638 Ways to Kill Castro is a Channel 4 documentary film, broadcast in the United Kingdom on 28 November 2006, which tells the story of some of the numerous attempts to kill Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro.
The film reveals multiple methods of assassination, from exploding cigars to femmes fatales; a radio station rigged with noxious gas to a poison syringe posing as an innocuous ballpoint pen. Fabian Escalante, the former head of Cuban Intelligence, the man who has had the job of protecting Castro for many of the 49 years he’s been in power, alleges that there were over 600 plots and conspiracies known to Cuban agents, all dreamt up to end the life of the “red menace”. Some were perpetrated by the CIA, especially during the first half of the 1960s. From the seventies onwards, the attempts were most often made by Cuban exiles who had been trained by the CIA shortly after Castro took power in 1959.
On the trail of Castro’s would-be killers, the filmmakers meet a series of would-be assassins – several are also accused terrorists, still living in America. Orlando Bosch, accused by many of being the greatest terrorist in the hemisphere, is found living peacefully in his Miami home, surrounded by an adoring family. Curiously, both Bosch and his companion in arms and fellow accused terrorist Luis Posada Carriles turn out to be keen amateur landscape painters.
The film also contains extensive material shot with Antonio Veciana, the Cuban exile who got close to killing Castro on three occasions, spanning 17 years. He is found running a marine supplies store in Miami. All these men, the film reveals, were supported and funded by the United States. At one point, staggeringly, the CIA even sought the help of the Mafia in the hope they would be able to succeed where so many others had failed. Other characters are Félix Rodríguez, the CIA operative who took part in three planned assassination attempts against Castro, and gave the order for Che Guevara’s execution in 1967 in Bolivia, and Enrique Ovares, possibly the first man to make an attempt on Castro’s life after he took power. Robert Maheu is interviewed, the Hughes associate who served as liaison between the CIA and mobsters “Johnny” Roselli and Sam “Momo” Giancana, in another plot to kill Castro, this time using poison pills.
In 2006, the documentary was the centre of a controversy surrounding US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. In it the Miami Republican, who had been recently tapped to become the top Republican on the House International Relations Committee, states “I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people.” A clip of her statement made its way to the popular website YouTube where the newsmedia quickly picked up the story. There was a subsequent public questioning of Ros-Lehtinen’s morals and suitability for her job. She responded by asserting that the clip was spliced together and that it was taken out of context; but after her account was contested by the film’s director, she eventually released a statement, on Christmas Eve, accepting that she had made the remark.