The Observer
Sunday April 4, 2004

TV row as Castro vows: I was right to kill dissidents

Antony Barnett in New York

One is the Communist dictator Americans love to hate. The other is a Hollywood film director loathed by the US Right. Together they will cause a major US broadcasting row when they appear on TV in 10 days' time.
Oliver Stone's film Looking for Fidel, based on a 30-hour interview with the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 75, is to go out on the US cable station HBO on 14 April.

It is Stone's second such film. His first, Comandante was dropped by HBO last year just weeks after the original interview, when the Cuban leader executed three dissidents for trying to hijack a ferry and flee to Miami. At about the same time Castro jailed 75 political prisoners, including journalists and writers, for up to 25 years.

HBO asked Stone to return to re-interview Castro, asking pointed questions about his crackdown. So the director of JFK and Salvador made the new film in the Cuban capital, Havana - and it will still outrage those who view Castro as a brutal despot.

The Cuban leader makes no apology for dealing harshly with hijackers, who he believes were incited by America. 'If the situation arose again. I would do the same,' Castro says. 'Until the very end they held guns to two tourists' heads.'

Stone stages an extraordinary conversation between the Cuban leader and several hijackers, prosecutors and defence lawyers. The hijackers say they just wanted to make more money in the US, and Castro hopes the courts will be lenient with them.

Stone asks why he will not retire. Castro says if the American can show him this would be better for his people he will consider it. Another fascinating moment shows the Cuban leader shirtless as he is hooked up to a heart monitor. A doctor declares Castro as fit as a 30-year old.

Looking for Fidel had its first screening last Monday at the Council For Foreign Relations in New York. Some viewers saw it as fawning propaganda, but it was wel comed by at least one critic of Castro. Florida professor Marifeli Perez-Stable said: 'I went predisposed to be angry with Oliver Stone. But I was not. The film will remain a source of historical interest.'

Stone, who is still looking for a TV channel to broadcast the film in Britain, said at the screening: 'I am not a journalist, but I understand that my interview is the only time Castro has been interviewed on camera since the crackdown and been asked to defend himself and the actions his government took last year.'