More Mexico Mysteries
IV. The Enigma of Pedro Gutierrez Valencia
If the Luisa Calderon story has been cleared up at all, there's another story that's about to get more complicated. This one has to do with a man named Pedro Gutierrez Valencia. Mr. Gutierrez was one of the people who saw Oswald take money in or near the Cuban Embassy. His story was quite a bit different from that of Gilberto Alvarado Ugarte, the Nicaraguan undercover agent whose story appears in the Warren Report under the moniker "D," but Gutierrez' story was also of great concern to the Commission. Alvarado was ultimately discredited by a lie-detector test and retracted his story. But Gutierrez' story was never really discredited. In the Coleman-Slawson "foreign conspiracy report" that came to light in the 1990s, Gutierrez was of more concern than Alvarado. [HSCA document #180-10096-10364. Pages 98 through 102 discuss the Gutierrez allegation]
The gist of the Gutierrez story, as told to the FBI and the Warren Commission is as follows. Gutierrez wrote a letter on December 2, 1963, to President Johnson (see English translation), which caused him to then be interviewed multiple times by FBI agents during early 1964. In the letter and interviews, he stated that in the course of his duties as a credit examiner he was in the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City on September 30 or October 1, 1963. While leaving the Embassy, he bumped into a Cuban who was accompanied by an Americanthe two were having a heated exchange in which he heard the words "Castro," "Cuba," and "Kennedy." The Cuban was counting out money which he passed to the American, and the two then got into a car and drove away. After the assassination of President Kennedy, Gutierrez viewed pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald and realized that the American accompanying the Cuban had been Oswald. [The story is told in slightly greater detail in the Oswald Foreign Activities report cited previously. The yet more detailed FBI reports are in CE 2121]
Gutierrez was interviewed four times by the FBI in early 1964; reports of these interviews are located in Commission Exhibit 2121 in WH24. Gutierrez' neighbors reported that he was a serious and trustworthy individual, and his story was taken seriously. Ultimately, it was ignored based on the fact that he didn't recognized a photo of Oswald when shown one by the FBI, and that he had only gotten a glimpse of Oswald, who was with the Cuban Gutierrez had bumped into. Further, surveillance photos examined by the CIA had failed to pick up Gutierrez on the dates in question. But these were light grounds on which to dismiss a detailed story by a seemingly credible person.
Gutierrez and the HSCA Interview
When the HSCA went to Mexico in 1978, Gutierrez was among those interviewed. The Lopez Report notes that he was interviewed on June 5, 1978, after an earlier conversation [Lopez Report, p. 271]. But of what Gutierrez had to say, the Lopez Report has only this footnote:
1192/ Pedro Gutierrez Valencia claimed that he bumped into Lee Harvey Oswald at the Consulate on September 27, 1963. Valencia was at the Consulate doing a credit check on one of the Cuban employees.
There are two curious aspects of this footnote, apart from its brevity. One is the date of the alleged encounter, which is September 27 here, the day Oswald arrived in Mexico City. The other is the claim that Gutierrez bumped into Lee Harvey Oswald, not the Cuban accompanying him.
Are these minor inaccuracies, or typos, or changes in the story? As it turns out, they are the tip of a very strange iceberg.
I have not yet run across any transcript of the Gutierrez interview, but there is an audiotape on the shelves of the National Archives. It is not a tape of the interview itself, though it displays the correct date (June 5, 1978). Instead, it is a tape of a person apparently reading, or re-enacting, the interview, using English instead of the Spanish language that the original interview must have used. Given the dramatic tone of voice employed at various points in the tape, it appears to be an English-language reading conducted by someone listening to the original interview with headphones or perhaps even in person, as there appear to be faint voices in the background. The tape itself does not have any revealing information as to the method by which it was created. [The tape, available online here for listening, is HSCA record number 180-10131-10396, also labeled tape Z-25]
Same Gutierrez, Different Story
In the tape, "Gutierrez" told the HSCA that he indeed wrote a letter to President Johnson, and then went on to dispute just about every aspect of the story told in that letter and subsequent interviews. After beginning to agree with the story as retold by Ed Lopez, the interviewer, Gutierrez began to express confusion and bewilderment at some of the statements attributed to him. For one thing, in the taped interview he claimed to have bumped into Oswald, but remembered nothing about a Cuban, finally saying:
Gutierrez: I just don't remember him [Oswald] being accompanied by another person.
After more confusion by Gutierrez as to the contents of the letter, Lopez then read from the FBI reports, including facts about Oswald taking money from the Cuban and putting it in his left pocket, following both men to their car and watching them get in, and so on. Since Gutierrez said he remembered nothing about a Cuban, he also didn't remember these aspects of his story either.
At one point, Lopez tried to enlist Gutierrez' help in figuring out how the FBI attributed statements to him which he now was denying:
Lopez: I'm sorry if I appear to be pressing you, Mr. Valencia…….and also……ensure that the statements that the FBI credits you with were in fact accurate statements………you do not speak any English. I'm wondering now, is it possible that they had a translator present when they interviewed you?
Gutierrez: No, they did not have a translator. They spoke broken Spanish and I spoke broken English.
The interview kept returning to the Cuban or Cuban-American who was allegedly counting out money and with whom Gutierrez is supposed to have bumped. Gutierrez repeatedly expressed bewilderment:
Lopez: Mr. Valencia, let us now go over the description of the Cuban-American………First of all, you described him of course as Cuban-American, is that correct?
Gutierrez: That is an enigma to me. I do not remember him being accompanied by a Cuban-American.
In this segment, the translator's voice displays great incredulity and bewilderment when delivering Gutierrez' words:
Lopez: In Exhibit number 2121, they stated that you described the other man as white, male, Cuban, 33 to 35 years old.
Gutierrez: I do not ever remember describing him as such. I don't remember anything about this Cuban-American. I mean, it could be that I said it and that I'm senile now and I don't remember, but I do not ever remember mentioning anything about a Cuban. [emphasis in voice on tape]
Gutierrez also disputed less important facts, such as who the credit check was for and its ultimate disposition. But the interview kept coming back to whether Gutierrez had bumped into a lone Oswald or into a Cuban who was counting out money for Oswald. I don't know how a Cuban who didn't exist could hand money to Oswald, but Ed Lopez kept at it:
Lopez. …..it states that you reported that the Cuban-American handed some money over to the American. Is that true, Mr. Valencia……Do you remember declaring it?
Gutierrez: I do not ever remember that occurring; I do not remember ever stating that whatsoever. Never.
What to make of this? These possibilities present themselves:
1. Gutierrez' story was fabricated/exaggerated by the FBI in Mexico, and Gutierrez was telling the truth in 1978. The letter written by Gutierrez, which had a thumbprint matched to Gutierrez, would be a key piece of evidence in evaluating this possibility. Even apart from the letter, though, the idea is a little far-out. Hoover's FBI was pushing the lone-nut thesis, not Cuban conspiracies, although the FBI in Mexico might have marched to a different drummer. But this would have had to have been a fairly large conspiracy to sell such a story, which could easily have fallen apart if Gutierrez really wasn't a part of it. [2007 update: This essay was written before I had seen the letter - Lothar Buchholz located the FBI's copy of the letter, complete with thumbprint. Ron Ecker translated the letter into English].
2. It's all just a snafu; the story got mixed up and exaggerated innocently, maybe due to language problems. Hard to believe, given four detailed interviews with the FBI. Again, the letter would be important here. [2007 update: the letter contains the basics of the story told to the FBI: Oswald with Cuban, counting money, "Castro, Cuba, and Kennedy", both got into auto)].
3. Gutierrez was telling the truth in 1963 and 1964, but retracted his story in 1978, probably under pressure to do so. A variation of this is that Gutierrez witnessed a staged event and truthfully described it. The CIA's failure to locate him in surveillance photos in early 1964 is one reason to doubt this. Without a tape recording of the actual Gutierrez interview, it's impossible to even begin to evaluate his demeanor with an eye toward gauging his truthfulness in 1978. [2007 update: The Lopez Report on p.138-139 says that Gutierrez was discovered in photos of 27 Sep 1963, a day when Oswald or "Oswald" was in Mexico City, thus removing one of the two reasons his story was discounted by the Warren Commission.]
4. Gutierrez' original story was a fabrication, and in 1978 he elected to (partially) retract it . This seems to me the most likely of the alternatives, though hardly certain.
Gutierrez is an enigma, although I am inclined to believe that the original story was a complete fabrication, and that Gutierrez attempted to backpedal as gracefully as the record would allow in 1978. His original story of the Cuban counting out money to Oswald seems all too convenient, a tall tale or possibly a truthful story of a staged incident. With the 1978 retraction of most of the story and Gutierrez' seeming shock at being told his own story, he was either a great actor or the story has only gotten weirder.
This story presents a caution for those who rely on summary reports, even such previously-suppressed documents as the Lopez Report. In this case, the Lopez Report makes a brief reference to the interview with Gutierrez, but never mentions the amazing retraction the interview represents.
Next Part: V. Publishing the Mystery Man Photograph