Fidel Castro: Dodging exploding seashells, poison pens and ex-lovers

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castroImage source, AP
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Close, but no cigar: None of the bids to kill Castro succeeded

The exploding cigar plot to assassinate Fidel Castro is well known - but what about the other reported 637 plots against his life?

The outlandish projects included exploding seashells, a poisoned diving suit and poison pills hidden in face cream, according to a former bodyguard who wrote a book on the subject and a TV documentary.

The CIA and US-based Cuban exiles spent nearly half a century conspiring to do away with a leader whose country had the same effect on the US as "the full moon has on werewolves", according to former US Havana diplomat Wayne Smith.

The Cuban leader himself once remarked: "If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal."

However most of the ideas were never put into practice, former bodyguard Fabian Escalante said.

Documents released during the administration of President Bill Clinton showed that the CIA at one point began researching Caribbean molluscs.

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Ex-lover Marita Lorenz was sent to kill him, but she couldn't go through with it

The plan was to pack a particularly spectacular one full of explosives to attract Castro, a keen diver, and to detonate it when he picked it up.

Another scuba-related idea was to create a diving suit infected with fungus that would cause a debilitating disease. Both plans were dropped.

Decades earlier in 1975, the US Senate Church Commission revealed details of at least eight plots on Castro's life, using devices which, the commission report said, "strain the imagination".

One plot using underworld figures twice progressed to the point of sending poison pills to Cuba and dispatching teams to "do the deed", it said.

At almost the exact moment that President Kennedy - who had authorised the failed Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Castro in 1961 - was assassinated, a CIA operative was apparently handing a poison pen equipped with a very fine needle to a Cuban agent.

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An inspiration to some, Castro and Cuba were like a "full moon to werewolves" for the US

The agent however was disappointed and asked for something "more sophisticated", the report said.

One of Castro's former lovers, Marita Lorenz, was also recruited. She was given poison pills to put in Castro's drink.

But Castro found out about the attempt and is said to have handed her his gun to use instead.

"You can't kill me. Nobody can kill me," he said, Ms Lorenz told the New York Daily News. "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."

Image source, AFP/Getty
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Cuban exile and CIA agent Luis Posada (R) was jailed for a plot to blow Castro up in Panama in 2000

The most recent known attempt on Castro's life was in 2000, when a plan was hatched to put a large quantity of explosives under a podium he was due to speak on in Panama. The plot was foiled by Castro's security team.

Four men, including veteran Cuban exile and CIA agent Luis Posada, were jailed but later pardoned.

There were also plots to make Castro, also known as "The Beard", an object of ridicule rather than kill him.

One was to sprinkle thallium salt on Castro's shoes during an overseas trip in the hope that his famous beard would fall out. But it was foiled when Castro cancelled the visit.

Image source, Keystone
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Castro's beard was also the subject of an elaborate failed plot

Another involved spraying an aerosol of LSD close to him as he was about to make a TV broadcast in the hope that he would become hysterical on air.

Castro took myriad precautions to evade would-be assassins. But in 1979 as he flew to New York to address the UN he could not resist a bit of grandstanding.

Asked by journalists on the plane whether he wore a bulletproof vest, he pulled open his shirt and exposed his chest.

"I have a moral vest," he said.