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The Cuban Revolution was a historical wrinkle of the 20th century, wherein the rapacious nature of gangster business and the “special relationship” enjoyed by a small cadre of American businessmen with the Batista government came to a halt. After the U.S. hit Castro’s Cuba with a full trade embargo, the Soviet Union made a trade deal with the country, and life became that much more dangerous for its citizens.

As Castro’s Spies, written and directed by Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon, brilliantly tells us, the Cuban government sent five people to Florida in the 1990s to surveil the U.S. naval base down there. Their mission is to determine if the States intended to actually invade Cuba. Simultaneously, Jose Basulto’s Brothers to the Rescue were working specifically to undermine the Cuban government by illegally flying their airplanes over Havana and dropping leaflets to convince Cubans to violently rise up against Castro. The FBI was eventually alerted to the five individuals operating in South Florida on behalf of the Cuban government and, for many years, surveilled ten potential spies from Cuba.

The film then documents a series of raids conducted by the FBI to detain all the alleged foreign agents in 1998. It was rapidly determined by the defense lawyers contracted for the Cubans accused that the case lacked gravity and would never be given a fair trial in Miami, where anti-Cuba sentiment was raging and probably still is. Of the ten detained, five cut deals. But the filmmakers are more interested in those who refused to plead guilty: Rene Gonzalez, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, and Antonio Guerrero.

“…the Cuban government sent five people to Florida in the 1990s to surveil the U.S. naval base down there.”

As all of them will aver, they killed no one, stole nothing, and took no top secret information. Charges of espionage by all rights should have failed. In their minds, their sole intent was to make sure the U.S. wasn’t trying to visibly marshal forces against Cuba. Agree with their actions or not, the intent was clearly honorable, and Castro’s Spies highlights that well. Of course, since their trial occurred in Miami, they had no hope. Even after an initial reversal by the Court of Appeals, they were still found guilty in a new venue.

It is amazing, to me at least, how strong the sense of American hegemony is. We have spies working on our behalf, infiltrating every nation on Earth, and committing the worst crimes on a daily basis. Heaven forbid anyone should lightly spy on the U.S.A. That it would eventually take President Obama in 2014 deciding to start a friendly relationship with Cuba to free Rene Gonzalez, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, and Antonio Guerrero just makes your head spin.

This is a remarkable slice of history. Castro’s Spies is an engaging, thrilling documentary about the droll, ordinary actions spies undertake to defend their countries. It is a wonderful movie to watch, especially if you wish to deepen your understanding of Cuba and its history.

Castro's Spies (2022)

Directed and Written: Ollie Aslin, Gary Lennon

Starring: Rene Gonzalez, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Castro's Spies Image

"…a remarkable slice of history."

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