Friday, December 01, 2006
If 638 assassination attempts have truly been made on Cuban President Fidel Castro's life during his 47 years in power, that means they've averaged out at more than one deadly plot against the world's most prominent socialist per month, every month, since 1959.
As 638 Ways to Kill Castro began by showing us, this sustained level of mortal intrigue and death-defiance – Fidel was 80 not out in August – seems unlikely enough to be preposterous. Indeed, there was something distinctly comical about the sight of two retired Cuban security officials employing a calculator and notepad to arrive at the regime's official tally of thwarted killings. "We've counted four attempts twice," one wearily noted, before returning to the start of his laborious tallying-up.
638 Ways to Kill Castro was at first happy enough to collude in giving Fidel's premature dispatch a blackly comic air. But to recap: why did Castro become a target? A month after Castro seized power of the island of Cuba, 90 miles from America's coastline, the US government was encouraging his
media portrayal as "the danger on the doorstep … the bearded opportunist – defiant, meddlesome, jeering".
The CIA began ham-fisted covert ops. Monochrome vintage spy-movie footage of lurking secret agents in trenchcoats underlined the ridiculousness of the CIA's initial plans for Castro's removal. Their far-fetched plots included poisoning his boots to make his talismanic beard fall out, and enveloping him in a cloud of LSD on live TV, thereby occasioning a gibbering freak-out which would dismay the Cuban people. Later, the American spooks pondered a variety of poisoned artefacts – diver's suit, sub-sea mollusc shell, fountain pen, milkshake – before opting for two quicker-acting varities of deadly cigar: one poisoned, one explosive.
Things began looking more seriously murderous, however, when the CIA hired an accountant to bump Castro off. A death-dealing accountant? I kid you not. We saw him: Antonio Veciana. An elderly Cuban exile resident in Florida, Antonio now owns four marine supply shops. A proud grandfather, he is equally proud of having commissioned three attempts on Castro's life, the most recent in 1979 when the Cuban leader visited America as a guest of President Carter.
It was here that 638 Ways to Kill Castro oddly changed gear from comedy to outrage and horror, with the silver-haired, deceptively genial-looking old Antonio leading the show's sickening parade of CIA-backed, US-funded terrorists. Next up were Felix Rodrigues and his collection of signed Bush family photographs (the two Georges, plus Jeb). Felix it was who captured Castro's right-hand man, Che Guevera, and gave the order that he be shot "below the neck … he's supposed to die from combat wounds".
Worse still was Cuban exile Dr Orlando Bosch, a one-time paediatrician whom Florida governor Jeb Bush helped free from a jail term (for Miami bombing offences and bazooka'ing a ship for the "crime" of being Havana-bound). Dr Bosch appeared on camera justifying his role in planning a mid-air explosion which blew apart Cubana de Aviacion Flight 455 near Barbados on October 6, 1976. Dr Bosch's "act of war" killed 73 people, including six teenage Guyanese students and all 18 members of Cuba's fencing team, average age 22. In this, Dr Bosch was complicit with another American-backed terror advocate, Luis Posada Carriles.
Posada also devised a hotel bombing campaign in Havana that killed a young Italian tourist in 1997, thereby showing pesky European tourists that Cuba isn't safe. To Cuban officialdom's anger, Posada is currently imprisoned for "visa irregularities", not in Guantanamo Bay but in Texas.
As former American diplomat Wayne Smith put it: "Castro plays David to our Goliath beautifully, and we give him an opportunity almost on a weekly basis. We are unable to deal rationally with Cuba."
Starring: Luis Posada Carilles. Alpha 66. Orlando Bosch.