September 14, 2017


An accountant by trade at the time of Batista’s fall, Veciana was recruited in 1959 by a man he knew as “Maurice Bishop” and ushered him into a world of espionage, sabotage and murder.
Veciana willingly embraced the anti-Castro resistance, and was “trained” into what became his new life; “I became an irresponsible risk taker,” he admits. (pg. 87)
Among the principles of espionage that he was taught (pg. 63-64):
-           Always maintain a double personality, disguising your real activity
-           Use whatever is necessary in your battle plan. Your enemy is perverse by nature and will not hesitate to use whatever means necessary against you.
-           Be bold in your objectives. Anything is possible if you plan well enough.
To become an effective secret agent, Veciana would also need to learn that “people are his tools, and his targets. They are to be used as means to his ends. If your interests align, they’re allies. If they have no interest, they’re instruments. If they oppose your interests, they’re enemies.” (pg. 72)
Bishop pushed the idea that “if you need them, you use them. You just have to find their weaknesses. Everyone has one. That’s the key.” (pg. 72) Bishop found Veciana’s weakness; a seething hate for Fidel Castro.
The world of espionage became exciting and mysterious to Veciana, even as he contemplated the potential cost to his family. “Commando teams and submarines are the stuff of Hollywood films,” Bishop said. “You need to be aware that your only shields are your own intelligence and your ability to deceive.” (pg. 75)
“Bishop had told me to embellish, exaggerate, outright lie if I wanted to, all for the sake of making our belligerence seem more capable, and more threatening.” (pg. 117)
Veciana’s first major success was Operation Pedro Pan, a misinformation campaign resulting in 14,000 Cuban children being sent to the U.S. for fear that “Castro” was about to remove them from their homes.  This was his first “act” and it became but one element of the larger CIA plan for the invasion (at Bay of Pigs).  
Despite his better judgement, Veciana says at age 88 that he would do this again. And yet, the following paragraph shows more conscience and humanity than you’ll see in any of his associates.
“It had not been my intention to divide families. I am sorry for those who were hurt. My goal had been only to deepen the discontent with the government, to sow more instability, and, hopefully, to create the conditions for its downfall. I succeeded in the first two; I failed in the last.” (pg. 92)
From the early days of 1960, anti-Castro “sabotage and attacks... came by ground, on the water, from the air,” writes Veciana. (pg. 93)
“Bishop contended that the fundamental purpose of a clandestine operative was to cause psychological or economic sabotage. Sometimes, that required bombs.” (pg. 93)
Many of the terrorist bombings that took place in 1960 were planned by Veciana; the bomb at the Cantabria bar, the bomb in the America Theater, in the cafeteria of the Flogar Department Store in mid-Havana, the New Year’s Eve arson fire at La Epoca, other arson fires at a tobacco warehouse, at the El Encanto department store, and more.
In true CIA fashion, Veciana planned and organized and supplied and sat back… he didn’t ever blow up anything, attempt to shoot anyone or get his hands dirty.
“I abandoned the propaganda tactics Bishop had taught me in favor of more direct, and violent, means. I was never what we in Cuba call a ‘man of action.’ Not direct action, anyway. I remained behind the scenes, using my administrative skills to organize and plan these violent disruptions. I built small cells of resistance fighters and discovered a talent for strategizing I never knew I had. (pg. 94)
“I became a terrorist.” (pg. 94)
After an aborted attempt on Castro’s life (with a bazooka) Veciana relocated to Florida in October, 1961. Sometime later he was instructed by Bishop to organize a new effort, so Veciana founded Alpha 66 with Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, “one of the bravest men I have ever known, a simple, soft-spoken man who let his actions speak more loudly than any words ever could.” (pg. 110) This was one of the first anti-Castro para-military groups. They operated with varying degrees of CIA support (& funding) and the FBI looking the other way through the rest of the 1960s. Their operations included sabotage, terrorism, assassination attempts and violent intimidation of Castro sympathizers.
People were organized. Plans were made. Weapons were procured. Shots were fired. People died. People were wounded. Things burned. Stories were told. Ships full of men made their way in the dark, and so on. But in the real world, the Cuban government was never more than annoyed by Alpha 66. Eventually Menoyo “invaded” Cuba, got caught right away and went to jail for 20 years.
Veciana continued his work as an anti-Castro operative for Bishop, this time in Puerto Rico, spying on groups that sought independence for their island. These groups were always blamed on Castro. Veciana was happy in San Juan. He ran a successful business and made good money.
Then, suddenly, Bishop shows up to warn him that he’s been found out. A bomb explodes and Veciana survives unhurt, but the attempt is blamed on pro-independence Puerto Ricans supplied and trained by Castro.
After Puerto Rico, Veciana is left with little choice but to accept Bishop’s offer of a job as an USAID advisor to Bolivia’s Central Bank. His task includes killing “the myth of El Che. Or at least to stop it from growing.” (pg. 138) He was not successful at this.
“USAID is just a front for the CIA. It put people like me in positions where they had a good reason to be asking a lot of questions, learning a lot about the internal workings of foreign governments and corporations, and developing valuable connections.” (pg. 137)
When the Cuban government announced that Castro would visit Chile, Bishop saw another opportunity to eliminate the tiresome dictator.  “It would be a chance to redeem myself,” wrote Veciana. “I had carried the shame for my failure for so long.” (pg. 158) In case you’re wondering, the “shame” he refers to is not being able to kill Castro.
Bishop insisted that “it” must be blamed on exiles, not the CIA. “It was important to recruit Cubans, and not just to give the CIA its plausible deniability. Exiles had the motive. Their hearts would be in it. That, I believe, was vital. They would be willing to commit. I wanted dedicated men, not mercenaries.” (pg. 160)
Bishop “was talking about something that subsequently turned out to be an all-too-common practice for the agency, ‘plausible deniability.’ It also sounded extremely similar to the kind of thinking that had led to the Bay of Pigs disaster.” (pg. 113)
They would try to kill Castro during a press conference. It wasn’t difficult to surmise this would be a suicide mission.
“The weapon of choice had to be small enough to fit inside a fully operational television camera, to remain hidden until the assassins were close enough, and to fire one or more shots, point blank, into Fidel’s throat and head.” (pg. 153)
Veciana became obsessed with this to the point where he put his family at risk.    
“My desire to kill Castro had consumed me. I was willing even to risk my children for that one purpose.” (pg. 154) The long drive he took with his family from Bolivia to Chile, with weapons hidden in the car, was meant to be a vacation. “This was the path to my future, the way to clear my past—the way to rid the world of Fidel Castro.” (pg.154)
While recruiting Alpha 66/Bay of Pigs alumni for the job in Chile, the fact that someone would have to trade their life for Castro’s becomes a factor (again). Veciana is told that “I have children. I have responsibilities. I can’t just go and give my life, no matter what it would accomplish.” (pg.161) But he keeps looking, never offering his own life in trade for Castro’s.
The two men chosen for the task, from El Poder Cubano, eventually find a last-minute way out. Castro’s safe, again, which angers Veciana and Bishop, and this is where they part ways; Bishop orders the murder of the 2 hitmen that aborted the Castro assassination.
“Kill them,” he said. “Make examples of them.” (pg. 173)
But Veciana refused.  “No,” I said. “I won’t. I don’t have the arrogance to order a man’s death when I stood at a safe distance, nowhere near the danger he faced.” (pg. 174)
 “I didn’t know it then, but that was the end for Bishop and me.” (pg. 174) (They did meet a few more times.) Within a few months his work in Bolivia ended, and he returned to Miami.
No longer having Bishop as a resource/instigator did not dissuade Veciana from pursuing his independent efforts against Castro. On his own, he planed an attempt against Ramiro Valdés, “one of the key figures in Castro’s government and one of the most hated among exiles.” (pg. 176). 
This ended in disaster when Veciana’s hitman, Juan Felipe de la Cruz, accidentally blew himself up in his Paris hotel room.  Around that time, in Miami, Veciana was arrested on “trumped up” drug trafficking charges. He implies this was done by Bishop, and their brief meeting is less than friendly.
Eighteen years after that first Bazooka attempt to kill Castro in Havana was aborted, Veciana is ready to do it again. This time in New York City, during a visit to the United Nations.
This was known by the FBI, yet Veciana was ready to go through with it, if not for the fact that his own daughter, now a journalist, had been assigned to cover Castro’s visit and may have been near him at the time of the attempt.  
Even if willing to trade the lives of other people’s daughters, most anti-Castro Cubans would not trade the lives of their own daughters.
This marked the end of the road for Veciana’s attempts on Fidel.  


In 1976, Veciana went before the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA).
HSCA was established due to public mistrust of the Warren Commission Report, but it ultimately supported the “single shooter” theory. It also clarified that Cuba or anti-Castro Cuban groups had not been involved in the JFK assassination.
 “I had testified in secret before a congressional panel. I told them about the assassination attempts against Castro and about El Che’s diary. I told them about Alpha 66 and about Oswald. And I told them how a man I knew only as Maurice Bishop had been responsible for it all.”
Veciana also testified that at a meeting, three months before JFK’s assassination, he saw “a man who looked like Bishop” talking to Lee Harvey Oswald
Veciana’s handler, Maurice Bishop turned out to be David Atlee Phillips (pictured), the CIA’s Chief of Operations for the Western Hemisphere.  His Bishop identity was known to only a few, but Veciana did not positively identify Philips as his Bishop, though head investigator Gaeton Fonzi already suspected as much.
Eventually the CIA found out about his testimony, and they were not happy about it, as this implicated the CIA in the JFK assassination. (Remember Bishop’s teaching: “If they oppose your interests, they’re enemies.”)
In September 1979, Veciana survived an attempt on his life. Four bullets were fired as he drove his truck, one entered his head, but it didn’t kill him. This was quickly blamed on… you guessed it; Castro.  
“So I kept quiet. I only said enough to let Phillips know that I remembered him introducing me to Oswald in the lobby of the Dallas office building.” (pg. 202)
After the attempt on his life, Veciana said that the man he saw with Oswald might have been somebody else. But in 2014, at a conference for the 50th Anniversary of the Warren Commission Report, he told the whole story for the first time.
In his new book, he writes that “before the House Select Committee on Assassinations finished its work, someone tried to silence me. With a bullet.”   
Not surprising to anyone familiar with the U.S.-Cuba situation, everything that Veciana did was against Castro. All the operations and actions and human tragedy… it was all against Castro. Never against the Cuban people. Bishop was convinced that eliminating Castro was the key to recovering Cuba. Veciana wanted to free Cuba.
The embargo is against Castro. Terrorism, sabotage? It’s OK if it’s against Castro.  
If a good man like Veciana can be drawn into an ideology that embraces murder as a tactic, couldn’t it happen to anyone? Such a metamorphosis is not that rare in human existence, but seems particularly frequent where our former island-colony is concerned.
And yet, Veciana embraces truths that the shrinking masses of anti-Castro supporters traditionally ignore.
He acknowledges that efforts against “Castro” have been a failure, yet he would do it again.  
He freely admits his belief that Luis Posada Carriles “was responsible for the bombing of Cubana de Aviación flight 455 and the deaths of all seventy-eight people on board…” (pg. 9) “It was a terrible thing. I would not have ordered it—all that carnage. I could not have lived with myself if it had come as a result of one of my plans.” (pg.161) Yet there’s no sign of guilt for the collective actions of his faction, or mention of efforts against Cuban-Americans that didn’t believe in a hardline approach.
Veciana recognizes that he’s been a terrorist. Most of those he associated with, Cubans and Americans, would never admit this, calling themselves “cold warriors” or “freedom fighters,” or even “patriots.”
He writes about Chilean President Salvador Guillermo Allende with seeming respect and admiration, even as he describes his own efforts against “Latin America’s first democratically elected Marxist.” (pg. 155) “More and more, I became a courier, delivering cash to Chilean officials and generals collaborating secretly with the United States.” (pg. 156)
There’s some Bin Laden type reasoning in the anti-Castro lobby that nobody wants to talk about. It goes back to the late 1950s… to men like Bishop and Dulles and Eisenhower and Nixon and that whole ideology of empire entitlement (religious entitlement’s second cousin). And it goes back to Veciana and others who suddenly felt a surge of patriotic hate against Castro and were easily manipulated to nurture that hate and turn it into an American sub-culture. And it still exists today in politicians that supported President Trump’s recent hardline turn towards the island.
Then there’s the Kennedy thing.
This is one thing that’s different about Veciana.
Veciana knows he was tricked and manipulated by Bishop (Philips). He acknowledges that the CIA plan was to “con” Kennedy to invade Cuba. But he never openly considers that the first part of Bishop’s plan was to “con” a bunch of Cuban exiles into doing the unthinkable and risking their lives so he could then “con” the President.
“The CIA’s plan, via Maurice Bishop, had always been to put the fight on Kennedy’s doorstep, to force him to take the offensive to end Cuba’s Communist government.” (pg. 112)
Kennedy wasn’t conned. He was assassinated, instead.
Veciana is the only anti-Castro Cuban I know of to express any understanding for JFK:
“I grew to have a more favorable opinion of the young president as the years went by. I began to appreciate the intensity of his efforts to ratchet down the dangers of the Cold War, to bring about the first nuclear test ban, and to lead the United States toward the loftier goals that his successor would proclaim as “The Great Society.” (pg. 119)
To this day, many Cuban-Americans continue to hold resentment towards Kennedy and the Democratic Party, not accepting that the President was conned just as they, themselves, were conned by the CIA. Part of this resentment also stems from the “deal” made between Kennedy and Khrushchev to end the Missile Crisis of 1962, in which the U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba.
 Aside from the various YouTube offerings in which Veciana appears, he’s featured in the 2007 documentary “638 Ways to Kill Castro.” He’s introduced as Cuban Security’s number one target, and is shown walking through one of his four marine stores in Miami, pointing out boating products. He recalls the “bazooka” attempt on Castro… “Nobody’s suicidal,” he says in the film. “I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to die. I have family and children. You need at least a small chance to get away.”
He also discusses the attempt to kill Castro in Chile, while on vacation with his family. “They failed because they weren’t brave enough,” Veciana says of the aborted attempt. His son, also featured in the film, says “he should have hired an Arab. Those guys are not afraid of anything. They’re willing to give their lives away if they have to.”
If it is true, as claimed by Bishop and Veciana and the anti-Castro movement through the decades, that the ends justify the means, what does it mean when 57 years later the end still hasn’t arrived to justify a half-century of terrorism, sabotage, subterfuge and murder?  
This book may help some understand why things don’t change, even why racism persists in the U.S.  
“Trained to Kill” opens a window into a world we should have outgrown long ago; a real old world of cold warriors and spies and terrorists and fanatics. It doesn’t read like an adventure, but like a drama, due to the author’s perspective and honesty, a rare quality for the subject matter. And yet the book only hints at the constant prodding by the CIA of a community hurt and separated… constantly being pushed to extremes, even against the wishes of the U.S. President.
Veciana’s inconsistent moral framework, and his acceptance of generalities required of a terrorist, provides a refreshing look at a turbulent time in our history.  
Would defeating Castro through murder and terrorism have made a better Cuba? Or has the idea just contributed to the dark turn in American politics and culture?
“Antonio Veciana has finally unburdened himself of the secrets of his life,” writes David Talbot in the foreword. Perhaps that’s a good place for the rest of us to start.

You Tube
Antonio Veciana Interview:
David Atlee Philips AKA Maurice Bishop:
Gaeton Fonzi on David Atlee Phillips:
1977 Mark Lane VS CIA David Atlee Phillips debate, Part 1 of 2:
1977 Mark Lane VS CIA David Atlee Phillips debate, Part 2 of 2:

 638 Ways to Kill Castro 

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