The first-ever female correspondent for ABC News not only slept with Cuban leader Fidel Castro but also served as a secret back-channel between him and the US government, newly released documents have revealed.
Lisa Howard, who initially began her career as a soap actress, decided to become a reporter who would cover international affairs.
She developed an intimate relationship with Castro months after the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly led to global nuclear annihilation.
The revelations about Howard’s relationship with Castro were reported for the first time by POLITICO.
Motivated by a desire to see peace between the US and Cuba, Howard volunteered to serve as a secret intermediary between the Communist government in Havana and the Kennedy administration.
Howard passed messages from Castro to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Lisa Howard, the first female correspondent for ABC News, traveled to Cuba three times, where she met Fidel Castro. They are seen above meeting for the first time in Havana on April 21, 1963
Howard, who initially began her career as a soap actress, decided to become a reporter who would cover international affairs
In those messages, Castro is said to have been ready to meet American demands to stop exporting revolution to Latin America and to cool ties with the Soviet Union in exchange for Washington’s pledge to cease supporting invasions of his island.
The information is contained in diaries and notes written by Howard and released by the National Security Archive.
There are also photographs showing Howard interviewing Castro.
Howard is described as a relentless and driven journalist who was determined to not only get an interview with the Cuban leader but also to advance secret diplomacy by lobbying members of the administration to take her seriously.
The remarkably revealing diary passages show that Howard developed such an intimacy with Castro that she felt comfortable enough to tell him to his face that she thought his policies were ruining Cuba.
Howard told El Comandante that he ‘touched [her] very deeply’ but that she was ‘overwhelmed by sadness’ watching him interact with the Cuban people because ‘he had such a genuine belief in the revolution and in what he was doing [when] in fact so much of what he was doing was truly evil…and I was not capable of making him see it.’
Howard has mixed feelings because of her views of Castro the person versus Castro the leader.
‘I do not want you destroyed. … You possess what George Bernard Shaw called “that spark of divine fire”,’ Howard wrote to Castro after he granted her a television interview in April 1963.
‘You are not the ruthless, cynical tyrant [your critics] have depicted. … I do not believe you have meant to hurt people, though, in all candor, I am both saddened and outraged that you have destroyed thousands and harmed many more without just cause.’
Castro, for his part, was smitten with Howard.
The two would spend hours talking until sunrise. Castro would visit Howard in her hotel room, where she felt free to undress in front of him.
‘I dressed in front of Fidel like he was a schoolroom mate,’ she wrote.
She developed an intimate relationship with Castro months after the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly led to global nuclear annihilation. Howard and Castro are seen above on the ABC News program ‘Cuba And Castro Today’, which aired in April 1964
‘[H]e pulled me over and asked me to sit on his lap, and then spoke to me very gently, and said, “Lisa, you are very dangerous for me. I could love a girl like you very deeply. You’re very sweet, very pretty, very intelligent, very sensitive”.’
The Cuban leader envisioned what it would be like to have a serious relationship with Howard.
Castro told her: ‘We would have many fights, a hundred fights, two hundred fights, but in the end it would be all right.
‘You can teach me very much.’
Castro confided in Howard, saying that he felt ambivalent about his female conquests because he thought the women he slept with were interested in him only because he was the most powerful man in Cuba.
Howard wrote that the Cuban leader was at first hesitant to jump into bed with her.
‘What do you want, Lisa? Do you want my body?’ Castro told Howard.
‘He said he wanted me very much but the conditions had to be right and we had to be away somewhere where we could forget everything,’ Howard wrote.
But ‘we did get to bed and he made love to me quite expertly and it was, of course, thrilling and ecstatic – as much as anything I have ever experienced.’
Howard was a key link in a secret back-channel of communication between Castro and the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson
Howard was a key link in a secret back-channel of communication between Castro and the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
But those talks did not advance because Howard claims that the Johnson administration was not receptive to Cuban overtures for renewed diplomatic relations.
Howard was eventually fired from ABC News after she clashed with the network over her sympathetic portrayal of the Cuban government.
Fidel Castro died in November 2016 at the age of 90. His brother, Raul Castro, assumed the presidency.
On Thursday, Raul Castro officially stepped down as president, handing the reins over to Miguel Diaz-Canel.
It is the first time in over 40 years that the island nation will be headed by someone not named Castro.
Raul Castro, 86, will remain as the head of the Communist Party.
Howard died of a drug overdose in 1965. She was just 39 years old.