Judge Russell Engebretson smoked a Cuban cigar in 1977. He was a greenish stinko pinko for one day.
It's an eye-opening expose that chronicles the volatile relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, and an in-depth look at the Miami-Havana politics through the story of the Cuban Five.
Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up lays out, clearly and concisely, a short history of mid-to-late twentieth-century Cuba before and after the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power; it details the U.S. government's support of Miami-based anti-Castro exiles, and centers around the later story of the so-called Cuban Five who infiltrated several violent exile groups, and were eventually imprisoned in the United States on a series of espionage charges.
The documentary begins with Danny Glover asking random folks off the street if they know anything about the Cuban Five. Answers range from "Oh, yeah, weren't they that Salsa band?" to, after an explanation by Glover, "Oh, the Cuban Revolution. That was before my time," a reply that perfectly encapsulates the vast gulf betwixt history and human remembrance.
A very brief summary of the history presented in the documentary goes like this: In the wake of the Cuban Revolution, on December 31, 1958, the dictator Batista fled the country. In 1960 President Eisenhower ordered the CIA to launch a covert operation to overthrow the Cuban government. It would be based in Miami and use Cuban exiles as the shock troops. There were a series of bombings with B-52s flown over Cuba from Miami bases by exiles, bombings of storefronts in Havana, and other terrorist acts. In the nineties, Castro sent Cuban intelligence agents to Miami to infiltrate the violent organizations responsible for the decades-long series of attacks and assassinations. Their mission was to gather information on planned terrorist activities and disseminate that intelligence to Cuba and U.S. authorities. However, the U.S. was not interested in prosecuting anti-Castro terrorists. Instead, the Feds took aim at the Cuban intelligence agents, who in 2001 were tried, convicted, and essentially imprisoned for life.
So goes another benighted story of American interventionism in the affairs of a sovereign nation, or as a retired F.B.I. Agent says at one point, "…to get rid of this Communist that sprung up like a weed in our hemisphere." It's worth noting that Saul Landau, who produced and directed the film, is a journalist, author, and activist who is sympathetic with the Cuban Five and appalled at the American meddling that has passed for Cuban policy over the last half century. That said, he does not sing the praises of Fidel Castro, and the documentary presents viewpoints from the exiles' side as well, including interviews with a Batista-era general's daughter, the child of a wealthy landowner whose property was expropriated by Castro's government, the aforementioned anti-Communist F.B.I. agent, and several others who long for the good old days of Batista's regime. Even Luis Posada Carilles, the former CIA operative accused of masterminding the 1976 bombing of Cubana Airlines flight 455 that killed seventy-three people, receives extensive screen time to defend himself. My impression of Carilles after watching this documentary is that despite his ability to spout a smooth line of patter, he is a manipulative, murderous sociopath. Another interviewed charmer is radio host Armando Perez Rouri who finely sums up the philosophy of the anti-Cuba organizations: "They are fighters against Communism. Sadly, there is no other way to eradicate this plague but with arms, with weapons in hand."
Technically, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up is a well-edited, professionally mounted production. Archival clips are smoothly interspersed with interviews; the 1998 arrest of Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban Five, is realistically recreated; the Cuban-flavored musical score, by Greg and Camilo Landau, is first-rate; and the cinematography (one of the three credited cameramen is the great Haskell Wexler) is imaginative and engaging without being gimmicky. The anamorphic DVD picture is exemplary, and the dialogue crisp and clear. It is one of the better-looking documentaries I've seen in a long while.
The lightweight set of extras includes extended interviews with Ann Louise Bardach (3:00), Jose Basulto (1:48), Julia Sweig (2:55), and Leonard Weinglass (11:04). Though the extras are short, the participants are informed and passionate. The interview with Leonard Weinglass, in particular, adds considerable weight to the charges that jurors in the trial of the Cuban Five were intimidated by Miami media representatives who were hostile to the case. Jurors were chased to their vehicles as they exited the court, and films were taken of them—along with their license plates—to be shown on the evening news. All this in a climate in Miami at the time which Weinglass describes as "unhealthy to do or say anything that could be interpreted as being pro-Cuban Revolution."
This is an excellent, handsomely produced historical documentary. The subject is rather grim, but the film manages to entertain and educate at the same time. There's enough material displayed here for repeated viewings to yield additional historical insights, which makes Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up worth a purchase for anyone even mildly interested in why U.S. relations with Cuba are so fraught with hostility and belligerence even fifty-three years after the ouster of Batista.
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