Philip Shenon’s A Cruel and Shocking Act: Stunning reporting in new book may reveal why Oswald shot John F. Kennedy.

Why’d Oswald Do It? It May All Come Down to a Party in Mexico City.

Why’d Oswald Do It? It May All Come Down to a Party in Mexico City.

Scrutinizing culture.
Nov. 21 2013 11:48 PM

Why’d Oswald Do It?

It may all come down to a party in Mexico City.

(Continued from Page 1)

In any event, Cubela is important because, as a triple agent for Fidel, was making clear to Cuban intelligence as early as October 1963 that the CIA was attempting to foment yet another assassination plot against Fidel Castro. And it is no coincidence that Castro made a speech in October—after the Cubela signal—denouncing American attempts to kill him. Nor is it a coincidence that this speech was prominently reported in the New Orleans newspapers when Oswald was working in the city.

Lee Harvey Oswald and others handing out "Fair Play for Cuba" leaflets in New Orleans, August 16, 1963
Lee Harvey Oswald hands out "Fair Play for Cuba" leaflets in New Orleans on Aug. 16, 1963.

Photo via Warren Commission Report/Wikimedia Commons

But Shenon’s reporting convincingly argues that it isn’t even necessary to posit that Oswald read the story of that Castro speech because of what Oswald could have learned about the assassination attempts the month before. In Mexico City.

Oswald’s trip there has always been the black hole in the Warren report, the black hole in the entire half-century of attempts to investigate the Kennedy assassination.


Oswald’s trip to Mexico City began on Sept. 25, 1963 with a long bus ride from New Orleans. After crossing the border in Nuevo Laredo and making his way to the Mexican capital he began buzzing around the Cuban and Russian consulates. He made at least two visits to the Cuban Embassy, purportedly seeking a visa to Havana and then to the USSR Two visits to the Soviet Embassy, supposedly seeking the same. One of the Soviet embassy people (a member of the KGB) even wrote a memoir about it.

Oswald bought a return bus ticket for Oct. 3.

But what was he really up to there? Did he want to go to Havana to help defend Fidel’s revolution, as he claimed to Cuban Embassy officials? Or was Havana going to be a transit point en route to the Soviet Union? Or was he setting up a false lefty identity for the benefit of the CIA (or the FBI or the Mafia or anti-Castro Cubans, or the military industrial complex, or rightwing Texas oilmen or all of them) so that when he shot the president he’d be nailed as a Commie, which would then provide the excuse for a full-scale invasion of Cuba to depose Castro.

Or was he trying to get to Cuba on behalf of the CIA, for yet another assassination attempt on Fidel?

None of these stories have held up. They are what the Jowett translation of Plato delicately calls “wind eggs.”

But then there is one story that has not been disproven: The twist party story.

I know, I know, but I can’t resist saying it: It is kind of ironic that the simple twist of fate that changed history may have taken place at a twist party. But Oswald's alleged attendance at what has become known in Kennedy assassination lore since the time of the Warren Report as the twist party has become the twisted center of all the conspiracy theories that revolve around it like a whirlwind.

At last the culprit has been identified: Chubby Checker! You millennials: The Chubster was the guy who led the charts with “Let’s Twist Again” that year. The Twist was—at the time—revolutionary as the pop dance in which partners never touched, just jived away in proximity—which paradoxically made dancers seem more alluring (if they were women, who always look good doing it. Men almost always look bad—but not as bad as most of us are at formal ballroom dancing).

But anyway, the twist party. Oswald was in Mexico City for almost a week. And yet we have had, until Shenon’s book, only occasional glimpses of his activities there.

According to one source, his troubles attempting to get visas put him in such a state of rage against American travel restrictions to Communist countries that he actually declared, in the presence of witnesses at the Cuban consulate, that he wanted to kill JFK.

That source: Fidel Castro himself. You didn’t know about this? Neither did the Warren Commission. But they should have—or so it seems from Shenon’s reporting, because in June 1964, when the commission was still investigating, J. Edgar Hoover supposedly sent them a letter reporting Oswald’s threat. The FBI had a super-duper double agent code-named SOLO (real name Maurice Childs) who’d managed to insinuate himself into the presence of a worldwide array of communist heads of state including Khrushchev and Castro. In any case SOLO emerged from a post-Nov. 22 confab with Fidel to say that Fidel told him Cuban consulate and Cuban intelligence  people there in Mexico City had witnessed an enraged Oswald declare in the consulate that he wanted to kill JFK. According to SOLO’s account, Castro said they didn’t take him seriously enough to warn JFK. Make of that what you will.

Hoover’s letter about Oswald’s Cuban Consulate threat, according to Shenon’s reporting, never seems to have reached the Warren Commission. It was lost for years until a copy of it finally turned up in the declassified CIA files on the JFK case. Maybe it was lost on purpose. The overwhelming desire of the government post-assassination was not to find out any inconvenient truths. No one, from LBJ on down, wanted to be forced into war with Fidel and then potentially the Russians—who maintained a military presence in Cuba post-Missile crisis—if we excavated some awful truth. Better it all be blurred lines.

But the Hoover letter about Oswald’s vow to kill JFK, did exist, and Shenon found it in the declassified CIA files where the only copy remained.

So if we believe SOLO (and his reports have panned out on many other matters), Oswald put himself on the radar of Cuban intelligence in Mexico City. But Castro and the consulate people all described him as too nutty to take seriously, and even as a possible CIA plant.

This is where the whole story of the twist party comes in, because it suggests that, instead of keeping Oswald at arm’s length, Cuban and Fidelista leftists in Mexico City took him in and inculcated him with stories of Kennedy administration assassination plots against Fidel.

That’s the bottom line. To get there Shenon started with what became known as the Thomas/Garro Memo.

Charles Thomas was an American diplomat stationed in Mexico City in the year after the assassination. Over the course of his time there he made the acquaintance of one of the town’s leading lights, Elena Garro, the wife of Nobel Prize–winning poet Octavio Paz, and a respected and successful novelist in her own right.

Garro told Thomas a different narrative of Oswald’s stay.

She told the American diplomat that she had met Lee Harvey Oswald at a party—the twist party!— where people connected to the Cuban Embassy had been present. One of them, Eusebio Azque, ran the consulate visa department that Oswald had been pestering.

Azque, Shenon says, “was believed to be a high ranking official of Castro’s spy service.” And according to the memo Thomas wrote about his conversation with Garro, she said “she had heard Azque speak openly of his hope that somebody would kill the American president, given the threat that Kennedy posed to the survival of the Cuban government.” (Referring, no doubt, to the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the continuing assassination attempts, including the one that climaxed in Paris but took months to develop.)

Garro also claimed that Oswald had a relationship with one of the secretaries at the Cuban Consulate, Silvia Duran. It was at the home of Duran’s brother in law that the notorious twist party took place. There has been much speculation about this, because Duran denied it—admitted being at a twist party, but denied being at a twist party with Oswald. And yet she had plenty of reason to deny it. The information that Oswald was actually in deeper with the Cubans in Mexico City than people at first suspected was dangerous knowledge. For one thing it implicitly accused the CIA of dereliction of duty for failing to flag Oswald for surveillance there—or for destroying evidence that they had surveilled him and flagged him as a possible threat.

Thomas wrote a memo of his conversation with Garro immediately after it happened, on Christmas Day 1965.  He gave it to the CIA head of station Winston Scott, who did nothing with it for reasons that remain obscure if not sinister. Then in 1969 he sent a memo to then Secretary of State William P. Rogers and six days later found himself out of a job for reasons that remain obscure if not sinister. Rogers passed the memo to the CIA, where "master spy" James Angleton allegedly declared there was no need for further action, for reasons that seem pretty clear. Another CIA failure at the very least.