Documentary makes Castro look like an authentic hero
By Kevin Thomas
Although Estela Bravo's "Fidel: The Untold Story" is purely propaganda, a work
of unabashed hero worship, it is nonetheless -- and likely inadvertently -- a timely and
invaluable implicit reminder of the role that U.S. foreign policy has played in the
rise of Castro, not to mention Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
Hitler had his Leni Riefenstahl, and now Castro has his Bravo. And if
Castro is no Hitler when it comes to evil (though his victims may
understandably disagree), then Bravo is no Riefenstahl when it comes to
The irony of Bravo's uncritical approach is that after nearly 45 years of
rule and involvement in political movements throughout Latin America and in
Africa, Castro has more than attained the kind of historical stature that
warrants a comprehensive, probing study. But then it is unlikely that Castro
would have sat down for a friendly and hardly revealing chat with Bravo, a
documentarian who has divided her time between New York and Cuba for 40
years, had he not trusted her to come up with a flattering portrait of him.
The Cuba in which Castro, son of a wealthy sugar-plantation family, came
of age in the 1940s and early '50s was under the rule of the notoriously corrupt
Batista regime, in which U.S. big business flourished. Havana was a resort
noted for its colorful night life and wide-open vice. It is understandable that
Castro, trained as a lawyer, fiery and strong-willed, would emerge as an ardent
nationalist rebel who, after much bloody struggle, would ride into Havana in
1959 as the successful leader of the Cuban revolution.
It is possible to admire Castro's standing up to U.S. economic imperialism
and to understand why he would turn to the other superpower, the Soviet Union,
for support -- and to admire his commitment to education and health care --
while at the same time deploring the excesses of his regime and questioning the
wisdom of America's long-held embargo of Cuba.
Yet, the excesses that Bravo chooses to ignore are impossible to overlook:
his oppression of free speech; his human-rights abuses, including the torture of
political prisoners; and the targeting of gays and intellectuals.
Bravo had access to much archival footage and rare photographs. She
interviews a wide range of admirers and observers, and has assembled them
effectively for her purposes.