Before Fidel Castro died of failing health on Friday, November 25, he survived an incredible 638 assassination attempts.
The attempts were planned and executed during Castro’s reign as President of Cuba from 1975 to 2008. Ironically, it was the dictator’s own vices and failing health that led him to turn over power to his younger brother, Raúl Castro, in 2008.
However, for 33 years, he managed to survive one attempt to kill and shame him after another. He once said, “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.” As would-be assassins who wanted to murder and ridicule Castro continued to fail, they came up with weirder and weirder plans. Here are 11 of the strangest.
1. Death by lover.
Castro was known to have many lovers, but one, angry from a failed pregnancy, became a CIA informant. Maria Lorenz was tasked with poisoning him with pills, but was thrown off guard when Castro handed her a gun and closed his eyes, giving her the chance to kill him right then and there. She later told Vanity Fair, “He didn’t even flinch. He was so sure of me. We made love.”
2. Exploding cigars.
Castro’s love of cigars was no secret. In 1967, after poisoned cigars had already failed, the CIA planned to hand Castro an exploding cigar at a U.N. meeting. However, the agent got cold feet and the plan was abandoned.
3. Diseased scuba gear.
One of Castro’s favorite hobbies was scuba diving, which led to one of the weirdest plots of all. The plan was to lace Castro’s wet suit with tuberculosis. At the last minute, the man who supposed to give him the suit gave him a disease-free one instead.
4. Exploding conch shell.
Another bizarre plan was to load a brightly painted conch shell with explosives and plant it in one of Castro’s favorite diving spots. Understandably, the agents abandoned the plan due to “impracticality.”
5. LSD cigars.
CIA agents knew that LSD-laced cigars wouldn’t kill Castro, but they hoped that smoking one during a radio broadcast would shake the public’s faith in their leader. In addition to spiking cigars, they planned ways to spray LSD throughout the entire studio. It never happened.
6. Poisoned chocolate milkshake.
As Great Big Story explains, one of the closest attempts was that of a poisoned chocolate milkshake. An attendant at Castro’s favorite ice cream shop agreed to add poison to his daily order, but spilled it at the last minute after the vial got stuck to the freezer and cracked.
7. A hypodermic needle hidden in a ballpoint pen.
In the early 1960s, the CIA offered a Cuban insider a ballpoint pen rigged with a hypodermic needle. The idea was that it would transfer a deadly disease to Castro with a prick so small that he wouldn’t even feel it. However, the double agent rejected the idea and asked for something “more sophisticated.”
8. Exploding baseballs.
Some thought that hiding grenades in baseballs would be a good way to kill Castro, but the plan was considered too dangerous for players and fans.
9. Debearding by poisoned cigar.
It seems silly now, but the CIA believed that the public would lose faith in Castro if his hair and beard fell out. They attempted to deliver a poisoned cigar, but Castro had stopped smoking at the time.
10. Thallium-laden shoes.
They were really set on making this guy go bald and shame him in front of his people. There was one plan to dust thallium salts, which are known to cause hair loss, in his shoes. It was scheduled to happen ahead of a U.N. conference but never went through.
11. Explosion at Panama Summit.
At the last minute, a plan to hide explosives under a podium in Panama where Castro was scheduled to speak was aborted. Again, it was thought to pose too much of a threat to bystanders.