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A great history lesson with facts and views from both sides of the equation.

DVD Review: 638 Ways to Kill Castro

Written by Fumo Verde

If you think the "Bay of Pigs" incident was the only attempt to remove Fidel Castro from power, you need to see this documentary. It's a story of how one sovereign nation has tried to take out the leader of another. You may laugh at the title, but it is a sad truth. Since his rise to power in 1959, Castro's enemies have been plotting his demise. They want to free Cuba from his grip, have tried almost everything, and aren't about to stop.

Director Dollan Cannell opens up this world of shadow agents and assassinations, giving us an in-depth look at the many attempts to bring down one of the world’s most loved and hated men of the twentieth century. He presents the stories of the people who schemed and attempted, how and why they tried, and those that foiled the plots.

This has been one of the most informative and clever documentaries I have seen in a while. Conspiracy-mongers, time to freak out because it is all here. Did the C.I.A. take part? Why, yes they did, but so did a lot of Cuban nationals and even friends of Castro. The first culprit was a man who knew Castro when they went to the university together. Enrique Avarez was a close friend of Castro, but he soon realized that the cigar smoke clouded Castor’s true intentions. He says, "Fidel is for Fidel. People say Fidel was a communist; he was nothing. Fidel is a Fidelista, full stop. For him, that's it."

After the revolution, Castro was still walking around unprotected. Avarez bumped into him at a restaurant and thought that his assassination would be an easy thing to do, but couldn't bring himself to do it. That was attempt number one, and it's not even counted in the number of the title.

Cannell takes us on a trip that includes snipers, a poison milkshake, and exploding baseballs. The C.I.A. didn't try to kill Castro at first. They had better ideas, like cutting off Samson’s hair to sap his strength, and putting powder in his boots that would make his beard fall out. I still don't see how that would work, but those were our tax dollars and well, the government knows best, right?

Fabian Escalante has now retired, but in the early '60s he was the head of Cuban Intelligence. He had so many spies throughout Cuba, it was said you could not light up a cigar in Havana without him knowing. He was so good at stopping the plots to kill Castro, Cuban TV made a show out of his escapades.

Other stories come from the Cubans hired by the C.I.A.; these include Antino Veciana, Felix Rodriguez (the man who gave the order to kill Che Guevara in 1967), and Luis Posada Carriles. They tell of attempts they planned and tried to execute (pun intended). Veciana was recruited by the C.I.A. back in the early '60s. He now owns a boating supply store in Miami, but tells of one attempt he put together where he had four men in an apartment room across the way from the Presidential flat where Castro was living. Veciana had gotten the men a bazooka and aimed it right into Castro's room. What happened? The leader of the group told Veciana that they couldn't fire the bazooka without it being seen, so they abandoned the operation. "No one is suicidal," Veciana said. "You need at least a small chance of getting away."

Every plot worth trying was tried, from blowing up his car with a hand grenade to using remote-controlled model planes that would blow up once inside the window of the library where Castro was speaking. My favorite is the one where the C.I.A. gets his ex-girlfriend to try and hide poison pills in a jar of cold cream. When she went to get them out, they had melted. Castro had asked her if she had come back to kill him. She said yes, and she started to cry. He handed her his pistol and told her to do it. She pointed the gun at him and after a minute she put it down. When he asked her why, she said she couldn’t do it. Castro replied, "Nobody can.”

It was right after that failed attempt that D.C. went balls out to get rid of Castro once and for all. Ike started it, and in the depths of the Miami Zoo, exiles were being trained to land on Cuban shores and take back the island nation from its evil dictator. Thus the "Bay of Pigs" operation was born and executed under Kennedy. Cannell states that Kennedy was one of the Presidents who pushed the C.I.A. the hardest to kill Castro, and as irony would have it, an assassin’s bullet found Kennedy instead.

As plot after plot failed, the hardliners in Miami started going after other targets, members of their own community who wanted to make peace with Castro. One of these hardliners gone awry is Dr. Orlando Bosch, a man who admitted firing a bazooka at a Polish ship headed for Cuba. He was also implicated in the bombing of a Cuban airliner, which killed 73 passengers and crew. C.I.A. documents reveal that days before the bombing an associate of Bosch's was overheard saying, "We're going to hit a Cuban Airplane. Orlando has the details." Bosch was considered to be one of the most dangerous terrorists in the Western hemisphere and was in and out of U.S. and Venezuelan jails. Thirty-one countries refused to take him because of the acts he has committed, yet Pres. George H.W. Bush granted him residency.

Cannell has given a great history lesson with facts and views from both sides of the equation. The war against Castro will never stop. Even at the end of the documentary, we learn of a man who was arrested for owning a stinger missile he was planning on launching at Castro, and the list keeps getting longer. 638 Ways to Kill Castro is entertaining and educational; it also provokes the question concerning who we call terrorists.

The extras include an interview with ex-President Jimmy Carter, an interview with Ricardo Alarcon, President of the Cuban National Assembly, a look at the 1976 Cubana airline atrocity, and Luis Posada Carriles, another terrorist who lives among us, and more.

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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