When Marita Lorenz met Fidel Castro in 1959, she was just nineteen years old. And a year later, after living with Castro for several months, she was recruited to assassinate him. Branded as a “scorned lover,” U.S. operatives thought Marita could be convinced to poison Castro out of revenge.
Given lethal pills, Lorenz boarded a plane from Miami to Cuba. But when it came down to it, she just couldn’t kill the man she once loved. Lorenz chronicles her fascinating life in Marita: The Spy Who Loved Castro—soon to be a film starring Jennifer Lawrence.
Read on for an excerpt from Marita: The Spy Who Loved Castro, and then download the book.
Objective: To Change History
In a world where everybody had a job to do, as Fiorini had said, I didn’t know which one belonged to me. He started to make it clear a little while later when, at the end of 1960 or the beginning of 1961, I took a trip to New York with Alex Rorke to see my mother and Frank & Frank, O’Brien and Lundquist. In that visit to Manhattan, they spoke to me about killing Fidel for the first time, although the expression they used was gentler, but no less lethal ‘it would be good to neutralize him.’
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The message was brutal, although as well as dressing it up in words that masked its harshness Alex mixed it all up with his Catholic ideology. That conversation in which I heard about my mission for the first time took place in the FBI building on 69th Street, not in an office but in a corridor because Rorke was afraid of being bugged. Afterwards, little by little, the logistics of it were revealed to me: we would use pills, a method they said would be ‘suitable for a woman’. I would only have to put the contents of the pills into Fidel’s food or drink and leave. He wasn’t going to suffer too much and, supposedly, neither would I.
Once I had absorbed what I had heard and what it meant, I turned to Alex:
‘You’re asking me to kill him,’ I said.
‘Sometimes God works in ways that we don’t understand,’ he replied. ‘It’s his will. He will absolve you. You’ll do it in the name of God and country.’
‘Why do I have to do it, Alex?’ I asked, still finding it hard to believe.
‘He ruined your life,’ he reminded me.
‘I’m not going to kill him. I can’t take someone else’s life.’
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I thought the whole thing was absurd, illogical, mad, incredible and ridiculous, and I still think so, but what I thought didn’t matter. They left it with Rorke to try to convince me, so he and I had a second conversation then a third, then a fourth. Then he started mixing his message of a divine mission with something more earthly like money, showing me the motto on the US dollar bills, ‘In God we trust’, giving me to understand that if I carried out the mission he was entrusting to me, I would never have to worry about money again and my life would always be secure, at least financially.
I don’t know how many meetings there were, I would say about twenty, with O’Brien and Lundquist, with CIA agents, in the FBI offices and in my house. Finally, I agreed to it. In reality, I think that with all the ‘vitamins’ they were still giving me I would have agreed to anything. In any case, some poison that supposedly would cause a painless death seemed, without a doubt, a kinder method than shooting Fidel or sticking a knife in his body, the one I knew so well and which had given me so much pleasure.
There was no shortage of options on how to get at the man I had been hopelessly in love with. Secret CIA plans to finish off Fidel were already in train as early as 1959. It included preposterous ideas such as giving him hallucinogenic drugs so he would lose control and present a pathetic image which would destroy his charismatic leadership; contaminating the air in the radio station where he delivered speeches with a substance similar to LSD so that he would lose coherence; injecting one of his cigars with some chemical substance that would affect his reasoning and even make him lose his iconic beard by putting toxic thallium salts in his boots. What was being planned in my case was way beyond that: it was, in effect, murder.
What they told me was that the pills I had to put in Fidel’s food or drink had been ‘specially made in Chicago’ and a man called Johnny Rosselli was going to supply them to me. It’s likely that I may have come across him in Cuba without realizing it as Rosselli was the manager at the San Souci, another iconic club in Havana, and one of the key men on the island for Sam Giancana, the godfather of the Chicago Mafia.
In any case, I knew Rosselli personally and, without a doubt, I met him in Miami when Frank Fiorini—it was always Frank—introduced me to this attracting man with a penetrating gaze. He was always elegantly dressed and they called him Mr. Hollywood. The introduction took place at a meeting in the Fontainebleau, a hotel in Miami, and the person in control at that meeting was Robert Maheu, a man who had represented the interests of millionaire Howard Hughes in Washington whose aviation business had signed secret contracts with the CIA and the Department of Defense. Maheu had been recruited by the CIA’s Office for National Security in 1954 and he had good relationships with the Mafia and he had negotiated with Rosselli on other occasions. He had problems with the IRS which led him to seek alliances with people in power. For September 1960, Maheu organized a meeting in the Plaza in New York between Jim O’Connell, a high ranking official at the Department for Security, and Rosselli where they started to develop plans for the assassination. Back then, the CIA laboratories had already stepped up the pace and were experimenting with different ways of getting rid of Fidel, among which included the use of botulism toxin, the most lethal known.
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It was a few months after that decisive meeting at the Plaza in New York that I had my meeting with Maheu and Rosselli in the Fontainebleau in Miami, a meeting in which Frank Fiorini, Alex Rorke and a couple of other men I couldn’t identify also participated. I remember hearing them talking in low voices about me, about what had happened with my baby, about how this would be my revenge. They discussed the plans more openly among themselves. With a billing as a spiteful lover who would be the perfect assassin, I felt stupid, important and frightened all at the same time and also cornered, thinking that I couldn’t say no in front of all these people. So I drew on all my strength and tried to say:
‘I don’t know if I can do it.’
‘You’ll do it for your country,’ replied Frank brusquely.
‘What happens if I fail?’
‘You won’t fail.’
Then he opened a box, inside which was a packet containing the two pills, and announced:
‘This is going to change history.’
‘Don’t Do It’
That night I went back to the ‘guerrilla’ hotel and tried to sleep, without much success, trying the ignore the fact that I had two lethal pills but unable to prevent myself feeling extremely remorseful. What had happened? How was it possible that I was in this situation? Two years earlier I had been just a teenager whose rebelliousness had amounted to nothing more than avoiding authority, not doing what my parents asked me to do and from time to time sneaking on to the ships that papa captained as a stowaway. Now, two years on, I was a young woman who had fallen madly in love at first sight with a tall, bearded man with a handsome face, a great deal of charisma and an intense look, and I had given him my love, madly and passionately, without thinking about anything else. Now everything was different. I and become a woman suddenly and painful and I had paid a high price: I had lost my child. O moved among special agents, secret operatives, exiles, business people, Mafiosi and mercenaries and they had given me the weapons to turn me into an assassin, the author of an assassination which would not only have marked me for life but would have marked history itself.
After an anxious night, Alex and Frank came to get me and I was ready with my Pan Am Airways bag and small white make-up case, frightened to death but not wanting to show it. They took me to Miami airport but, just as I was about to board, Alex came up to me and, speaking in a very low voice almost without moving his lips so that Fiorini couldn’t see or hear him, said:
‘Don’t do it.’
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‘Don’t do it.’ Three words from the mouth of the same man from whom I had first heard the proposal to ‘neutralize’ Fidel. ‘Don’t do it.’ A request? Advice? A warning? Anyway, the phrase made me see that I wasn’t the only one tortured by guilt and I thought that perhaps poor Alex was assailed by moral doubts. It was also possible that, at the airport, he may have switched on his paternal conscience again, the one he had employed so often with me since we had met; perhaps he was alerting me as best he could to the fact that it couldn’t be as easy as they had said it would be and there were plans to get rid of me or incriminate me if I was successful in executing the mission. A change of opinion or compassion, it didn’t matter anyway. Alex’s ‘don’t do it’ didn’t change anything because I had already made a decision and I knew that I wasn’t going to kill Fidel: I didn’t feel that I could.
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Featured photo of Fidel Castro at the Bronx Zoo in 1959: Pegasus Books