana’s acquisition of an apartment overlooking the Presidential Palace where Fidel made public appearances.22 But Veciana was likely involved in the plan that would ultimately become Liborio much sooner than Escalante realized.

Escalante says that the CIA “ordered Veciana” to began studying the area around the palace in “early 1961” which would place the acquisition of the apartment sometime after that.23 Roughly confirming Escalante’s statement is an HSCA record from the file of Reinol Gonzales dated November of 1961. The file states that Veciana rented the apartment for “the last eight months” which would place the acquisition in March. However, Veciana told Mallin that he rented the apartment in October of 1960.24 With no apparent reason to lie about this and considering that the Mallin article appeared in November of 1961, years before Veciana’s Maurice Bishop and related tales, it seems reasonable to believe him in this instance.

Indeed, apparent confirmation of Veciana’s early involvement in this contingency plot comes from a meeting that he had on December 7, 1960, with Havana CIA Chief of Station James Noel, the first of three times that he approached the agency for assistance with his anti-Castro endeavors. Accompanying him on that day was Felix Fernandez Yarzabal, who was previously associated with the Agrapucion Montecristi, an anti-Batista group formed in the early fifties.

Veciana provided Noel with the startling information that a “carefully thought out plot” was underway to wipe out Castro and “his top associates.” Only a “handful” of individuals were aware of the plot including Veciana himself and the four assassins. Veciana went on to say that “his people” were aware of a site where Castro and his men held meetings and had “cased” this site and prepared for the attack. This “site” could very well have been the Presidential Palace which Veciana would have had two months to stake out if his statement to Mallin that he obtained the apartment in October is accurate.

To make the assassination happen, Veciana told Noel that he needed ten visas for the family members of the assassins, four “Garand” rifles and grenades and grenade adapters. But Noel turned Veciana down cold and “gave him no encouragement whatsoever.” Apparently undaunted by the refusal, Veciana advised Noel that he had previously spoken to a State Department political officer about the same potential operation and told Noel to call him if the agency changed its mind. Noel later checked with the State Department officer who told him that Veciana had indeed made “similar wild-eyed proposals.”25

One question has always been why would Veciana approach the CIA as well as the State Department for assistance if he knew he was working on behalf of a CIA-backed plot to kill Castro? Indeed, Veciana’s actions make little sense even if one believes his Maurice Bishop story since Bishop was supposedly running his activities and providing him with whatever he needed. One possibility is that the CIA offered only limited support for the operation to retain “plausible deniability.” A second explanation is that Veciana initially did not know who was behind the scheme. Veciana’s inadvisable approach to Noel and other officials may have been due to overeagerness and he was probably quickly advised to suspend such activity.

Despite Veciana’s inability to acquire Noel’s assistance, the contingency plot remained active albeit on the back burner. But after the failure of Operation Patty, the plan was quickly given a green light with the CIA ordering Pujals, who had been in meetings in Washington during the Patty arrests, to:26

… coordinate an operation whose codename would be Liborio, which would include assassinating the Cuban leader, launching an extensive sabotage and terrorism campaign, and orchestrating, in conjunction with the Catholic hierarchy, a psychological warfare project designed to discredit the revolution in the eyes of the people.

According to Castro’s Black Book, Pujals’ Washington meetings included the CIA’s Calvin Hicks as well as Droller and Harold Bishop.27 A second source says that rather than Droller, it was Jim Pekich using the alias Jim Bowden at the meetings. Pujals was infiltrated back into Cuba near the end of July. He met with Reinol Gonzalez, who was the Cuban leader of the MRP, Octavio Barroso Gomes and Veciana around the first of August to discuss the new Liborio initiative.28

But like its predecessor, Liborio was doomed to failure. On August 8th, the operation began to unravel when Pujals and Barroso were arrested at Barroso’s home after Cuban Intelligence was alerted. On September 25th, the Cuban government announced the arrest of a dozen men for plotting to kill Castro.29 The final nail in the coffin for Liborio came on September 29 when MRP member Dalia Jorge was caught in the act of planting a bomb at a Sears store. It appears that Jorge was an informant for the Cubans since all her contacts were arrested while those who were not her contacts were not. On October 1st, Gonzalez sent a letter to MRP leaders in the US detailing the Jorge arrest and admitting that Operation Liborio had “failed.”30

Determining exactly how and why the Veciana-Gonzalez bazooka plot failed is a tall order. In his book, Veciana offered yet another new story to explain the failure of the bazooka plot. Veciana claimed that Paradela, who he says was one of the assassins, told him “much later” that giant lights such as those used at the “Academy Awards” were shone on the apartment negating the plan. Veciana also claimed that the Cubans knew about the plot and had linked him to Phillips and the CIA.31 But available documents tell a different story.

In Trained to Kill, Veciana claimed that the small boat represented his intended means of escape from the outset.32 But in a 1979 interview, Gonzalez said that Veciana was one of three men who were to have “gone up to the room.” Instead, Veciana “got cold feet and took off for the states.” Gonzalez also said that one of the three assassins, Raul Venta Del Maza, went to the apartment but did not fire the weapon for unknown reasons. An unnamed third man never showed at the apartment.

A second document backs up Gonzalez's version of events. According to this “most accurate story” Veciana and Gonzalez agreed that they would “leave Cuba by boat simultaneously but separately after the shooting [of the bazooka]” (emphasis in original). Veciana’s mother-in-law, who was reported to weigh in at a hefty 225 pounds, was indeed to leave the day before the attack (presumably with assistance by boat) but not Veciana himself. After the attack failed, Veciana speculated that the assassins “lost their nerve" or that the bazooka “failed to work.” Still, Veciana was concerned that he had “let the underground down” by leaving Cuba “unexplainably” the day before the attempt.33

One thing is certain—Veciana indeed left the island nation the day before the attack, likely taking a small boat from Boca de Jaruco, a fishing village just east of Havana. For his part, Gonzalez was arrested at the Amador Odio farm on October 11th and Operation Liborio was dead.34

Go to Chapter 11
The Bishop Hoax: Table of Contents


1. Jay Mallin. “A Bazooka Didn’t Fire in Havana and Castro Talked On.” The Miami News, November 23, 1961, 6.
2. Throughout this book the designation “Bishop/Phillips” will be used to refer to what I believe is the imaginary character Veciana eventually deemed “Maurice Bishop” and in 2013 claimed was David Phillips.
3. Russo, Live By the Sword, 240.
4. Rasenberger, The Brilliant Disaster, 49.
5. Rasenberger, The Brilliant Disaster, 55.
6. Rasenberger, The Brilliant Disaster, 56.
7. For example, Escalante appeared at a conference of JFK conspiracy-oriented researchers in 1995 which foreseeably was the same year his book, The Secret War, was published. Escalante told these potential book buyers what they wanted to hear—that the CIA was behind JFK’s death. The motive? “Kennedy became an obstacle to US military aggression against Cuba,” Escalante maintained. “There were two objectives to the plot—to kill Kennedy and to blame Cuba for the crime,” he concluded (Russell, “JFK & the Cuban Connection”). Escalante’s source for these allegations has always been “secret Cuban files.” The CIA was obviously an enemy of the Castro regime so Escalante’s animus toward that agency is understandable. However, authors such as Gus Russo (Live by the Sword) and Brian Latell (Castro’s Secrets) have postulated that Castro’s acolytes may have motivated Oswald to kill JFK or withheld knowledge of the planned deed. If such allegations are true, it would naturally provide an even greater motive for Escalante’s disinformation campaign.
8. Escalante, The Secret War, 92-93. Luis Torroella, a former employee in Cuba’s Ministry of the Treasury who was given the CIA cryptonym AMBLOOD, was arrested at about this time for plotting to kill Fidel. Escalante says that Torroella’s mission was to coordinate “the counterrevolutionary organizations in the eastern provinces” presumably as a part of Operation Patty (Escalante, 93). But in Deadly Secrets, Hinckle and Turner claim that Torroella was a part of yet another operation to kill Castro that was separate from Patty and Liborio (Hinckle and Turner, 116).
9. Interestingly, Ray told Fonzi that the 1961 assassination plot against Castro was, “not officially planned or sanctioned” by the MRP. Ray also said there was “no indication at the time” that any American was “behind Veciana’s planning of the assassination attempt,” (RIF 180-10093-10063).
10. CIA message from JMWAVE to Bell, May 17, 1961, RIF 104-10226-10181. The message uses Izaguirre’s known alias of Luis Ravelo; Escalante, The Secret War, 90-91.
11. The conspiracy-minded Escalante has Izaguirre meeting in Miami with “David Phillips and Jack (sic) Esterline.” But Phillips was still working out of DC then just before his reassignment to Mexico and such an encounter is very unlikely. At this alleged confab, Escalante has those present “damning” the Kennedy brothers after the Bay of Pigs failure. Unverified accusations such as this helped to fuel the false perception that Phillips was anti-JFK.
12. Escalante, The Secret War, 90.
13. Arboleya, The Cuban Counterrevolution, 93-94.
14. Escalante, The Secret War, 90; Arboleya, 93-94 has essentially the same information without Escalante’s precise quotes.
15. Escalante, The Secret War, 90-91.
16. Hinckle and Turner, Deadly Secrets, 113-115.
17. Newman, Into the Storm, 287-288.
18. Arboleya, The Cuban Counterrevolution, 94-95.
19. Escalante, The Secret War, 93.
20. Escalante, The Secret War, 92-93. Note that nothing in the US archives supports the contention that a US invasion was planned at the time of Patty.
21. Escalante, The Secret War, 94. On page 289 of his book Into the Storm, Newman says the arrest of Izaguirre was on the 21st. In a third version of the arrest taken from an obituary of Izaguirre by Brigade 2506 member Jorge Gutierrez Izaguirre, the date is given as July 18th and the place was the FOCSA building in Havana (Jorge Gutierrez Izaguirre, “Goodbye to Alfredo Izaguirre, Unwavering Warrior for Cuba”).
22. Escalante, The Secret War, 96.
23. Escalante, The Secret War, 96.
24. Jay Mallin. “A Bazooka Didn’t Fire in Havana and Castro Talked On.” The Miami News, November 23, 1961, 6.
25. CIA Cable from Havana to Director, December 9, 1960, RIF 104-10181-10434.
26. Escalante, The Secret War, 96.
27. Simpich thinks that “Harold Bishop” may have been Harold Swenson. One fact supporting his contention is that Swenson was a member of a “confidential reporting service” known as “Bishop’s Service” (Newman, Into the Storm, 291).
28. Escalante, The Secret War, 97. The spelling of Gonzalez’s first name is uncertain and is variously given as Reinol, Reinaldo, Reino, Reynold and Reynol. Reinol is used here since most CIA documents feature this spelling.
29. Associated Press. “Cuba Nabs 12 in Plot to Kill Castro.” The Burlington Free Press, September 25, 1961, 22. Although the Cubans represented the arrests as being related to one massive plot, that was not the case. One of the arrests they reported was that of Izaguirre who was nabbed in July.
30. FBI Memo, “Cuban Rebel Activities in Cuba,” December 7, 1961, 2 (MFF). RIF 104-10217-10247. When Gonzales wrote that Liborio “failed” he was likely referring to the sabotage aspects of the plot and not the bazooka attack which he undoubtedly hoped would still come off.
31. Veciana with Harrison, Trained to Kill, 16-17.
32. Veciana with Harrison, Trained to Kill, 12-13.
33. A serious discrepancy in the Veciana story is revealed in Dick Russell’s book On the Trail of the JFK Assassins. According to Russell, whose information came from an interview with Veciana, the latter was forced to “flee Cuba” by boat after Castro got wind of the plots. So far, so good. But in this Veciana-authored version of the tale, Bishop “stayed on [in Cuba] undetected.” Therefore, if this version of the story is to be believed, Phillips could not be Bishop since the CIA man left Cuba permanently in 1960.
34. CIA Memo from (Withheld) to William Sturbitts, May 28, 1979. RIF 104-10217-10082. In yet another version of events, Felix Zabala claimed that he, Veciana and Bernardo Pradreres (also known as Bernardo Paradela) were the ones who tried to kill Castro with a bazooka. The plot failed when the weapon became inoperable after being buried for an extended time (RIF 104-10422-10269).


  1. Fascinating stuff. I particularly appreciate your note about the unreliability of Escalante, who is often treated as a reliable source. I still find this attitude incredible. Cuba provided not one scrap of paper from the DGI archives to any of the U.S. investigations, so that there is no documentary confirmation for any of his statements. A detailed check of everything he says is essential to sift out the wheat from the chaff.

    1. Thanks Robert, I appreciate your continued interest.


Powered by Blogger.