Mysteries of Hemingway
after his death the mysteries surrounding the writer's relations with
the FBI and the possible connections of the federal agency with his
suicide are still being unveiled.
Leonardo Padura Fuentes
July 30, 2011 21:29:14 CDT
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.
years after his death the mysteries surrounding the writer's relations
with the FBI and the possible connections of the federal agency with his
suicide are still being unveiled.
Those who have held in their hands the famous FBI file on Ernest
Hemingway affirm it contains 124 pages, 15 of which even today are still
held back “in the interest of national defense”. Of the remaining pages,
40 are covered with black ink except for their greetings and signatures,
and several more are practically illegible. Between the readable and
those crossed out in black, it is possible to determine that the file
holds information on Hemingway gathered between 1942, during the 2nd
World War and 1974, almost 15 years after his death.
The existence of 15 censored and 40 carefully crossed-out pages, the
permanence of others which barely repeat innocuous information about the
days when Hemingway chased German submarines along Cuban coasts, and
finally the fact that the writer was a subject of interest for FBI
investigations even after his death, at least suggest how problematic
the relationship must have been.
The legible documents imply that Hemingway, who in the years of the
Spanish Civil War had harshly criticized the federal agency, decided to
collaborate with what he would call “the American Gestapo” from
September 1942 (while he was already residing in Cuba) with two main
objectives: to inform on the activities of the members of the Spanish
Falange and Nazi followers on the island, and to launch a search for
German submarines to discover where and, above all, who was providing
the fuel they needed to sail the Caribbean waters.
connection is established through the US Embassy in Havana and the
person who would receive the information was the "Legal Attaché" R.G.
Leddy, an FBI man with little sympathy for Hemingway as reflected in the
comments with which he sprinkled his reports. For example, one where he
remembers the writer “was actively linked to the Republic during the
Spanish Civil War” and another where he jots down the fact that in 1940
he had joined "a general campaign to slander the FBI after the arrest of
certain individuals in Detroit for their alleged violations of the
Neutrality Act due to their activities in the Spanish Civil War", and he
goes on to affirm that "he has been accused of sympathizing with
Under the wing of the FBI, Hemingway, with his protagonist mania,
organized and directed a network of “amateur” informants, but this
collaboration would last for only seven months until the 1st of April
1943 when the Ambassador cancelled it on the grounds that the
information provided by the writer had been “in almost all cases
worthless”. In fact, the reason for laying off Hemingway as a spy must
have been the fact that his activities had become dangerous, because
they included spying on General Manuel Benítez,
Chief of the Cuban Policía Nacional, a man who enjoyed the
complete trust of the then constitutional President Fulgencio Batista,
“Cuba’s strong man”.
had crossed the line and the Director of the Agency, Hoover himself,
tried to set matters straight and wrote in 1942, "Any information you
have related to lack of trust in Ernest Hemingway as an informant must
be discreetly reported to the Ambassador. In this sense it must be
remembered that Hemingway recently provided information related to the
refueling of submarines in Caribbean waters which turned out to be
unreliable." Hoover also dropped within his comments, political
judgments on the writer and others of a personal nature referring to his
addiction to alcohol, in a typical operation to undermine Hemingway’s
hypothesis that could explain these reactions of the FBI would be that
the hunting operation for German submarines would have placed Hemingway
on the road to a dangerous revelation. Although there are still no
documents as evidence, the suspicion that General Manuel Benítez, from
his position of Chief of Police, could have been in charge of selling
fuel to the Germans is quite feasible. It is a fact that the Nazis were
refueling their submarines in several Cuban ports and there is no doubt
that an operation of such magnitude could not have been carried out
without the acquiescence of the army (Batista) and the police (Benítez)…
On May 30, 1960, Hemingway was admitted to the Mayo Brothers Clinic, as
recommended by a New York psychiatrist. Hemingway had been compelled by
his friends to see the psychiatrist, mainly because he had complained
that the “Feds” were following him. Seemingly this “persecution mania”
had reached its peak during his visit to Spain in 1959, but then when he
reached New York, he again started feeling that the eyes of the Feds
were on him. His wife Mary Welsh and some friends believed such feelings
were a symptom of the writer’s paranoia.
The treatment prescribed at the famous clinic was to subject him to a
series of between 15 and 20 electroshocks which wiped out his capacity
to write. This procedure known as electro-convulsive therapy was
reserved for hopeless patients. A few days after being discharged, in a
deep depression, he committed suicide on July 2, 1961 in his Idaho
cottage. He was 62, but was so devastated he looked like a very old man…
The fact that his widow, the only person with him in his Idaho house
when he died, has for years denied the fact that her husband committed
suicide is at least unsettling.
Documents released in 1984, revealed that in fact the writer was being
followed and watched by agents acting on orders of Hoover who a few
years before had considered Hemingway as “Public Enemy #1”. What was the
reason for the preeminence granted to the writer by the FBI?
the 50’s the FBI learned that Hemingway was planning to write a book
about the agency. Documents of the Bureau reveal the fear, particularly
Hoover’s, that the book could have damaged the image of his agency, and
most of all expressed judgments about his person. The existing animosity
against Hemingway was then increased and the Director of the FBI spread
the image of a drunk and pathetic Hemingway, with communist-leaning
ideas. Perhaps we’ll never know if Hemingway actually began that book.
What is certain is that as he made Finca Vigía his residence for
20 years, the house was full of papers belonging to the writer. A few
months after the suicide, his widow travelled to Havana and took away
the most valuable paintings and the documents she considered important.
During her stay she made a bonfire with a huge amount of papers. What
did Mary Welsh burn? Only she herself knew. Maybe some of the clues to
the persistent FBI surveillance of Hemingway went up in smoke among the
trees of Finca Vigía.