The Cuban consul who spurned Lee Harvey Oswald's attempts to get to Havana in the fall of 1963 yesterday indignantly denied long-persistent reports that Oswald had told the Cubans he might kill President Kennedy.
Testifying with the blessings of Cuban President Fidel Castro, the now-retired diplomat, Eusebio Azcue, insisted that he "would have never tolerated such a conversation."
"That would have been a provocation and we do not allow ourselves to be provoked," Azcue told the House Assassinations Committee. "This is ridiculous that we would attempt to walk into the mouth of the lion."
The reports that Castro had been given advance notice of Oswald's intentions were picked up by authorities years ago and reached their fullest flower in an Oct. 15, 1967, article in the National Enquirer that melodramatically quoted Castro as saying:
"It's possible that I could have saved him [Kennedy]. I might have been able to - but I didn't. I never believed that the plan would be put into effect ... I thought that he [Oswald] must have been some sort of wild man."
Despite the questionable credentials of the now dead British journalist who wrote the article (other stories of his included "I Was Hitler's Secret Love" and "British Girls as Nazi Sex Slaves"), the House committee staff reported that the substance of the article is not without some fouddation.
The journalist, a free-lancer named Comer Clark, may never have interviewed Castro as he claimed to have done, the staff reported, but it added:
"The committee has been informed that the substance of the Clark article is supported by highly confidential, but reliable, source available to the United States government."
Chairman Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), who concluded the day's hearing with high praise for Castro's cooperation in the inquiry, refused to elaborate on the tantalizing disclosure.
For his part, Castro, who gave the committee a more-than-four-hour interview last April, denied making any such remarks and called the story "a lie from head to toe." The transcript of the committee's interview with Castro is to be made public today.
Yesterday's hearing was a first in several respects. The witnesses, Azcue and former consul Alfredo, Mirabal, who served with him in Mexico City, were accompanied to the hearing by Ricardo Escartin, consul and first secretary to the Cuban interests section in Washington. In an opening statement on behalf of the Castro government, New York lawyer Michael Standard denounced the assassination as "an act of the vilest kind ... unacceptable by any standard of political behavior," and he emphasized Cuba's official decision "to cooperate" with Congress in the inquiry.
Oswald visited the Cuban consulate in Mexico City on Sept. 27, 1963, in an effort to get a "transit visa" for a stop there on the way to the Soviet Union. He dealt with Sylvia Tirado Duran (now Bazan), a secretary at the consulate, and later with Azcue and Mirabal. Although he spoke no English, Mirabal signed the application for a visa, which Oswald wanted immediately but never got.
Revealing himself as a fan of former New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, Azcue repeated under oath his statements in Havana earlier this summer that he thinks "there were two Oswalds."
Azcue said that at some point after the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination, when he was back in Havana, he saw the film of jack Ruby shooting Oswald and concluded that this was not "the Oswald who visited the consulate" in late September.
Recalling an argument he had with the "discourteous" Oswald he remembered, Azcue said he had "a clear picture" in his mind of a man over 30, "very thin-faced. He had cold, hard eyes. His cheeks were thin. His nose was very thin and pointed." The Oswald on film, he said, seemed younger and heavier.
In a taped interview with the committee staff, Sylvia Tirado, by contrast, identified Oswald's pictures from Dallas as those of the man who came to the consulate. Mirabal said "I believe he is the same person," too. A copy of Oswald's original visa application, examined by committee staffers in Havana, contains the real Oswald's photo. Chief Committee counsel G. Robert Blakey added that committee handwriting experts have confirmed that the real Oswald signed the visa application.
Azcue, however, held firm to what he called "my truth". He said he never even looked at the visa photos to see if they matched with man presenting them, until this part April when the committee staff showed one to him.
Azcue also said he was sure tha Oswald who visited the consulate spoke to no one other than him, Mirabal and Tirado. Like Azcue, they told the committee they remembered no threats against President Kennedy.