January 31, 2005


The Castro Experience: A new PBS documentary takes a hard-headed look. (Catherine Seipp, 1/21/05, National Review)

The latest sign that PBS may be indeed moving away from reflexive lefty politics is its hardheaded and compelling new documentary Fidel Castro, which premieres Jan. 31 and is the first non-American biography in the network’s American Experience series. (As executive producer Mark Samuels pointed out at the PBS news conference, an argument can be made that Castro, with his half-century-long "impact on American history," is an American experience, besides being "also a tremendous story.")

Veteran documentarian Adriana Bosch clearly shows the appeal of a charismatic revolutionary like Castro to a populace suffering from the oppressive Batista regime, but refuses to sentimentalize the cigar-smoking, iconic leader they got as a replacement. "It is the tragic story of a nation who saw a messiah in just a man," she says of her film, which doesn’t flinch from detailing the brutal reality beneath Castro’s charm: 500 Bastistianos tried and executed in less than three months, 20,000 people arrested after the Bay of Pigs, and so on.

Was Communism the reason for the treason of Castro's revolution — as Cuban exiles protested in the early '60s? (Castro never actually admitted that the Cuban revolution was socialist in nature until after the Bay of Pigs.) Or was it that Castro himself, as the film reveals, is simply a megalomaniac — someone who as a small boy threatened to burn his family's house down if they didn’t send him to the school of choice, and who confiscated land from his own mother when he grew up? A University of Havana classmate interviewed by Bosch describes young Fidel as a combination of genius and juvenile delinquent, which seems pretty much on the mark.

At the very least, Fidel Castro is a welcome antidote to last year's Looking For Fidel, Oliver Stone's pro-Castro documentary for HBO. "I think it approached a work of fiction," Bosch said, describing the infamous moment in that film when a Cuban prisoner insists to Stone’s cameras that 30 years in jail for stealing a boat seems quite fair to him.

The four decade long tolerance of his regime by presidents of both parties is an American low point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 31, 2005 5:47 PM

The abject failure of our alleged allies, other than Israel, to cooperate in our embargo of the regime of El Tirano Castro demonstrates with great clarity the essentially one-way nature of NATO and many of our other purported alliances.

Posted by: Bart at January 21, 2005 10:21 AM

Well, it's probably a safe guess that Bosch's documentary hasn't been scheduled during a PBS Pledge Week drive. The folks manning the phone banks would be innundated by calls of abuse from much of the network's core viewership.

Posted by: John at January 21, 2005 10:37 AM

Babalu blog is very interesting.

Didn't a lefty columnist admit life under Batista was better?

And I didn't know that Havana was the Paris of the Caribbean.

Posted by: Sandy P at January 21, 2005 10:38 AM

I might actually watch this now. When I saw it advertised a few days ago I figured it would be just another fawning bio of the evil filthy bearded thug which I have come to expect from PBS.

Posted by: MB at January 31, 2005 5:23 PM

Don't we get credit for honoring Kennedy's ill advised promise?

Okay, no, we don't.

Posted by: kevin whited at January 31, 2005 10:53 PM

Intervention worked great in Haiti

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 31, 2005 11:55 PM

Haiti's been a mess since its birth. Cuba was a decent enough place until we let Castro wreck it.

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2005 12:00 AM

The reason why the minimum age for the president should be raised to 50. If Kennedy had believed his own inaugural, he would have sent 4 divisions to Cuber to take out Castro.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 1, 2005 3:04 AM

Haiti is French. Their revolution was infected. Cuba was more American with ties through tourism, commerce and culture. Intervention may have worked in Cuba. The greatest opposition was from what is today's Democratic base. Socialism was the wave of the future and Castro was charismatic enough to sway those who are always prone to romantic anti-Americanism. Who was that nimrod from the Times misreporting the facts at that time? The leftist love affair with Castro is symptomatic of the intellectual disease most folks outgrow by the end of their first couple of years in the real world.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at February 1, 2005 10:24 AM

The Timesman who served as Castro's publicist was Herbert Matthews.

Posted by: George at February 1, 2005 10:56 AM

I saw the first hour last night. It basically presented Castro as a psychotic megalomaniac, and clearly shows that the breakdown in relations with the US was caused by Castro, not the US, and that this was intentional by Castro. Also, it made Castro seem like a big loser when he was just a civilian.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at February 1, 2005 11:20 AM

Not even close. Breaking our word to, and turning our backs on, South Vietnam, was ny far the worst thing that happened in our history. The bungling that took us to that point was all the more culpable for having been the occasion of the vile sin of abandoning those who had relied on our word to their own downfall.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 1, 2005 12:00 PM


But at least we tried and did in fact give them a chance to save themselves. We just relentlessly screwed the Cubans.

Posted by: oj at February 1, 2005 12:45 PM

Worked great in Santo Domingo, too. Also, Nicaragua.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 2, 2005 7:05 PM