British ballerina helped Panama coup bid: archives

28th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Top British ballerina Margot Fonteyn was arrested in Panama over a Cuban-backed plot to overthrow the central American country's government in the late 1950s, archives published on Friday showed.

Fonteyn admitted her part in the failed plot with her husband and 125 Cuban revolutionaries sent by Fidel Castro, in exchanges with Foreign Office minister John Prufumo.

Panamanian authorities arrested her in April 1959, and she later confessed that she met Castro and helped assemble rebels and weapons at sea for an attempt to invade the country.

"Her conduct has been highly reprehensible and irresponsible to a degree," wrote the British ambassador to Panama Sir Ian Henderson.

"She knew that her husband was gun-running, she knew that he was accompanied by rebels and at one point she used her yacht to decoy government boats and aircraft away from the direction which her husband was taking."

And he added: "I do not regard her conduct as fitting in any British subject, let alone one who has been highly honoured by Her Majesty the Queen."

Profumo recalled: "Dame Margot assured me that during their visit to Cuba in January, Castro had promised help to her husband in his aims to overthrow the existing regime in Panama."

"She was a bit hazy about the extent of aid offered because, she said, the talks were in Spanish, but she was certain the aid included both arms and men," he said in documents released by the National Archives in Kew, West London.

And he added: "She gave me to understand that quite a large-scale operation had been planned but that it had gone wrong at the last minute."

The Foreign Office debated whether to tell US authorities that Castro was involved in the plot, given that Fonteyn was speaking to the minister in confidence.

"I dare say it would not matter much if we do not pass on this piece of information to the Americans," said a note in the files.

Fonteyn went on to an acclaimed career including a famed partnership with Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. She retired to Panama with her husband Roberto Arias, the son of a former Panamanian president, before her death in 1991.

© 2010 AFP

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