638 Ways to Kill Castro

A film about the US government’s 638 failed plots to kill Fidel Castro could hardly have come at a more timely moment.

Last week, US government officials briefed reporters to suggest that Fidel Castro might have only months to live. They have, of course, been predicting his demise for the last four decades but what was significant about the latest briefing was the tacit acceptance that the Cuban leader will die a natural, rather than an unnatural, death.

There have now been, according to the Cuban security service, no fewer than 638 plots to kill Castro, either directly organised by the CIA or their many proxies. The attempts have been annotated by two of Castro’s top minders, Fabian Escalante, who has written about them in his book, 638 Maneras de Matar a Castro (638 Ways To Kill Castro) and his colleague, Xavier Solado, who wrote a pamphlet of the same name a few years ago.

Now a film about those plots is to be shown on British television. It could hardly come at a more timely moment as the world is being asked to take a stance against terrorism and western horror is expressed at the assassination of political leaders.

“Some of the attempts were a bit like Clousseau,” says Peter Moore, the film’s executive producer. Some of them are familiar – the exploding cigar, the ballpoint hypodermic syringe, the gift of a poisoned wetsuit, others more traditional. Dollan Cannell, the film’s director, says that the plots seem to have failed through a mixture of incompetence, chance and bad timing. “The CIA had to do it without being blamed for it,” says Cannell. “There had to be no smoking gun.”

Castro has now seen off no fewer than eight American presidents, many of whom, Cannell believes, must have sanctioned the various attempted hits. John F Kennedy even asked Bond creator, Ian Fleming, for suggestions and there were plans to outsource the job to the Mafia.

“We can be 100 per cent sure that Eisenhower and Kennedy signed off on them,” says Cannell. “And I think you could say that probably also Johnson and Nixon agreed to them. Jimmy Carter told us when we met him during the making of the film that he did not.”

Two of the chief anti-Castro plotters agreed to participate in the film: Orlando Bosch, weakened by a stroke, and Luis Posada, who is currently wanted in both Cuba and Venezuela in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner. Anti-Castro exiles were happy to help, says Moore. “The title sounds so different to the ears of people in Miami,” he says. “It seems to them like a pretty good idea. There is no shame about being involved in the plots amongst the exile community. They (the would-be assassins) are pretty much regarded as heroes. And there are still people who are only embarrassed that they didn’t succeed.”

Cannell says that the most striking aspect of the film for him is that a country, which is now so outspoken about its opposition to terrorism, should have been involved for so long in so many plans to kill a foreign head of state: “what shrieks at you is the double standard.”

The film is being shown just a few days before the planned celebrations in Havana for Castro’s 80th birthday, which was postponed from this summer when he fell ill and there were rumours that he was already dead. So the man whom the CIA have tried to despatch with everything from a bacteria-infected hankie to an aerosol filled with LSD, is still around and should be blowing out the 80 candles on his cake on December 2 – after his security men have, no doubt, checked out the cake and candles.

638 Ways to Kill Castro will be shown on November 28 on Channel 4 at 10 pm.


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