In Bed With Fidel
On the street outside her publisher's office in New York City, Marita Lorenz draws heavily on a cigarette and, after more than 20 years, recalls her return to Cuba in 1981. 'When Fidel came into the hotel room,' she smiles, 'his first words were, "Hello, my little assassin".'
In the life of Marita Lorenz, this counts as a singularly romantic moment, perhaps even her happiest since the day she first met Fidel Castro and became his lover. The years in between were more difficult: running guns for the CIA, an attempt on Castro's life and a torrid affair with a Venezuelan dictator. And, of course, a suspicious trip to Dallas on the eve of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Now 54 years old, retired and almost relaxed, Lorenz has just written her autobiography. Marita: One Woman's Extraordinary Tale of Love and Espionage from Castro to Kennedy does indeed tell an extraordinary tale. Some of it may even be true.
The day after the first copies of Marita arrive from the printer, Lorenz greets me at the offices of Thunder's Mouth Press, a left-wing publisher specialising in slightly more credible conspiracy theories. Lighting the first of many cigarettes, she begins at the beginning. 'I was born in Germany at the start of World War II. My father was German, my mother was American.' In 1944 her mother was accused, correctly, of being a spy. She and young Marita were thrown into a concentration camp, where they languished until the end of the war. In 1950, the family moved to New York. Marita's mother worked for the OSS, the government agency which was the forerunner of the CIA. Her father became the captain of a luxury cruise ship, the MS Berlin. Marita was usually invited to join him on cruises.
One of the Berlin's regular ports of call was Havana, Cuba. 'I loved the music, the food, everything,' says Lorenz. 'I didn't know anything about politics.' Which is why she didn't recognise the bearded comandante who invited himself on board her father's ship in February, 1959. Marita and Fidel Castro flirted, and later in the evening drank Cuba Libres together at the ship's bar. Then, she says, 'I left him up at the bar and ran down to the cabin to change. Thank God I had just finished my hair and my dress and put on some Chanel No 5 when there was a knock on my door. He surprised me.' Shutting the door behind him, Castro took the toothpaste cup from her bathroom and filled it from a bottle of Cuban rum. 'I was nervous, I had never had a boyfriend, but I was attracted, I wanted to be near him. . . Well, Fidel grabbed me and hugged me. I figured, go for it. I'll never see him again anyway. . . I can never forget that first day. The way he hugged me, and his smile, and his beard, and his lousy cigar.' Lorenz laughs. She is almost embarrasse as she talks about how they made love.
The next day she returned to New York, but she kept thinking about 'my new boyfriend'. Not long afterwards, Castro sent a private plane to fly her back to Cuba.
Today, Lorenz admits that she was a little naive. It took her a while to realise that her domestic situation would never be entirely cosy. 'I had to share him. He was part of the island. The attitude was, how could I dare demand that this man belonged all to me.' And then, she claims, she learned that she was pregnant.
From this point on, Lorenz's story becomes increasingly murky and less reliable. This is largely because she herself has told several different versions over the years, and because various other participants and observers have cast doubts on her tale. Nevertheless, this is what she now insists happened. She was in her final months of pregnancy when somebody slipped a drug into her milk. 'Everything was a blur; I remember extreme pain. I was in a dark room and I was haemorrhaging.' When she came round, she says, a comrade of Castro's told her that she had been through an induced labour. The baby was alive, he said, but she would have to go back to America. 'I'm not positive who was behind it, but I just know for sure that it wasn't Fidel's people.'
At the time, however, Marita did not know anything for sure, and she says that when she returned to the United States the CIA exploited her confused state. Adopted by a shadowy group of agents known as Operation 40, Lorenz was kept isolated, underfed and prescribed a diet of addictive 'vitamins'. She was led to believe that her baby had been killed, and that Castro had ordered it. When they felt that she harboured enough hatred for her ex-lover, her 'friends' presented a plan: one that, as a bonus, would help protect the American way. 'They gave me two tablets, botulism toxins. The CIA had decided that poisoning was a ladylike way to kill him.'
With the capsules hidden inside a jar of cold cream, Lorenz flew back to Havana to meet Fidel Castro in the suite that had been their home for seven months. 'When I went back into the room and I saw the same bedspread, and the curtains flying, and the doors open to the balcony, and his cigar stubs, and one bed turned down and the bazooka under the bed, I knew that I couldn't do it. . . I was scared, but I was also angry. Angry at myself for getting into this situation. A year ago I loved him. How the hell could I go back now and take his life?' Furious, she threw the deadly capsules into the bidet.
But she still wanted to see Castro. 'He returned finally, and he said that I had stayed away too long. He hugged me. Then he lay down on the bed, fully dressed, chewing on a cigar, and said, "You come to kill me?" I said, "Yes." "You can't kill me. Nobody can kill me." He took out the .45 and handed it to me. I opened the clip. It was loaded. I'll never forget standing there looking at him. And I threw the gun down next to him. It hit his thigh. It's crazy, you know. I realised, too, that I still loved him.'
Later, Castro left to give a speech. Without waiting to say goodbye, Lorenz returned to New York. She left behind $ 6,000 in cash that the CIA had given her and a letter for 'the baby'.
Back in the United States, Lorenz distanced herself from her colleagues, who were furious at her for having bungled the mission. 'Now we have to go to war because of you,' they told her, as they began planning the Bay of Pigs operation.
Lorenz decided to settle down - if moving in with fugitive Venezuelan dictator/Mafia boss Marcos Perez Jimenez and having his child can be considered settling down. A year later, though, Jimenez was extradited and Lorenz fell back in with Operation 40. She found that they had a new obsession. 'They were furious at President Kennedy,' she says. 'They blamed him for the Bay of Pigs.' And, Marita claims, they had a new recruit. 'In the (training) camps I met this guy who they called Ozzy. . . He never said much. He was sort of arrogant, like a know-it-all, but really a know-nothing.' Lorenz could not figure out why this amateur was being included. It was only later that she realised that Lee Harvey Oswald made a perfect fall guy.
On 18 November, Lorenz claims, the group's leader, an agent named Frank Sturgis who would later be arrested breaking into the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building, gathered the troops in Miami. Two cars, loaded with rifles and handguns, set forth towards an undisclosed destination. As was often the case, Lorenz was brought along as a decoy, in case any local police needed to be sweet-talked. 'The trip was difficult,' she says. By the time they got to a hotel in Dallas, Lorenz continues, 'I was really bitching. I had my period, if you want to know the truth. And I wanted to get back to my daughter. Then this hood comes into the hotel and says, "Who's this broad? What is she doing here?" That's when I left, and thank God I did.' A few days later, flying to visit her mother in New Jersey, Marita heard the pilot announce that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Not long after that she watched the live coverage of Ozzy being led away in handcuffs, and recognised Jack Ruby, the man who shot Oswald, as the hood from the hotel.
So is it true? By their very nature, these kinds of stories are impossible to confirm. At least one serious researcher, Georgie Ann Geyer, whose acclaimed Castro biography Guerrilla Prince was published in 1991, says that she was unable to use any of Marita Lorenz's stories. 'Ninety-eight per cent of what she said could not be substantiated,' comments Geyer. A Vanity Fair reporter who interviewed Lorenz exhaustively this year wrote that when pressured for evidence that she had had Castro's son, Lorenz produced a fraudulent FBI file. In her autobiography, Lorenz mentions a photo of the son, Andre, whom she claims to have met in 1981, but the photo does not appear in Marita, and she says she no longer has it.
Even more confusing, Marita's story is slightly different each time she tells it. Sometimes it's only minor details, but always of the kind one would think she could keep straight. For example, in 1992 she told the New York Post that she and Castro 'made love for the last time' in 1960. A few months later she told Vanity Fair that he had made love to her again in both 1981 and 1988.
Other variations are more troubling. She told me that following the nightmare operation that ended her pregnancy, she was informed that the child was alive. However, she told the New York Post that she had been told the baby was dead, which is also what the FBI says she related to them in 1959. In an earlier attempt at an autobiography, written in 1977 but never published, Lorenz reportedly wrote definitively that the baby had been aborted. Indeed most observers of Cuba say it is extremely unlikely that Marita Lorenz bore Fidel Castro's son. In similar fashion, Lorenz has told several different versions of her trip to Dallas. In 1977, for example, she related the entire story to the New York Daily News, but forgot to mention the part about Jack Ruby.
No one denies that much of what Lorenz says is true. She was certainly Castro's mistress, and almost as certainly involved in a plot to assassinate him. So why would anyone want to embellish a story like that? Lorenz insists that it's not about making money, even though she has reportedly spent recent years in varying stages of poverty, sometimes unable to pay her rent. Georgie Ann Geyer recalls that when she requested an interview in 1988, Lorenz demanded $ 500 to talk.
For the record, neither Marita Lorenz nor anyone else suggested that I pay for my interview. Of course, I may have Oliver Stone to thank for this, since he just shelled out $ 200,000 for the film rights. Marita says she'd like to be played by Winona Ryder.
This article originally appeared in the (London) Observer Magazine, Nov. 1993