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April Saturday

The journalist who deciphered the CIA



The preparation of the Bay of Pigs invasion entered its final stage in March 1961, with the CIA station officers in Guatemala involved in a feverish traffic of encrypted cables to and from the United States, unaware that one of those reports on the training of the invading brigade in the Central American country would alert the Cuban leadership to the details of the attack.

However, it was not the Cuban security services that disclosed the said plans. The secret came to light thanks to a combination of chance, perseverance and the extraordinary talent of Rodolfo Walsh, a 32-year-old Argentine writer and journalist, who in 1960 was working as head of Special Services of Prensa Latina Agency in Havana, where a young Gabriel García Márquez who had just started a career in journalism also worked.

Ricardo Massetti, another Argentinean journalist, founded and directed this agency in 1959, inspired by Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara, to overcome the information blockade of the Western press on the Cuban Revolution.

In his eagerness to perfect the Agency's work, the young director established a systematic surveillance program that involved the daily examination and immediate printing of news dispatches received by radio wave, as this was the basic technology used for journalistic communications.

Routine was broken when Massetti's office received a long coded message from the Guatemalan communications company Tropical Cable that aroused many people’s—and especially Walsh’s—suspicions, eventually deciphered after weeks of work with only the help of an elementary text on the subject.

The story might have consigned to oblivion or remained a secret of the past, but in 1977 Gabriel ‘Gabo’ García Márquez wrote the article "Rodolfo Walsh, the writer who got ahead of the CIA" about his friend’s aforesaid adventure.

As Gabo revealed in the article, "The cable, addressed to Washington by the head of the CIA in Guatemala (…) was a detailed report of the preparations for a landing in Cuba on behalf of the U.S. government. It even revealed the place where the recruits were beginning to prepare; the Retalhuleu hacienda, an old coffee plantation in the north of Guatemala".

He explained that he shared with Massetti the idea of sending Walsh to Guatemala with a false passport and under the façade of a Protestant church pastor, via Nicaragua and Panama, "until he found the exact location of the training camp. If he managed to gain the confidence of a recruit,
he could have written an exceptional report. The whole plan failed because Rodolfo Walsh was arrested in Panama due to an information error of the Isthmian government. His identity was then so well established that he did not dare to insist on his charade as a bible salesman."

That episode of solidarity with the Cuban Revolution in the days leading up to the Bay of Pigs invasion did not remain an isolated fact of Walsh's youth, who would devote the rest of his life to literature and revolutionary journalism against the pro-imperialist regimes in the region. Consistent with those principles, he became a clandestine fighter in his homeland, Argentina, during the last military dictatorship.

On March 25, 1977, in Buenos Aires, a task force of the largest torture and death center, Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA), surrounded Rodolfo Walsh and shot him to death.

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