/ 11 March 2010

Castro TV series charts 638 assassination attempts

Castro Tv Series Charts 638 Assassination Attempts

Illness has forced him from public view, but Fidel Castro is back in Cuban living rooms via a lavish television series that celebrates his escape from 638 assassination plots.

The eight-part series, He Who Must Live, is an extravagant departure from Cuban TV’s typically low-budget fare: more than 1 000 actors and extras are used in a mix of CSI-type fiction, docu-drama and archive material.

The Interior Ministry, institute of police sciences and state-sanctioned filmmakers teamed up to tell the story of how the CIA spent decades trying to murder the United States’s tropical communist foe.

“As an historical series we turn to a mix of genres to help us and give the viewers more information about the facts,” the director, Rafael Ruiz Benítez, told officials before the first 70-minute instalment aired last Sunday.

The prime time show, unprecedented in its glossiness, is to run over eight weeks, each episode focusing on a different period. It marks an unexpected starring role for a leader who relinquished power and vanished from public view four years ago after serious intestinal problems.

Dan Erikson, an analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank and author of The Cuba Wars, said: “Fidel Castro may be leaving the stage but it’s already clear that he has no plans to go quietly. By commissioning a major television series about how Fidel Castro outwitted and outlasted his foes in the United States over the past 50 years, the Cuban government is reviving one of its favourite storylines and burnishing the mythology that swirls around Cuba’s revolutionary leader.”

The series took three years, 243 actors, 800 extras and a possibly significant chunk of Cuban TV’s spartan filmmaking budget.

The inaugural programme focuses on efforts to kill Castro when he was a young revolutionary in Mexico in 1956 preparing to lead several dozen guerrillas on a mission to overthrow Cuba’s US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista.

Later instalments feature the CIA’s notorious and much-derided efforts to kill the Soviet ally after his insurgency triumphed and he established a communist state 150km off Florida.

Some are well known: the exploding cigar, the ballpoint hypodermic syringe, the gift of a poisoned wetsuit. Others less so: a bacteria-infected hankie and an aerosol can filled with LSD.

Cuban security services counted 638 assassination plots by the CIA or their many proxies. A retired agent, Fabián Escalante, wrote about them in his book, 638 Ways to Kill Castro. His colleague, Xavier Solado, wrote a pamphlet of the same name. There was also a 2006 Channel 4 documentary of the same name.

Cuba’s TV series features actors playing Batista, CIA director Allen Dulles and, it is thought, presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, who authorised the murder attempts. A thaw after Barack Obama’s election has ended with Washington and Havana trading insults, but the US has forsworn killing Castro.

The series airs at a difficult time for the revolution. Raúl Castro has tinkered with the centrally planned economy he inherited from his big brother, but with little success. The state is struggling to pay international creditors and ordinary Cubans are suffering food shortages, electricity rationing and meagre wages.

“The gigantic paternalistic state can no longer be, because there is no longer any way to maintain it,” the Economy Minister, Marino Murillo, said in a recent video shown to communist party cadres, according to Reuters.

With gloom widespread, the TV series may not set pulses racing, said Erikson. “While some older Cubans may be intrigued by this trip down memory lane, the reappearance of Fidel as a telenovela star will likely prompt younger generations of Cubans to reach for their remote controls.” — guardian.co.uk