Review of 638 Ways To Kill Castro
Fidel Castro. An iconic world leader who swept to power in 1959 after a previous career as a guerrilla leader; no big deal, this has happened around the world on a number of occasions. Except this is Cuba we`re talking about.
Cuba is just south of Florida and therefore not too far off the coast of the United States, and so the Americans have been more than a little antsy over the island. Cuba is also the home of Guantánamo Bay or `Gitmo` as it is more infamously known these days. The post-WWII/Cold War-era United States was paranoid with regard to the influence of Soviet-style politics in the world at large and so to have a socialist revolutionary in power just off the coast of the US was something of a concern. This concern really came to a head in the days of JFK with the Armageddon-inducing Cuban Missile Crisis. Whilst there has been an uneasy peace on either side of this world event, Castro has been a thorn in the heel of the US for more than forty years and in what must seem to be a bitter pill to swallow has seen off nine US Presidents so far.
So it really comes as no real surprise that, even discounting the Bay of Pigs invasion disaster, US administrations have actively plotted to `wipe out` Fidel Castro. With deniability being the key watchword, the CIA is alleged to have either plotted or at least aided in different plots to assassinate the charismatic leader. Rather than use their own personnel on such a venture, the CIA instead used willing and bitter Cuban exiles, people whose bitterness knows no limits. Justified or not, no attempt has ever been successful despite claims that they `only have to be successful once`.
Cuban Intelligence have compiled a list of 638 plots or attempts to kill their leader, and this is where the title of the documentary comes from.
A little too tabloid in style overall and a touch too fashion victim with some of the exiles appearing in pastels and huge glasses. Lots of old black and white footage of both Castro and old films that may or may not be related to Cuba. The use of the ID parade line-up is a little too reminiscent of The Usual Suspects and detracts from what could be a much more serious attempt at journalism. Too much repetition of some of this old stock footage too.
Nothing special, but some good subtitling at least.
Interview with director Dollan Cannell - quite a substantial interview that includes a quite graphic filming of animal sacrifice. Also includes a potential link to the JFK assassination that is stated as `seismic` but then isn`t explored at all (another film idea, perhaps?)
Interview with Jimmy Carter - unused interview with interesting and substantial views by the ex-President. This is a bit of a coup in my opinion, even if it is relegated to an extra.
Miami Detective on Cubana 455 bombing (identity concealed) - lots of old and blurry shots of the `source` completely ruined by a couple of seconds of clear shot of his face. Nice one. Doesn`t really add much in terms of narrative, lots of innuendo and hearsay that wouldn`t hold up in court anyway. Hope no-one`s watching the detective…
Ricardo Alarcon, President of Cuban National Assembly - noteworthy extra only for using President George W. Bush`s own phrase back at him with regard to harbouring people wanted in connection with terrorists in Cuba. "If you harbour a terrorist, you are a terrorist"; nice one, George.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Congresswoman for Florida - Cuban American with a slight bias in that she welcomes the idea of assassinating a foreign leader and refers to Cuban terrorists as "freedom fighters".
Tom Parrot, ex-CIA and Secretary for secret American Policy Group in the 60`s - claims that Bobby Kennedy was putting pressure on this secret group to ensure that Castro was assassinated, therefore claiming that JFK must have had knowledge of these plots.
Richard Goodwin, Aide to President John F.Kennedy - talks about Kennedy being a big fan of James Bond and ensuring that Ian Fleming`s series went huge in the US, but not too forthcoming about whether Kennedy knew about the assassination plots/attempts.
Otto Reich, Cuban American politician and ex-State Dept - very interesting interview with a number of claims that both exaggerated and could be aimed at the current incumbent of the White House and any world leader. Reich held senior Government positions under both Reagan and Bush Jnr and believes that regicide is morally justifiable. He compares Castro to Hitler and claims that he is responsible for around 18,000 deaths in Cuba and thousands more globally, stating that Castro is a supporter of International terrorism. Reich believes it is justifiable to kill a leader who orders the death of innocent people because they disagree with his/her religion or political philosophy. Interesting…
This is a bit of a shame, really. There is the opportunity to do a real documentary on Castro, the assassination attempts and the comparison to the current White House regime and their views on regime change. Cannell hints at it during some of the interviews in the extras but the main feature misses this opportunity by a country mile and instead settles for the film equivalent of a Sun-style exclusive with a wacky tone that is surely wildly misjudged for a story that is essentially about killing a man. It`s a crying shame as there really is an interesting story in there struggling to get out.
I`ve always been more right wing than left, although I find myself moving more to the centre these days as I get older, and so I have no inherent sympathy for Castro, but I just can`t quite reconcile this story of US-sponsored assassination attempts on a world leader against a modern democracy that prides itself as the model to which the world should embrace. It seems to me that politics is only acceptable to the US if it conforms with their own idea of what politics and democracy should be. I`m not singling out the Republicans here either, as it would appear that subsequent Republican and Democratic administrations have been as bad as each other. Maybe it`s just the fact that the US is still a relatively young democracy as opposed to the United Kingdom, but it seems to me that the US still has to learn the lesson that you can`t impose politics on other countries, you have to allow them to make their own minds up and deal with it. I think ultimately Iraq will show this, but that`s another story.
I sympathise with the Cuban view that the US is harbouring known terrorists, but I also recognise that one man`s definition of a terrorist is another man`s freedom fighter. Something for the US to think about, maybe. I excuse nothing, but it seems that the definition of terrorist/freedom fighter/insurgent depends purely on which government you oppose. This is wrong, especially when you hear Cuban exiles being quite open on how much they want to kill Castro, some of the testimony given on camera is quite chilling. I admit to knowing next to nothing about Castro`s regime or his human rights record but I do know that regime change and state-sponsored assassination are morally indefensible unless there is a clear and present danger.
Anyway, enough of my naïve political ramblings. The main feature overall is interesting but spoiled by the tabloid editing. The extras are overall what saves this from ultimately being a waste of time, giving some idea of the vast difference of opinion between the official Cuban view and the views of both the US Government and Cuban exiles. In the end I got more enjoyment from the extras than the film, which I doubt was Cannell`s original intention but then I prefer my documentaries to be a little more substantial than what turned up here. Still worth a view, if only for the extras...