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Tuesday, 16 November 2021 05:00

Veciana, Phillips, and Oswald: A Plot Triangle?

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Arnaldo Fernandez revisits the late-in-life revelations of Antonio Veciana and pieces together a more plausible sequence of events and motivations for these various accounts and their relationship to the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.

Shortly before the JFK assassination, Hilda Veciana was walking as usual from her nearby home to her workplace, namely the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City. At some 200 feet from the entrance, she bumped into a big wad of bills on the sidewalk. Two men immediately approached and one of them told her in Spanish with a Mexican accent something like, “Hey, lady, this money is yours. Pick it up!”

She got scared, stepped up toward the embassy, and even cried for help. After she entered the diplomatic compound and talked about the incident, some of her co-workers got out and headed to the scene, but neither the money nor any people were there anymore.

Making Sense

General Fabian Escalante revealed this incident to JFK historians gathered with Cuban officials in Nassau, Bahamas, from December 7–9, 1995. He judged it as an obvious provocation. Hilda Veciana was working at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City because her husband, Guillermo Ruiz, had been appointed as Commercial Attaché in August 1963. If she would have grabbed the money, the CIA would have her photographed to compromise her husband by showing him the photos and threatening with publishing them if he did not collaborate.

The Cuban diplomatic compound was under heavy photo surveillance by the CIA program LIONION. From a window in a third-floor apartment across the street, CIA employee Hugo Cesar Rodriguez was taking pictures of the visitors to the Embassy, while a pulse camera covered the Consulate from another window.

Connecting the Dots

Hilda Veciana was cousin of the fierce anti-Castro militant Antonio Veciana, leader of the paramilitary group Alpha 66 and fellow traveler of the CIA handled by David Atlee Phillips. Both shared an unrelenting animus against JFK.

In the spring of 1963, JFK ordered a crackdown on anti-Castro belligerent groups and Alpha 66 was targeted. It was attacking Russian ships to torpedo the Kennedy-Khrushchev understanding on their peaceful solution to the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the AARC Conference on “The Warren Report and the JFK Assassination” (Bethesda, MD, 2014), Veciana openly admitted: “In the early 1960’s, I believed John F. Kennedy was a traitor to the Cuban exiles and to this country.”

The Bay of Pigs fiasco was a thorn in Phillips’ flesh. Instead of admitting it was the CIA’s fault, Phillips put the blame on the pinko at the White House. In Nassau, Escalante also revealed that Phillips had told Cuban dangle Nicolas Sirgado a curious anecdote among a few drinks in Mexico by 1972: after Kennedy's death, he visited his grave and urinated on it. Phillips also said JFK was a communist.

Before the HSCA, Veciana triangulated his relationship with Phillips by adding Oswald. At the so-called Southland Building meeting (Dallas, TX) in late August or early September 1963, Veciana arrived a bit early and saw Phillips chatting with a man who quickly left. On November 22, 1963, Veciana recognized this man on TV as the breaking news person.

Veciana affirmed Phillips contacted him after the assassination with the proposal to pay his cousin-in-law a large sum of money, if Guillermo Ruiz would say he and his wife had met with Oswald in Mexico City, meaning the Cuban Intelligence Services (CuIS) had precise instructions for Oswald to kill JFK. Veciana agreed to make contact, but was unable to do it.

Just after a HSCA panel visited Havana in 1978, Castro smelled a rat in the AMLASH plot: it might have been linked to the JFK assassination.[1] A task force overseen by Escalante—already head of the Cuban State Security apparatus—went over a bunch of files ranging from known terrorists to exiles, all under a cloud of suspicion. When the CuIS analysts read Veciana’s passage in the HSCA Report (1979), they instantly formulated a hypothesis strongly favored by the Hilda Veciana incident: her cousin was tampering with the timing of the facts.

The propaganda campaign trying to tie Oswald to Castro has lowered down after the failed wave of scams, hoaxes, and jokes during the first two weeks after the assassination by the deed and disgrace of Nicaraguan secret agent Gilberto Alvarado, Cuban exile Salvador Diaz-Verson, Mexican credit inspector Oscar Gutierrez, and other fakers.

Phillips knew, through Veciana himself, that his cousin and her husband were working at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City, but bribing Guillermo Ruiz to take a path, unsuccessfully trodden by many others, did not seem to be proper tradecraft. Veciana admitted that Phillips was very jumpy about having asked him to bribe his cousin-in-law and shortly thereafter told him to forget about it. By contrast, Phillips’ proposal to Veciana fits in perfectly before the assassination with plotting a testimony after the fact or just a quick and convenient visa service.

Muddying the Waters

At the AARC Conference, Veciana made a truly astonishing revelation:

[Phillips] confirmed to me in a conversation that Oswald had traveled to Mexico on [his] orders. [Phillips] tricked Oswald into taking that trip to secure a visa from the Cuban Consulate though [he] knew the authorities there would never grant Oswald such a visa. The reason for this trip was to create a trail that would link Oswald to Fidel Castro and help focus the blame of the planned assassination of President Kennedy on Castro.

Veciana did not provide a straight answer to the key question posed by Jim DiEugenio on the spot: When did Phillips tell him that? Furthermore, Veciana omitted this conversation in his memoirs (Trained to Kill, Skyhorse Publishing, 2017) and left us all in the lurch. We don’t know whether Phillips actually told him such a crucial detail about Oswald or it was an inference drawn by Veciana from conversations with Phillips.

In his garbled answer to DiEugenio, Veciana stated Phillips had asked him about the possibility of getting a visa on the same day at the Cuban Consulate in Mexico City. Veciana responded zero chance. This conversation occurred shortly after Castro made his well-known and often distorted statement to Associated Press reporter Daniel Harker at the Brazilian Embassy on September 7, 1963.[2] The exhortation to bribe Guillermo Ruiz would have taken place immediately after the assassination.

In his memoirs, Veciana did not report the conversation around September 7 and placed the second one in Miami a few weeks after the assassination, but neither in the book nor at the conference does he clarify when Phillips made the assertion that Oswald was traveling to Mexico under his orders. Last, but not least, Veciana has never told why Phillips summoned him to Dallas in September of 1963 and what the Southland Building meeting was about.

Occam’s Razor

For CuIS, this meeting revolved around Phillips planning with Veciana and Oswald the trip to Mexico City and the fix of a same-day Cuban visa. But Veciana couldn’t approach Guillermo Ruiz, so Phillips tried to blackmail him through his wife. This push also failed, but Phillips sent Oswald to Mexico City with a false promise. It may explain why Oswald became so upset when he was denied an instant visa.

Phillips would have never planned a meeting in the same place with two assets from unrelated operations. On the contrary, the meeting in Dallas wouldn’t be a significant tradecraft mistake if Phillips was handling Oswald and Veciana in the same or related operations. Veciana tampering with the timing of conversations with Phillips about Guillermo Ruiz and suffering from Alzheimer's disease in regard to the Dallas meeting agenda fit in well with this scenario.

As Dan Hardway has pointed out, Phillips could have used Oswald as a dangle without him being witting about an upcoming JFK assassination. His impersonation by phone in Mexico City reinforces such hypothesis. However, Veciana seemed to be aware of the ultimate goal.

[1] The CIA recruited Cuban Army Major Rolando Cubela and precisely on November 22, 1963, his handler gave him in Paris an ingenious poison pen to kill Castro, but Cubela didn’t take it. By February 29, 1965, Cubela was in Madrid with Cuban exile leader Manuel Artime [AMBIDDY-1] to plan the assassination of Castro with Cubela’s own rifle. It would be followed by the landing of Artime’s commandos from Central America to establish a beachhead and to create a government supported by the Organization of American States. Castro agent Juan Felaifel was infiltrated into Artime’s inner circle and spoiled the plot. Cubela and his co-conspirators ended up in jail by February 1966.

[2] “United States leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe.” (The Miami Herald, September 9, 1963, page 1A).

Last modified on Tuesday, 16 November 2021 05:42
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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