Did British Intelligence Try to Undermine Castro's Cuba with Homophobia?Breaking News
tags: Cold War, Cuba, homophobia, MI6, espionage, Disinformation
After the US cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961, the British embassy in Havana functioned as a proxy for US covert action and intelligence gathering against Castro’s government.
British operations, undertaken by the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department (IRD), were designed to delegitimise Cuba’s promotion of wealth distribution and to support US attempts to overthrow Castro.
The IRD, a cold war propaganda unit, sought to censure key Cuban officials and even plotted to spread homophobic rumours about Fidel’s second in command and brother, Raúl Castro.
Newly-released British files also show that during the 1970s, the IRD produced forged documents in an attempt to attack Cuba’s anti-apartheid campaigns in Africa.
Mongoose and Northwoods
Cuba was a focal point of East-West tensions during the cold war. The emergence of a revolutionary government just 90 miles off the coast of Florida was intolerable for US planners, and the CIA responded by launching a series of covert operations designed to topple it.
In 1961, the CIA instigated a military incursion into Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. When this failed, the US initiated Operation Mongoose, a secret programme designed to remove Castro by any means necessary, including plots to assassinate him and his closest advisors.
The following year, the US even made a plan to commit terrorist attacks on US soil to provide a pretext for invading Cuba. Codenamed Operation Northwoods, the plot was described by its own author as perhaps “the most corrupt plan ever created by the US government”.
While the US effort to overthrow Castro is infamous, very little is known about British operations in Cuba.
In August 1962, Leslie Boas, Britain’s regional information officer for Latin America based in Caracas, Venezuela, circulated a report on the leading political personalities in Cuba. “Having read the report”, Boas noted, “it has occurred to me that we could make effective use of some of the information it contains for propaganda purposes”.
He continued: “We could put out, in a completely unattributable fashion, a leaflet entitled ‘Personalities of the Cuban Revolution’ in which the more dubious aspects of the leading figures in the Cuban scene would be highlighted”.
The IRD was asked to “do some research” in order to produce additional “ammunition” on Castro’s aides.
To this end, senior IRD official Rosemary Allott suggested the unit “might include suitable stories circulating in Cuba (I heard one in Havana – since forgotten – on Raul Castro as a homosexual). In fact we might ask Havana for other purposes to send us all counter-revolutionary jokes and stories”.