Fidel Castro is, at worst, equally evil as those—including those in the U.S. government—who’ve spent decades trying to murder him and overthrow his government. At worst. He is their superior if he’s even minimally motivated by egalitarian principles and trying to better the lot of the Cuban people.
I’m not an expert on Castro and on Cuban history, but my impression is that he and his regime are a mixed bag—bad, but better than what he replaced, and better than many if not the majority of regimes the U.S. has supported in the Third World over the years. Therefore, applying what I said in the preceding paragraph, I’m pleased this particular David has thwarted the best efforts of his Goliath would-be assassins.
The British documentary 638 Ways to Kill Castro discusses many of the plots over the years by the U.S. and its allies to murder Castro, from attempts that failed, to harebrained schemes that evidently never made it beyond the planning stages.
What may be even more infuriating than the unsuccessful attempts to kill Castro, are the successful attempts to kill and terrorize others in Cuba. And it’s literally terrorism; I don’t mean that as some sort of politically-charged rhetoric or hyperbole. When you blow civilian airliners out of the sky, and you set off bombs in multiple hotels in the capital to scare away tourists so as to destabilize a regime you don’t like, that’s terrorism, in the most literal sense.
One of the Cubans in the film calls one of the terrorists sheltered by the U.S. “the Bin Laden of Latin America.” To people duped by American elite opinion, I’m sure that sounds like a ridiculous bit of propaganda, but actually it’s a pretty damn apt analogy. The U.S. leadership is at least as guilty of committing, encouraging, and preventing punishment of terrorism when it comes to Cuba (and various other places around the world, like Nicaragua under the Sandinistas) as the Taliban regime that did those same things as regards Al Qaeda terrorism.
That’s really the main thing that was running through my mind as I watched this film—the blatant double standards in how people react to world events. No one behind a Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance would ever assess things the way most real people do. The overwhelming majority of Americans—not just those on the far right—go through life with certain assumptions that filter incoming data so that it’ll be interpreted in certain ways. Namely, Americans who use violence against others (soldiers, cops, spies, etc.) do so out of defensive or other laudable motives. They’re defending freedom. Insofar as they use disagreeable tactics, it’s as a last resort because their enemies use those tactics and worse, and you have to do what you have to do to prevail against them. On the other hand, it’s laughable or insulting or evil when “enemy” countries or groups explain and defend their behavior with similar assumptions, because it’s self-evident that they do bad things simply because that’s the way they are.
The Castro regime has infinitely more justification for attributing bad motives to its enemies, and bending the rules on civil liberties, and cracking down on those it claims are its enemies internally than the post 9/11 U.S. could ever lay claim to. More justification might still be insufficient justification, so that’s not to say the Castro regime is in the right in all or even most of what it’s done. But unless you’re going to come at it from a pure pacifist perspective (which I wish more people would) and say that even states should forego all evil and violence regardless of the consequences and just do the best they can with Gandhian nonviolent tactics, I don’t see how you can be all that condemnatory toward Castro.
So the Mafia and the terrorists and the multinational corporations haven’t had the kind of free reign in Cuba they would if the U.S. had its druthers? Good. Neither the means nor the ends of U.S. policy places it somehow morally above the behavior of Castro (or that of your typical crack dealer for that matter).
I thought the film was quite well done for the most part. Though I’d say it’s at least somewhat sympathetic toward Castro, it’s not blatantly propagandistic, and it certainly allows those who’ve tried to kill him more than their fair opportunity to speak. (What’s striking about that is how many of these fanatics openly admit—or at the very least winkingly leave open the possibility—that they’re guilty of attempted assassination and terrorism. To them, this is war, and if you have a chance to assassinate Hitler or to bomb a German city, you do it.)
The narration and the interviews provide a good amount of clear and relevant information—this isn’t one of those minimalist “direct cinema” documentaries or whatever they’re called.
There’s some intriguing footage, like Edward R. Murrow interviewing Castro and his son in, I think, 1960. I also found quite interesting the story (which sounds almost too good not to be exaggerated if not entirely apocryphal) about the female assassin who gained access to Castro’s hotel room early in his reign. She was trying to poison him or kill him in some way that required elaborate subterfuge (I don’t remember the details), but Castro figured it out. So allegedly he handed her a loaded gun and told her if she were really so intent on killing him to go ahead. She couldn’t bring herself to do it and said, “I can’t.” To which he replied, “I know. No one can.” (Again, I wonder about this one.)
In order to call attention to the criminal, and to some extent ludicrous, nature of some of the anti-Castro and anti-Cuba violence, the filmmakers intersperse footage from old black and white gangster movies and such. It’s a little cutesy, and I could have done without it. I suspect it was done not so much because it was regarded as all that wonderful a tactic, but just due to a lack of enough relevant visuals to tell all the stories. There has to be something on the screen, so they decided to go with that.
Overall 638 Ways to Kill Castro is a solid documentary. It’s not the “whole story” by a long shot, as no single movie can be, but this is history that Americans especially really should know.