638 Ways to Kill Castro Reviews

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½ November 12, 2011
Is There Even a Point to Killing Him Anymore?

The running joke is that the way you can tell the CIA didn't kill JFK is that, well, JFK's dead, isn't he? Now, no evidence is provided that many of the plots under discussion were sponsored by the CIA, or even the US at all, though it's certainly true that the US has been unwilling to punish anyone who was ever involved in one of them, even if they along the way committed horrifying acts of terrorism. However, one of the things the film doesn't really touch on is the sheer incompetence of many of these plots. Now, I don't know if the 638 figure includes every CIA plot against Castro, and I hope it does not. After all, there are all those weird plots which posited that merely getting his beard to fall out would lead to his downfall, as if he were some kind of reincarnation of Samson. One way or another, though, it seems as though someone at the CIA had been watching far too much slapstick. I mean, seriously--exploding seashell?

The number comes from Fabian Escalante, who for decades was responsible for the safety of Fidel Castro. In fact, he became so well known for his job that there was a TV show in Cuba in the '70s about Escalante, wherein he thwarted all kinds of plots to kill Castro, presumably with much more flair than anyone in that kind of job shows in the real world. The movie touches briefly on the CIA's history in the assassination game, but for much more, we discuss several expatriate Cubans. One of them, Orlando Bosch, doesn't really seem to have done much to kill Castro per se, though the men knew each other at the University of Havana before the revolution. What he did do was blow up Cubana flight 455. Antonio Veciana, who owns a marine supply story in Miami, came fairly close to actually successfully killing Castro on multiple occasions. Various of these people claim, and probably truthfully, to have received US money for their plots.

Don't get me wrong. I'm hardly pro-Castro. I think most people who are haven't taken a good look at his policies as ruler of Cuba. Though of course I don't think there's much point in killing Castro now, given he's eighty-six and has essentially stepped down. And while his brother now controls Cuba, at least in theory, time is likely to kill the brothers Castro any time now. The point, though, is that I can understand the impulse to want Castro out of power. I am especially irritated by people who sing his praises without actually knowing anything about what things are really like in Cuba. This means that I am mildly irritated at the film, as it completely glosses over any reasons anyone might legitimately have for wanting to get rid of Castro. Or even, given what that would have taken forty years ago, to have killed him. In fact, we are supposed to take it as read that the whole thing is just Evil American Imperialism just like everything else the US does. Indeed, its very assumption seems to be that every one of those plots was sponsored in some way by the US, which is unlikely at best.

In fact, by its very assumptions, the film fails to understand its subject matter. The special features show that Antonio Veciana claims to have met Lee Harvey Oswald in the office of Veciana's FBI handler a month before the assassination, despite the fact that the identity of said handler is unknown. And, indeed, flies in the face of a lot of interagency conflict. Filmmaker Dollan Cannell consistently refers to the various attempted assassins as US agents, which also shows a lack of understanding of how these sorts of things work. As in, you aren't an agent just because they've given you money and encouraged you. Oh, it's unquestionably true that the US government attempted to enlist the Mafia in the common cause of ousting Castro. However, they didn't have to enlist a lot of people; a lot of people are perfectly happy to do this sort of thing on their own. And it doesn't always have anything to do with what end of the political spectrum they're on.

Frankly, the title is a lie. No one has ever believed that the bomb on Cubana flight 455 was actually an attempt on the life of Fidel Castro. No one has ever believed that anyone thought Castro was on it. Yes. US policy toward Cuba has been contrary to international law in a lot of ways, given the assassination attempts and all. Yes. It's absolutely wrong that Orlando Bosch died peacefully in Miami in the bosom of his family. And so forth. And certainly there are parallels to be drawn between the history of US relations with Cuba and the War on Terror. However, those parallels are not always the ones the movie is drawing, and the problem there is in part because no interest is shown in what Castro has done wrong. Though at least they have the decency to include an interview with Jimmy Carter about Cuba, including explaining how Fidel Castro violated US trust when Carter eased relations with Cuba. However, it's too little, too late, and it doesn't alter the problems with the film itself.
March 4, 2011
Very interesting programme. Long live Fidel Castro. Down with American terrorism.
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