Thursday, 16 January 2014 16:07

In Search of a JFK Second Shooter

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Arnaldo Fernandez takes a (skeptical) look at the Herminio Diaz story.

A second shooter at Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, is part of a major problem. At the sniper's nest in the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD), Tom Alyea (WFAA-TV) filmed a 40.2" bolt action short rifle Mannlicher-Carcano with telescopic sight, but the Warren Commission (WC) reported that Oswald got a 36" Mannlicher-Carcano carbine ordered by mail to Klein's Sporting Goods (Chicago), which placed scopes on the carbines, not on the short rifles.

An expert in rifles with scopes, Fidel Castro, ascertained that "Oswald could not have fired three times in succession and hit the target" in the available time, since "once a rifle with telescopic sight is fired against a target, it gets lost due to the shot itself and the shooter needs to find it again, moreover in case of a bolt action rifle." Thus, searching for a second shooter should not cloud that even the first shooter has not been established beyond any reasonable doubt.

Trying to dismiss a second shooter, the lone gunman theorist John McAdams (Marquette University) came through with the two main directions from which the shots would have come: the TBSD and the Grassy Knoll, according to 64 and 33 earwitnesses, respectively. Among these latter ones, 21 were law enforcement officers experienced in firearms and crime scene investigation, including Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry. As Jeff Morley noted, these 21 cops were dispersed within 150 feet from JFK when the shots rang out and would have heard different echo patterns, but unanimously reacted by going to search the grassy knoll.

Dealing with the Sources

According to Anthony Summers, none of the previously named plotters has the qualifications of Cuban henchman Hermino Díaz, a.k.a. Herminito, for shooting a gun accurately from behind the stockade fence on the grassy knoll.

Marking the fiftieth anniversary of JFK's death, the updated edition of Summer's book Not in Your Lifetime brought to light his 2007 interviews with the late Reinaldo Martínez, a former Cuban political prisoner who came to Miami in the 1980 Mariel boatlift. He had called former HSCA Chief Counsel George Robert Blakey to get something off his chest before dying. He sounded credible and was interviewed vis-a-vis by Blakey and Summers. Both agreed on having found "the first, perhaps plausible, claim to identify a previously unknown gunman." What did they base this on?

As an inmate, Martínez worked at the infirmary in a Castro prison and treated the anti-Castro commando Tony Cuesta. They happened to have a common acquaintance with Herminito, who along with Cuesta had infiltrated Cuba on May 29, 1966, for the purpose of killing Castro. Herminito died on the spot and Cuesta was seriously wounded in a gunfight 10 miles off the coast.

Cuesta told Martínez that, while waiting for the landing, Herminito had confided to him of having taken part in the JFK assassination. Cuesta did not elaborate and Martínez abstained to press him, because in a Castro prison you couldn't converse too much even "with your own shadow."

Shortly after arriving in Miami, Martínez met his old friend Remigio "Cucú" Arce, a veteran anti-Castro fighter, who had actually introduced Herminito to him in pre-Castro Cuba. Arce dropped in his cups: "Listen, the one who killed the President was our little friend, Herminio." Martínez furnished the info to the FBI, but the duty officer "did not seem interested."

Martínez admitted he had "no evidence to know whether it was true" what Cuesta and Arce told him. During a visit to Cuba in 2005, he would have even discussed the issue with retired General Fabián Escalante, former head and current historian of the Cuban State Security. At a meeting with JFK historians in Nassau Beach Hotel on December 7-9, 1995, Escalante identified Herminito as "one of the people we feel was most definitely involved in the plot against Kennedy." He added that in early 1978 Cuesta referred to Eladio del Valle as a plotter, but "we didn't know if it was true or not."

Escalante must have corroborated the intel, since he flatly stated in the Cuban-Brazilian TV documentary ZR Rifle (1993) that "according to our investigations, the participants in the shooting were: Lenny Patrick, David Yaras, and Richard Gaines, all members of the Chicago Mafia, and Eladio del Valle Gutiérrez and Herminio Diaz-Garcia, Cubans and CIA agents." The Minister of Foreign Affairs Roberto Robaina told Reuter that Cuba had waited so long to produce a theory on the JFK assassination because the investigations had been long and thorough.

Herminito's résumé

There was a printed version of Escalante's findings, ZR Rifle (Ocean Press, 1994). This was written by Brazilian journalist and filmmaker Claudia Furiati who consulted extensively with Escalante. Here, the "long and thorough" documented case of the quintet of shooters does not come across as such

Escalante didn't argue his claim that fifty-year-old hoods Yaras and Patrick were "expert riflemen." Del Valle had appeared as JFK shooter in W.R. Morris' The Men Behind the Guns (Angel Lea Books, 1975) and in Double Cross (Warner Books, 1992. The latter was by a half-brother (Chuck) and a nephew (Sam) of Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. These latter authors also mentioned another JFK shooter identified (and misspelled as Gaines) by Escalante: Richard Cain, a police officer and made man in the Chicago Outfit.

Herminio Diaz stands out for his curriculum vitae, but it's unlikely that a very fresh Cuban exile had been recruited for such a very sensitive plot as killing a sitting U.S. President. Lamar Waldron states in Legacy of Secrets (Counterpoint Press, 2009) that Herminito "had left Cuba in July 1963, first going to Mexico City, where David Atlee Phillips ran Cuban operations" (page 268). Herminito actually entered the U.S. (INS File A 13319255) with his wife Alicia Teresa Mackenzie and their infant daughter on July 3-4, 1963. They arrived at Port Everglades (Florida) aboard the SS Maxima, the last ship bringing Cuban civilians as part of the Castro-Donovan agreement for releasing the Brigade 2506 prisoners after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

The CIA station in Miami was advised that Herminito (CIA Personality File 201-203040) was "fond of gambling and committing any crime for money." At the refugee debriefing center in Opa Locka, he was spotted either as KUDESK agent or MHAPRON asset. MHAPRON coordinated operations focusing in the rift among Cuban militaries and even a coup d'état; KUDESK enrolled refugees as intermediaries for recruiting people in Cuba.

Herminito was close to Efigenio Ameijeiras, former Chief of Castro's Police. He alleged that Major Ameijeiras was part of "a small passive group" against the Commies in the Cuban government, although not personally opposed to Castro.

Diaz had been bodyguard of Mafia boss Santo Trafficante Jr. and worked afterward as security chief (1959-60) at Havana Riviera Hotel, but was demoted to cashier. At the time of Bay of Pigs, he was incarcerated for 70 days. On March 1962, he was imprisoned again for 20 days by Castro G-2. He earned respect as a marksman in the gang Revolutionary Insurrectionary Union (known by its Spanish acronym UIR), to which Fidel Castro himself belonged. UIR leader Emilio Tró was riddled in the massacre of Orfila on September 15, 1947. The gang split and Herminito headed a faction. He avenged Tró's death by killing former deputy chief of Cuban secret police, Rogelio "Cucú" Hernandez, at the Cuban consulate in Mexico City on July 17, 1948, and allegedly escaped to Cuba with the help of Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

Apart from several shootings in Havana, Herminito was involved in plots against the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (Havana Police Report 1185, April 16, 1949) and the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista (Havana Urgency Court, Case 318, June 6, 1956). He sought asylum at the Haitian embassy in Havana on June 28, 1956, and ended up flying into exile in Costa Rica. Here he would be arrested on May 17, 1957, under charges of conspiracy for kidnapping President José Figueres. The legend says Herminito was released thanks to Ameijeiras' arrangement.

Monte Barreto

On May 29, 1966, he got on board a boat at Marathon Key (Florida) together with Tony Cuesta, Armando Romero, Eugenio Zaldívar, Guillermo Álvarez and Roberto Cintas. The Cuban army and militia were still in combat readiness after the killing of a border guard by U.S. Marines at Guantanamo Bay on May 21, 1966.

Herminito and Romero went ashore in Monte Barreto, near the former Comodoro Yacht Club, in the residential Havana suburb of Miramar. They ran to Fifth Avenue in order to take position for shooting Castro on his usual way. However, the former club was now housing a fishing school full of Castro militiamen. They killed Herminito and Romero. The others re-embarked, but were intercepted by two patrol boats. Álvarez and Cintas were missing in action; Cuesta and Zaldívar were wounded and captured.

Escalante feels that Herminito was sent to Cuba for the purpose of getting rid of him as a man who knew too much. Nonetheless, he had revealed to FBI Special Agent George E. Davis on January 27, 1966, the plan of another mission against Castro on his own, after an "only for propaganda" attack on Havana on November 14, 1965. Herminito told Davis that the Cuban Representation in Exile (RECE) will provide financial support and that, once his mission was accomplished, Major Ameijeiras will cooperate in a new government.


Making the Cuesta case murkier is that when Escalante explained in Nassau why the written report on Cuesta can't be supplied: "It is a Cuban document." Likewise, two U.S. files on Cuesta were "postponed in full," id est: they wouldn't be declassified until October 2017 under the JFK Assassination Records Act (1992). A full disclosure of records is needed on both sides of the Florida Straits, because Cuesta is not a reliable source.

After being released on October 21, 1978, Cuesta told Tom Dunkin the specious story that he wasn't driven straight to the airport because Castro asked to see him. Cuesta affirmed: "I was forced by circumstances to shake the hand of the one man in the whole world whom I most wanted to kill." The circumstances included sitting on a deep-pile sofa, smoking a huge cigar, drinking scotch on the rocks, and Castro talking "in a low, soft, sweet, gentle tone." Cuesta crowned his story with a tribute to vanity: "I stiffened my spine, taking advantage of the phenomenon that had always galled him. I was a half inch taller (...) He knew I had lost the hand in a last attempt to kill him (...) The only reason he had not executed me 12 years ago was his fear of my power as a martyr."

There is one piece of evidence that does help the Blakey/Summers case. As "mulatto" (Waldron, page 107) or "mestizo" (File 30-1949, Cuban Police), Herminito would even fit the dark-skinned man seen by witnesses Arnold Rowland and Ruby Henderson at the TSBD (Summers, page 38). On February 15, 1966, the FBI provided a photo to the Secret Service, due to his "potentially dangerous" background and connections with groups "inimical" to the U.S. This "daring person [was] a fearless individual [ready] to assassinate Fidel Castro." That photo appears at his Spartacus Educational's bio. Summers shows another in the video of his 2007 interview with Martinez, but it zoomed in on Cuesta, instead of Herminito, who stands on Cuesta's left. The confusion spread.

Last modified on Saturday, 29 October 2016 13:24
Arnaldo M. Fernandez

Arnaldo M. Fernandez is a former lecturer (1997-2003) of Philosophy and History of Law at the University of Havana. He earned a Masters Degree in Journalism and taught Interpretative Journalism (2005-2010) at the Koubek Center, U. Miami. He has published a book (in Spanish) about the death of Cuban patriot José Marti (Miami, Cuban New Press, 2005). Regarding JFK research, he focuses on the Cuban connection in order to debunk the "Castro did it" and "Castro knew it" theses.

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