1. Florida Politics

New JFK files feature a few surprises about intrigue in Tampa as Castro rose to power

TAMPA — Conspiracy theories get little support in the 2,900 pages of documents recently released from the investigations into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

But the JFK Assassination Records reveal new details in an intriguing side story that takes place in Tampa during the 1960s — the hidden and sometimes violent war between those for and against the rise to power of Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Figuring into the story are the bombing of a Japanese freighter in the Port of Tampa, signs of an arms smuggling scheme from the St. Petersburg airport, and a Tampa man with deep revolutionary ties who was the subject of an FBI search the day after Kennedy was shot.

THE JFK RECORDS: Search through all 2,891 pages

Each of these episodes involve men who once supported Castro and in most cases, turned on him after he had risen to power and embraced the communist principles of the Soviet Union.

At 91, Raul Villamia of Tampa may be the last man alive who can speak of those days from personal knowledge.

Villamia was an early and open supporter of Fidel Castro and the first consul representing Cuba's revolutionary government in Tampa.

As his friends and the United States grew concerned with Castro's moves toward communism, Villamia still held out hope that the revolution would end happily in a close alliance between the neighboring nations.

But his hopes were dashed, and Villamia simply walked away — early enough that he rates no mention in the newly released assassination records.

He was acquainted, though, with most of the Tampa players who do appear in these records.

Among them was one-time Castro supporter Max Garcia.

An FBI report contained in the records from June 1961 says agents were seeking information on Garcia.

The report does not explain why, but Villamia thinks he knows. The answer involves a city in Cuba.

THE JFK RECORDS: Where is Max Garcia?

"There were rumors he obtained an airplane filled with arms to go to Santo Domingo for counter-revolutionaries," Villamia said in an interview at his West Tampa apartment.

Curious about whether his friend had indeed changed sides, Villamia visited the St. Petersburg–Clearwater International Airport where the plane was said to be parked. It was, Villamia said, and he took pictures. But he never looked inside and never confronted Garcia about the rumors.

"We remained friends but not buddy-buddy," Villamia said.

They once were close, fellow minor-league baseball players inspired by a visit Castro paid to Tampa in November 1955 to join his revolutionary army — the 26th of July Movement or M267 for short.

From Tampa, the organization raised money and collected medical aid for the revolutionary troops in Cuba. Some members smuggled guns.

When Castro declared victory on Jan. 1, 1959, Tampa's Cuban community celebrated. But that attitude changed as he befriended the Russians.

Enrique Someillan was among those who felt betrayed.

THE JFK RECORDS: An informant signs up

Someillan was part of the M267 for two months in 1957 and left the organization to form his own pro-Castro group.

But according to a file in the JFK Assassination Records, by September 1960 — more than a year before Castro officially declared himself a communist — Someillan was providing information on Tampa's "Cuban matters" to the FBI.

Also, along with former Tampa M267 member Raul Moran, Someillan formed an organization called the Anti-Communist Group to Help in the Liberation of Cuba.

"Moran called me a communist. I punched him in the face and ran," Villamia said with a chuckle. "He was big."

The FBI wrote that the Anti-Communist Group later became part of another organization, Insurrectional Movement of Revolutionary, with Someillan heading the Tampa branch.

Also known as MIRR, the group's Miami affiliate was run by Orlando Bosch — a CIA-backed Cuban exile the FBI once declared an anti-Castro "terrorist" for, among other acts, firing a bazooka at a Polish ship in Miami.

JFK RECORDS: The Bosch connection

Miami's MIRR would assimilate into yet another organization, Cuba Power, that threatened actions against any country doing business with Cuba.

According to news archives, Cuba Power admitted to planting explosives that detonated on board the Japanese freighter Asaka Maru in Tampa on May 30, 1968. The ship was damaged in the explosion but no one was injured, according to news archives. The assassination records reveal that an explosives expert from MacDill Air Force Base determined it was set off by a "chemical long-delay detonator."

Informants, according to the records, told the FBI that the Tampa wing of MIRR was peaceful and mostly dealt with the dissemination of propaganda.

The FBI also wrote that Bosch had not been in Tampa during the year before the bombing of the ship.

Still, Someillan of the Tampa branch was his "natural friend" and they were known to talk on the phone, according to the assassination records. What's more, they reveal, two of Bosch's top aides visited the city less than two weeks before the explosion.

The news that Someillan worked with the FBI and anti-Castro forces came as a surprise to Villamia.

And he was downright startled to find another name in the assassination records — Marcelino Golan, described as the subject of an FBI search conducted Nov. 23, 1963, the day after the Kennedy assassination.

That's all the records say about Golan.

THE JFK RECORDS: An unexpected name

But again, the episode appears to be connected to Cuba.

Golan had a history of revolutionary activity, Villamia said. In April 1953, three months before Castro launched his revolution with an attack on the Cuban military's Moncada Barracks, Golan was set to join a similar mission targeting a different military outpost.

The Cuban government was tipped off and stopped the attack but Golan was not present for a raid that netted 20 arrests, according to Villamia.

Golan later joined the M267 in Tampa, Villamia said, but once Cuba became communist, he changed his focus to singing and acting rather than politics.

Golan did have a brother-in-law who smuggled guns to Cuba from Tampa during the revolution and who later worked for the Cuban government, Villamia said.

Still, as someone who endured questioning from the FBI for years after he left the revolution, Villamia sees the Golan information as a lead that went nowhere.

At the time of the Kennedy assassination, he said, Golan "had no political affiliations. His name doesn't make sense."

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.