638 Ways to Kill Castro
638 Ways to Kill Castro
Featuring: Fabian Escalante, Orlando Bosch, Luis Posada Carriles
Director: Dollan Cannell
The film: The cover may suggest otherwise, but 638 Ways to Kill Castro - a documentary first aired last year on Britain's Channel 4 - is much more than a revisit of all those bizarre attempts on Fidel Castro's life since he came to power in Cuba in 1959.
The revelations of how the CIA planned and - when realpolitik demanded more subtle gestures - encouraged such extra-judicial efforts are much more explosive than the doctored cigars meant to blow up in Castro's face, and the interviews with the assassins provides harrowing food for thought about Washington's sinister schemes at its moral nadir.
The first part of the documentary is amusing, as Castro's former chief of intelligence Fabian Escalante reveals the most peculiar plots attempted against Castro - from poison pills and bullets in the head to fungi-infected scuba suits and exploding molluscs, both conjured by the Cuban leader's penchant for deep-sea diving. The hilarity soon wears off, however, as 638 Ways probes the underhanded dealings of various US administrations and Cuban exiles with the sole aim of eliminating the thorn in their political side just a ferry ride from American soil.
Partly out of their own ineptness and partly out of their assassins' failures, the CIA - as documented in the declassified US intelligence documents which were made public last week - recruited mafia henchmen to do their dirty work. And when that failed, the agency sponsored shady types from the Cuban community in Miami to do the job - among them were Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles (above), whose bloody efforts (such as an attack on a Polish freighter bound for Cuba in 1968, or the bombing of a Cuban plane in 1976) to undermine Castro led a Republican attorney-general to describe them as 'unrepentant terrorists'.
Here, 638 Ways unleashes the issue at hand: with the US now a self-styled crusader against global terrorism, how does it reconcile with its own part in sponsoring (if not actively participating in) terrorist acts against other leaders' sovereign states? The cases of Bosch and Posada, both of which are leading free, leisurely lives in Florida even when evidence mounted against them for their deeds, provide sobering viewing on the double standards of George W. Bush's war on terror.
The extras: More interviews, including unused excerpts from former US president Jimmy Carter (who says now that he objects to state-sponsored assassination of foreign leaders) and also the controversial snippet of Cuban-US congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen - a member of the House International Relations Committee - saying she 'welcome[s] the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro'.
The verdict: While too reliant on gimmicks and graphics, 638 Ways provides enough material to relight the debate about US policy towards foreign leaders in an age of global intervention.