The U.S. government invented all sorts of harebrained schemes to kill Fidel Castro—and I mean really, truly off-the-wall plots. There was the time the CIA tried to poison his milkshake. There was the ploy to discredit him by spraying him down with LSD and watching him go insane during a live radio broadcast. There was, I shit you not, an idea to pack his omnipresent cigar with explosives. Then there was Marita Lorenz.
Lorenz was once Castro’s lover, before she turned against him on the basis, perhaps, of the role he played in the abortion of their child. A 1993 Vanity Fair profile by Ann Louise Bardach does a deep dive into Lorenz’s convoluted history, doing its best to untangle the sticky web of lies that Lorenz herself seems to have been responsible for spinning. But one thing that’s certain is that Lorenz was sent by the CIA to poison Castro, and that she bungled it completely.
According to the piece, Lorenz first laid eyes on Castro as a cruise ship captained by her father sailed into the Havana harbor in 1959. She was taken with him immediately.
“When Fidel talks to you,” she says, “he talks to you very close. He looks right in your eye. We had drinks and sloppy joes. He immediately made me feel nervous. I had to kill two hours until my father woke up. I gave him a tour. Then I had to lose him, because I wanted to be more pretty.”
It didn’t take long for Lorenz to become Castro’s mistress, living with him on his private floor of the Habana Hilton for seven months. She was tolerated by Celia Sánchez, his longtime companion, and tortured by the flings he enjoyed with other women.
By spring of 1959, it was becoming clear that any relationship the U.S. enjoyed with Castro would be strained, at best. A man named Frank Sturgis, a double agent whom Lorenz cast as her life’s villain, was responsible for recruiting her to the opposition:
According to Sturgis, who denies that he ever worked for the Mob, he recruited Lorenz while she was living with Castro. “Fidel would lay a snake if it wriggled,” says Sturgis, “and she was one of the snakes. I tried to get her to poison Fidel, but she backed off because she was in love with the son of a bitch.”
Lorenz, though, had become pregnant, though conflicting evidence made it difficult to determine what became of the baby. But in early October of 1959, when she was seven and a half months pregnant, she was slipped a Mickey in a glass of milk. When she came to, she was in the doctor’s office, told the baby was fine, and given an injection. When she awoke the second time, though, she was notified that the baby “had to be taken away because of Fidel’s enemies.”
“Fidel wasn’t there for any of this,” she said. “He was on the other side of the island.”
According to an F.B.I. report on December 3, 1959, Lorenz told the agents that she had had a miscarriage after her return to Havana in the spring of 1959. “Miss Lorenz stated that she is not too clear on the details of this matter . . . but she has been told rumors that she had been drugged, taken to a hospital and an abortion was performed. . . . Miss Lorenz stated that it was after this miscarriage and the reaction of Fidel Castro, that she turned against him.”
Those close to her, including her mother and Sturgis, continued to imbue her with the idea that Castro was evil, with her mother even penning a story for Confidential magazine entitled “Fidel Castro Raped My Daughter.”
“I was in the spy business before I knew it,” she said. Wounded by Castro’s treatment of her, Sturgis and her mother eventually got their wish.
Lorenz’s first assignment for the CIA was to assassinate Castro. She trained for her mission, dubbed Operation 40, in Miami, and before she knew it, she was on a plane to Havana. She was given was given two botulism-toxin pills that looked like “white gelatin capsules,” which would kill him in 30 seconds, along with the “guts pill” she’d been ordered to swallow before leaving. “It’s some kind of shit the C.I.A. gives you,” she said, “that makes you feel very strong, courageous, indifferent. Like speed.”
But even with the guts pill, Lorenz’s mission was toast. “I knew the minute I saw the outline of Havana I couldn’t do it,” she said.
Even if she had had the will to go through with her mission, she had already botched it, having stashed the capsules in a jar of cold cream. When she looked for them, “they were all gunked up. I fished them out and flushed them down the bidet.” When Castro finally appeared, he was wary. “Why did you leave so suddenly?” was his first question, she says. “ ‘Are you running around with those counterrevolutionaries in Miami?’ I said yes. I tried to play it cool. The most nervous I have ever been was in that room, because I had agents on standby and I had to watch my timing. I had enough hours to stay with him, order a meal, kill him, and prevent him from making a speech that night, which was already pre-announced.
“He was very tired and wanted to sleep. . . . He was chewing a cigar, and he laid down on the bed and said, ‘Did you come here to kill me?’ Just like that. I was standing at the edge of the bed. I said, ‘Yes. I wanted to see you.’ And he said, ‘That’s good. That’s good.’ ”
Castro asked if she was working for the CIA, to which Lorenz replied “not really. I work for myself.”
Then he leaned over, pulled out his .45, and handed it to me. I flipped the chamber out and hit it back. He didn’t even flinch. And he said, ‘You can’t kill me. Nobody can kill me.’ And he kind of smiled and chewed on his cigar…. I felt deflated. He was so sure of me. He just grabbed me. We made love. I contemplated staying—to try talking to him later, after his speech, but it would be too late, because he rambles on for 8, 10, 12 hours. That was the hardest part. I wanted him to beg me to stay, but he got dressed and left. I just sat there by myself awhile. I left him a note. I told him that I would be back.”
Lorenz was not done with Castro—she saw him, and had sex with him—a few more times over the years.
On her last real visit to Havana, in 1988, she stayed 10 days. Her son, she says, was in Nicaragua working as a medic for victims of the contras. She claims that she saw Fidel one night and that they made love—for the last time. “The last mercy hump,” she says with a laugh. “That was it. It began with him and ended with him.”