Rendezvous with lies

Winter 2007

Whoever killed Kennedy, no-one believes it was Fidel Castro, but that didn’t stop a German filmmaker from trying to make us think he did. Veronica Barrassi reports

The idea that Fidel Castro killed Kennedy was something that circulated at the time of the assassination in 1963, but was soon discounted as credible. But last year, the notion was given a new lease of life when a German documentary “Rendezvous with Death” (‘Rendezvous mit dem tod’), directed by Wilfried Huismann and Gus Russo, claimed to have found conclusive evidence to support it. Now, thanks to a counter-investigation done by German authors Lothar Buchholz and Ekkehard Sieker the documentary has been proven to be a fake and another example of how readily disinformation about Cuba is taken up by the western media.

Released on the 6th of January 2006 on the German state-funded television channel ARD, “Rendezvous with Death” was preceded by massive publicity. Shortly before its release, Ulrich Deppendorf - the director of the issuing television alliance WDR - claimed that the evidence provided by the film was going “to rewrite the history of the Cold War” and was going to solve one of the most difficult cases of American history.

After a year long investigation, however, Lothar Buchholz and Ekkehard Sieker have demonstrated that the documentary is in fact the latest example of disinformation against Fidel Castro and the Cuban Government.

“This film represents a deliberate attempt to falsify history,” says Sieker, “It falsifies history with impressive ability. It attributes particular documents with specific types of meaning; it relies on testimonies that have been classified as unreliable a long time ago; it silences all the testimonies which do not fit the image required; and tries - deliberately or through negligence - to induce the public to fictional understandings of historical events”.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated on the 22nd of November 1963 in Dallas. On the same day, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for his murder. But shortly before going to court Oswald himself was murdered, and this gave rise to various conspiracy theories, which claimed that Oswald couldn’t have possibly acted alone. Some argued that the FBI and the CIA had plotted the murder. Others, as shown in Oliver Stone’s film JFK, sustained that the Mafia and the American elites were to be blamed. Of course, there are also those who claimed that the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro were behind it.

Despite the different theories, and despite the work done by various US investigation committees, it still has to be discovered who is to blame for the killing of JFK. Officially at least, it is now accepted that Oswald did not act alone, but who else was involved has yet to be verified.

In January 2006, however, Huismann and Russo claimed to have achieved what countless people and committees of investigation were not able to achieve. They claimed that they could shed light into the political conspiracy behind Kennedy’s assassination because they had evidence to prove that Lee Harvey Oswald acted on behalf of the Cuban Government.

But the evidence presented by the film, which is either written or based on oral interviews with ‘key’ witnesses, collapses under the weight of counter-investigation.

In one scene, for example, the directors reveal that they have found a secret dossier. The voice explains that it was handed to Lyndon B. Johnson - the newly elected president- by his right hand man. The alleged secret dossier reported that a few hours after Kennedy’s assassination, Fabian Escalante, one of Fidel Castro’s closest collaborators and ironically today a Cuban expert on the plot and author of books on the subject, left from Redbird airport in Dallas.

The film presents the secret dossier as crucial evidence that demonstrates the connection between the Cuban Government and Kennedy’s assassination. But when Buchholz and Sieker tracked its origin, they discovered that the document is not an official dossier of the American Government at all but rather an outline of ideas for a book on Kennedy, which was written by Johnson’ aide.

The secret dossier is not the only document which turns out to be fake In another part of the film, an official of the Russian Secret Service - who is introduced by the fictional name of Nikolai - claims that in the archives of the KGB he found a telegram. The telegram is presented as a piece of evidence which reveals that the Cuban Secret Service had information about Lee Harvey Oswald long before Kennedy’s murder. According to Nikolai’s testimony, the telegram is dated 18 July, 1962, and informs the chief of the Cuban Secret Service, Ramiro Valdes, that Oswald has left the Soviet Union. Nikolai also provides the public with a further detail: Krutschkow - the second chief of the KGB- signed the telegram.

However, the fact is that Oswald left the Soviet Union long before the 18 July, 1962, and by that date he was already in the United States. Most importantly, Nikolai claims that Krutschkow signed the telegram. But in 1962, Wladimir Krutschkow was not even a member of the KGB, and thus he could not possibly occupy the rank of second chief. Indeed, it was not before 1978 that he became the second chief of the KGB.

In considering these facts then, the question arises: did Nikolai, who was in fact a liar, deceive Huismann and Russo? Or did they deliberately choose to rely on his fake testimony in order to prove their case? The film answers the question because there are so many false testimonies that it becomes difficult to believe that the director could have been deceived.

Huismann and Russo claim to have collected ‘key’ testimonies, which reveal that Oswald received money from the Cuban Secret Service. The witnesses are two alleged ex-Cuban secret agents, and a ‘revolutionary youth’. All three suggest that Oswald received money from a black red-haired guy in the parking lot of the Cuban Embassy of Mexico City.

The ‘revolutionary youth’ also suggests that the alleged money delivery happened on the 17 or 18 September, 1963.

Buchholz and Sieker discovered that the ‘revolutionary youth’, who is mentioned in the film as a ‘key’ witness, is called Gilberto Alvarado Ugarte. Born in Nicaragua in 1940, Alvarado presented himself three days after Kennedy’s murder at the US Embassy of Mexico City. There he said that he had witnessed Oswald receiving money from a black redhead in the Cuban Embassy.

At the beginning, Alvarado’s story created a great deal of restlessness in Washington. Soon after, however, the CIA concluded that there was no doubt that, on the dates mentioned by Alvarado, Oswald was in New Orleans. The CIA stated that Alvarado was an “inventor of lies”, and that “he suffered from hallucinations and needed psychiatric help”. The ARD film thus relies on a witness, whom the CIA have for long considered completely unreliable.

Contravening the basic requirements of good journalism - which include the respect for truth, the safeguarding of human dignity and the right instruction of the public - the ARD film turns out to be a complete lie. Given the fact that both Fidel Castro and Fabian Escalante - the former leader of the Cuban Secret Service - are still alive, this lie could have had major consequences for Cuba and its government.

As Sicker says: “the moment has arrived for the ARD to apologise to all those who have been wrongly accused of participating in the conspiracy that lead to Kennedy’s murder. In particular, they need to apologise to the Cuban Government”.

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