Socialist Worker

Wasp Network is a solid Cuban political spy thriller

This film on Netflix tells a little known story of US state-sponsored terror without romanticising Cuba’s Castro government, writes Julia Ryder

Issue No. 2711

Penelope Cruise stars in The Wasp Network

Penelope Cruise stars in The Wasp Network

Wasp Network is a spy film with a sting, set amid the sun, squalor and vice of Cuba and Miami in the 1990s.

It is based on a true story—and neither centrist dads nor the left’s professional Cuba-lovers will be happy with how it’s told.

Two Cuban pilots, Rene Gonzalez and Juan Pablo Roque, escape the island. Rene steals a biplane and flies to Florida. The dashing airforce major Juan swims to US-occupied Guantanamo Bay and defects.

Rene’s wife Olga (Penelope Cruz) soon gets a knock on the door from the Cuban police.

She struggles with austerity, food shortages and power cuts—and how to hide from their daughter that Rene is a traitor.

This is one of Wasp Network’s strengths. Sensitive scenes and ­well-crafted dialogue focus on the personal toll on the various characters.

There isn’t a straightforward “good guy” versus “bad guy” narrative. Although you can’t help but think, “Gotcha, yankee,” when a Cuban jet shoots down three exile planes that try to drop leaflets over Havana.

The film is set in the middle of Cuba’s “special period” as refugees try to leave on makeshift rafts, and social unrest bubbles away.

In 1959 a nationalist revolution, led by Fidel Castro, overthrew US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. The super-rich, casino owners, gangsters and bosses fled to Miami where they plotted their revenge.

Facing US sanctions, invasion threats and isolation, Castro and the new ruling group tied itself to Stalinist Russia. Its collapse in 1991, had devastating consequences for Cubans.

Refreshingly, Wasp Network shows the protests and riots of August 1994. Ordinary Cubans get a brief look-in, rather than it just being a choice between sticking with Castro or the Batista-loving bandits in Miami.

When Rene and Juan get to the US, they immerse themselves in the world of Cuban emigre politics and drug-running.

The Miami groups hope to cripple the Cuban economy through terrorist plots on tourist resorts.

In 1997 CIA spook and Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles (Tony Plana) hires the unwitting Raul Cruz Leon to plant bombs. Leon is caught and dozens of other plots are foiled.

Rene and Juan’s precise role in all this isn’t all it seems at first.

The change of pace when the twist is revealed around halfway through could have been far smoother.

But it’s a good film about a little known chapter in history.

Available now on Netflix

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