There's an old joke about economists -- if you took every single one in the world and laid them all end-to-end, they still wouldn't reach a conclusion -- that could also probably be told about historians of the Kennedy assassination. Their books are often fiercely contentious, festooned with bitter criticism of one another.
Brian Latell's book Castro's Secrets: The CIA And Cuba's Intelligence Machine will doubtless have its own legions of bitter critics and stalwart defenders. Already the book's thesis -- that Fidel Castro knew in advance that Lee Harvey Oswald planned to take a shot at President Kennedy that day in Dallas -- is stirring up arguments among old assassination hands.
"The notion of Castro being in any way connected to the assassination is preposterous on its face," snorts Vincent Bugliosi, the former California prosecutor who put mass murderer Charles Manson in jail and is the author of an encyclopedic 1.5-million-word book on the assassination called Reclaiming History.
"The notion that Castro would do something that would result in the blowing up of his own country -- which is exactly what would have happened if anyone found out -- is just crazy.... There's no evidence he knew what was on Oswald's mind. Oswald himself did not know what was on his mind."
Like Bugliosi, Edward Jay Epstein -- author of the recent e-book The JFK Assassination Theories, as wells as three trailblazing works published between 1966 and 1978 -- hasn't read Castro's Secrets yet. (It won't reach stores for another month.) But he thinks a Castro connection to Kennedy's death is not only plausible, but likely.
"There is no doubt that Castro knew about the CIA plans to assassinate him, and he warned the American government that he knew by telling a reporter about it," Epstein said. "If a Mafia leader did that same thing, and the next day the other guy was found dead, that would be a prima facie case and he'd be the lead suspect."
Gus Russo, author of two books of his own (Live By The Sword and Brothers In Arms) that tie the assassination to Castro, using some of the same evidence that Latell does, agrees: "Most people do agree that Kennedy was trying to murder Castro. So why isn't Castro the No. 1 suspect?"
Miami Beach writer Gerald Posner is author of the enormously popular and influential Case Closed, which debunked some of the most popular assassination conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, Posner thinks Latell may be onto something. "If there's an area of the case where something new still could emerge, it's the part connected to the CIA and Castro," he said. "There's always a possibility that the Cubans knew what Oswald was going to do because of his visit to their embassy in Mexico City. And if the Cubans knew, so did the Soviets and so did the CIA, because they were all monitoring each other like crazy. You could have a whole new ballgame."
But any scenario involving Castro even indirectly in the assassination is unlikely, argues Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive and author of several books about U.S.-Cuba relations in the Kennedy era. "In the last several months of his life, Kennedy sent several peace feelers to Castro," Kornbluh said. "Kennedy even had a guy in Cuba [French journalist Jean Daniel] talking to Castro about rapprochement at the moment of the assassination. Why would Castro want to do anything that encourage the murder of the first American president willing to talk about coexistence with the Cuban revolution?"
Historian Max Holland, however, isn't impressed with that argument. "Yes, Kennedy was quietly talking peace, but at the same time there's no doubt there was a plan for engineering a military coup in Cuba, as a part of which Castro would be killed," said the author of The Kennedy Assassination Tapes. "These two things may seem contradictory, but I'm not sure they really were. I think the idea was to make Castro lower his guard, make him think we weren't after him, and then...well, get him."