Copyright 1995 ABC-CLIO. This review was taken from the ABC-CLIO Video Rating Guide for Libraries on CD-ROM, a 5-year compilation of over 8900 video titles and reviews, 1990-1994. For information regarding order VRGL CD-ROM, contact: ABC-CLIO, P.O. Box 1911, Santa Barbara, CA 93116-1911; 805-968-1911

This following text has been included in the UCB Media Resources Center Web site with the kind permission of the publishers.

Cuba and Cocaine

  • Series: Frontline
  • Rating: ****
  • Audience: High School to Adult
  • Price: Public performance: $300.00
  • Date: Copyright 1990. Released 1991.
  • Descriptors: Castro, Fidel. Cocaine. Narcotic traffic. Cuba.
  • Production Information: Live action. Color. 60 min.
  • Production Company: Documentary Consortium
  • Available from: PBS Video 1320 Braddock Pl. Alexandria, VA 22314-1698 (703)739-5380
  • Cataloging: 363.45 Drug traffic - Cuba||Smuggling of drugs
  • Print Entry #: 2:1406
  • Reviewer: Gary Handman

    This installment of the PBS Frontline series focuses on Cuba's covert role in facilitating international drug traffic during the ten years between 1979 and 1989. As early as the late 1960s, the Cuban government apparently realized that it could gain by providing safe haven and other support for the major drug cartels and sundry independent traffickers operating in and around the Caribbean. The huge amounts of dealer payoff money to be had in return for the privilege of Cuban protection was one obvious benefit. According to this video, much of this money was used to finance revolutionary activities in Central and South America. The insidious effects of the drugs themselves on Cuba's "Yankee imperialist" foes was, of course, seen as another benefit of collaboration with suppliers.

    This video attempts to trace in some detail the tangled web of Cuban military and governmental involvement in drug trade up to 1989 and the infamous Ochoa trial, which supposedly purged the country of its major drug connections. Revealed in the process is a roster of unsavory and ruthless runners, operatives, moles, and bag men worthy of a pulp spy novel (even venal old Robert Vesco turns up). The investigation labors particularly hard and long to demonstrate Castro's direct complicity in all these decade-long activities.

    Like other segments of Frontline, Cocaine and Cuba is a straightforward, relatively no-nonsense, and effective piece of electronic journalism. There is little of the prime-time, network hocum, either in the visuals or the writing, which could have easily turned this work into "Miami Vice." The editing and the pacing of the script are brisk, but the film generally steers clear of lapsing into sound-and-sight bite syndrome. Even though this is fairly static material, the visuals are clear and varied enough to hold the viewer's interest for the hour (although a really hard-nosed editor could have probably lopped at least a quarter hour or so off the film without too much harm).

    While the program generally succeeds in maintaining a clear-eyed reportorial approach to the material, there are a few annoying editorial lapses. The producers seem to waffle on more than one occasion in their analysis and characterization of the events. For example, Cuba's drug business is characterized as both evidence of continuing revolutionary zealotry and deadly means-justify-ends pragmatism, and as sign of political vitiation and corruption. Similarly, the issue of how much smuggling activities has had to do with the corrupt aims of individual government and military functionaries, and how much the activity has been a part of Cuba's mainline revolutionary agenda is mentioned, but generally not investigated in sufficient depth.

    In all, however, this is a solid and competent piece of broadcast journalism on a topic that has not been widely covered previously. It would be a suitable addition to larger public and academic library collections that can justify the rather stiff price tag and the closely-focused subject matter.

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