Castro’s Spies

That was fucking great!

Spying’s a bad job, isn’t it? You basically destroy the life you want, to live a life you don’t want, to do something nobody knows about, and in the end you will either end up shot in the head, be put behind bars, or live out your life in disgrace. Who applies for something like that?

These mad bastards apparently. Castro’s Spies is about the Cuban 5, a group of Cuban spies who spent years embedded in the militant anti-Cuban exile community in Miami and skulking around airforce bases, checking that a fleet wasn’t amassing for an invasion. This film does a really good job of boiling down a long history of conflict between the US and Cuba into the salient context for the work of these men. It talks about how, after the US failed in its direct action against Cuba in the Bay of Pigs, it trained and sponsored militias of Cuban exiles who subsequently carried out terrorist acts against Cuba. That’s not me saying that – they interview Jose Basulto, the founder of Brothers To The Rescue, who was like, yeah, I rocked up on a boat and fired a cannon indiscriminately into a beachfront hotel. You’ve got Orlando Bosch who the US themselves convicted for taking a fucking bazooka to foreign ships entering Cuba waters, and who all evidence shows was responsible for the bombing of Cuban flight 455 killing 73 civilians. The US was obviously meant to be arresting these fucknuts for acts of terrorism, but since it was against Cuba, they were a bit like, eh. So Cuba sent a group of agents to Miami to keep an eye on things.

The other good thing this documentary does well is allowing the space to acknowledge that you can be a hero who does shitty things and an asshole who does good things. And I’m not talking that bullshit balance of, maybe blowing up a plane full of innocent men, women and children is fine, I dunno, there’s two sides to every story. They talk about how the Brothers To The Rescue saved refugees from drowning in the Florida Strait as they made their way to the US on dingys. They talk about how the Cuban agents basically abandoned their wives to raise their kids alone, with the added stigma now that they were publicly seen as defectors to the US. There is an acknowledgement that the Cubans who fled the revolution into exile felt they had lost what little they had built up in the way of property and wealth, which would naturally make them oppose the new government, even if it improved the lives of the vast majority of the people. And that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s largest trading partner, Cuba’s economy was in the shitter, and a lot of people who this revolution was supposed to help found themselves in dire poverty. This documentary is good at presenting the complicated truth.

Ironically, the Cuban 5, despite being hailed as heroes at home, actually play a very mundane part in the drama of history. Mostly they counted planes, making sure there wasn’t a sudden build up of forces in the closest bases to Cuba. They reported back on the activities of the most active exile organisations, which wasn’t really a secret to anyone, Brothers To The Rescue tried to get as much tv coverage for their work as possible. The agents were all flat broke, one worked as a janitor, none of them were paid by the Cuban government. That was something I didn’t know, that Cuba doesn’t pay its spies, because if it’s about the money, the US will be able to outbid you every time. So Cuba just tells you, do your duty to your country, and off you go.

Despite these humble practices, they do manage to amass over time a great wealth of knowledge, and it’s more the anti-Cuban militias who play the dashing heroes of the piece. They are actively making plots, making plans. Jose Basulto decides to fly over Havana dropping leaflets telling the people to rise up against the communist government and be free. He characterises this as a ‘non-violent action’, which is big talk for the guy who shot up a hotel in that very city, now violating national airspace. I mean, sure, he knows it’s leaflets, but Cuba’s just supposed to take it on trust that this guy who likes to shoot at them is just gonna fly over a major city full of civilians and dump stuff out his plane onto them, but it’s ok, it’s just gonna be leaflets. Can you imagine if anyone pulled that shit on America? They’d have to identify you by your fucking teeth. Just imagine some al Qaida dude flying a plane over DC and being like, “Don’t worry, this time it’s only leaflets!” Fucking idiot.

Anyway the Cubans politely ask the US to make him stop, they do fuck all, and this guy comes over a bunch more times, each time somehow expecting to show how brutal this regime is, that they only tolerate foreign agents aerially bombarding anti-government propaganda on their capital city a bunch of times. Eventually he gets what he wants, Cuba retaliates, and shoots down 2 of the 3 planes. And it’s outrage over this that requires a response back in the US. Nobody really wants to go to war over this fucknuckle’s stunt, but Americans are dead and there needs to be a show of strength. So the FBI, who’ve known about the spies in Miami for long and weary, and never bothered to bust them because they were never up to much to be concerned about, offer them up as scapegoat. They had sent Cuba communications about the activity of the Brothers To The Rescue, so they were responsible for the murder of the shot-down pilots.

It’s weird because the action that unfolds around them gives grandeur and meaning to the work of these very low-level spies, whose lives otherwise would have seemed wasted on a very admin-y kind of espionage. As I say, it’s a weird job.

Fascinating documentary, well presented.