The New York Times
December 7, 1998
Cuban Museum a Tribute to Espionage

          Filed at 4:36 a.m. EST

          By The Associated Press

          HAVANA (AP) -- Poisoned cigars, poisoned pills and a poisoned pen were just a few of the killing
          gadgets that figured in the CIA's unsuccessful schemes to do away with Fidel Castro and his
          communist government.

          Those sinister devices and many more are described in Havana's Interior Ministry Museum, a tribute
          to four decades of spying and plotting against Castro's rule -- and to the Cuban fascination with
          Cold War espionage.

          Inside the yellow mansion on a broad residential avenue of Havana, glass cases are filled with
          confiscated spy paraphernalia: tiny radios and decoders, hidden microphones and miniature cameras,
          Thompson machine guns and C-4 plastic explosives.

          While many Americans might consider the espionage museum a fascinating Cold War artifact, most
          Cubans see it as testimony to practices that still persist.

          In September, there was little surprise on this side of the Florida Straits when U.S. authorities in
          Miami accused 10 people of spying for Cuba.

          Castro, in an interview with CNN, said the most surprising thing about the case was ``that the most
          spying country in the world is accusing the most spied-upon country in the world of espionage.''

          He admitted Cuba has sent a few of its own to spy in what it considers enemy territory, ``to infiltrate
          counterrevolutionary organizations to inform us about activities that are of great interest to us.''

          Some such agents are honored at the Interior Ministry Museum. One glass case contains a
          bloodstained shirt displayed like a religious relic. ``Manuel Lopez de la Portilla, 1940-1960,'' the
          sign reads. ``Killed July 16, 1960, when his identity was discovered by a counterrevolutionary

          The museum recognizes as a martyr Rogelio ``Pao'' Iglesias Patino, who died in 1983 at age 47
          when his boat sank as he traveled to the United States ``to fulfill a mission within the columns of the

          The walls of the museum are lined with painted portraits of him and scores of other men and women
          who died protecting Cuba's communist state.

          They include two young diplomats who were kidnapped from the Cuban embassy in Buenos Aires,
          Argentina, and killed, two security agents who died when a bomb exploded at the Cuban embassy in
          Lisbon, Portugal, and an agent who was killed in a dynamite blast at the Cuban commercial office in

          Below the photographs are the displays: tiny cameras disguised as disposable plastic lighters, a tin of
          Hershey's Cocoa stuffed with detonator capsules, black metal decoders for deciphering messages
          printed in a series of tiny baffling numbers legible only with a magnifying glass.

          ``Despite the dozens of known acts against the revolutionary leaders of Cuba by the CIA and its
          innumerable bands that were in its service, not one leader of the Revolution has been assassinated,''
          a large blue sign declares proudly.

          It wasn't for lack of trying.

          The museum describes dozens of unsuccessful schemes dreamed up to assassinate Castro.

          One display tells of a plot in which CIA agents sent a hypodermic needle disguised as a pen to a
          major in the Cuban army. The plot, never carried out, called for the major to fill the contraption with
          poison and use it to assassinate Castro.

          Another display shows scuba diving equipment, machine guns and pistols seized from an anti-Castro
          group that penetrated Cuba by sea.

          With that kind of history, Cubans have long been fascinated with espionage -- especially by the
          United States against their country.

          Among the books sold at the open-air market at Old Havana's Plaza de Armas are titles such as
          ``The Secret Assasination Report: CIA Targets Fidel,'' and ``The Secret War: CIA Covert
          Operations Against Cuba, 1959-62.''

          While U.S. authorities say Cubans are paranoid, the Cubans say they are merely realistic.

          In August, authorities in the Dominican Republic tightened security shortly before a visit by Castro
          after receiving reports about a plot against his life.

          Around the same time, a U.S. grand jury in San Juan, Puerto Rico, indicted seven Cuban exiles on
          charges of plotting to kill Castro last year during a Latin American summit in Venezuela.

          Meanwhile, in Havana, a Salvadoran man awaits trial in a series of bombings of luxury hotels last
          year, including one that killed an Italian tourist.

          As long as such violent schemes and suspected spying continue, the Cuban government will use all
          methods -- including spying -- to protect itself, Castro told CNN.

          ``We are subjected to ferocious and total espionage,'' he said.

                     Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company