A Country of James Bond Villains

A still from Octopussy, a film in which 007 is on a mission to destroy a base in Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 11 February 2024 — Only once in my life have I been in the same city as James Bond. It was Havana. Or rather, a fake Havana that had a seaside promenade like the Malecón but no Morro Castle. It was actually the Spanish city of Cádiz, used as a stand-in for the movie Die Another Day.

While in Cádiz I returned to the capital of my imaginary country where 007 travels in search of a North Korean hit man who, improbably, wants to undergo a face change at a Cuban clinic. From La Caleta beach, where I smoked a cigar, Halle Berry emerges wearing a bikini — copied from one Ursula Andress wore in 1962 — while Pierce Brosnan spies on her with binoculars from a hotel bar.

Bond arrives in a cardboard Havana and walks into a cigar factory. It couldn’t be any other way. Cigars, old cars, women and drink – and that yellow hue that Europeans imagine when they think of the tropics – make Cuba the ideal hideout for Moscow’s men. There are Cuban flags, Young Pioneers, and posters with Camilo Cienfuegos on every wall along with decorative hookers.

The tobacco shop – actually Cádiz’ Mercado de Abastos – belongs to a certain Raoul (played by the Mexican actor Emilio Echevarría). To see him, Bond must use a password: Delectados. He wants to smoke this rare brand – also fake though the Dominicans did try to patent the name – which has not been produced since Castro took power.

Raoul, in suit and tie, waits for him on a terrace with views of the cathedral – of Cádiz, of Habana, or maybe Cabana, I don’t know where I am — and slips in an anti-tobacco message. To smoke Delectados you must have a license to die, not just to kill. Bond, who has been smoking cigars for decades, tells him that he is well aware of the risk. Delectados have a dangerous tobacco wrapper that “burns slow and never goes out.” Password accepted.

“We may have lost our freedom in the Revolution but we have a health care system second to none”

It is assumed that Raoul — a fervent communist, we later find out — is an informant for MI6, the British secret service, working as a sleeper agent in Castro’s court who ends up ratting out the North Korean. The terrorist, who is not a tourist – the joke is 007’s and sounds better in English – is at the Organs, a center for the study of a type of gene therapy to “extend the life of our beloved leaders.”

Raoul comments, “We may have lost our freedom in the revolution but we have a health care system second to none.” Bond raises his eyebrows. The viewer does too.

For more than fifty years and across twenty-five films, Cuba has always been part of the bizarre James Bond landscape. The impossibility of speaking ill of Castro in Castro’s fiefdom has been fertile ground for the imagination. If Cádiz is Havana, London is Santiago de Cuba and Puerto Rico is Guantánamo. Luckily, Miami has always been Miami.

Goldfinger confesses to 007 that, with his plans upended, he is left with only one option. “In two hours, more or less, we will be in Cuba”

In 1964, the evil millionaire Auric Goldfinger confesses to 007 that, with his plans foiled, he is left with only one choice. “In two hours or so I will be in Cuba.” If the tropical paradise had hosted Trotsky’s assassin, Ramón Mercader, a few years earlier, why not another Kremlin stalwart? But it was not to be.

After a mid-air struggle with Sean Connery, the original 007, Goldfinger ends up splattered on American soil. Bond is then able to fulfill his true, and highly criticized, mission: seducing Pussy Galore, a lesbian who has managed to fend him off the entire the film.

No one turns to James Bond in search of political correctness. However, the pressure to make 007 less macho, less of a smoker, less of an alcoholic, has borne fruit, as demonstrated in the 2021 film No Time to Die. His films even became self-critical. In 1995, when Judi Dench made her debut at the head of MI6, her first meeting with Bond is anything but warm. “I think you are a mysonginistic, sexist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War.” And this was something said between friends.

Roger Moore, the actor who appeared in the most Bond films, was also an unrepentant Churchill cigar smoker and carried out several missions in Cuba – the fake Cuba. In 1982’s Octopussy, agent 007 enters and leaves the country illegally.

I have no idea if the film was ever screened in Havana but, if so, it will have stimulated the migratory imagination of many. Bond is there to destroy a military base run by a Cuban army general, Luis Toro, whom he assassinates. A conspiracy theorist would have a field day with that surname. In 1982, the chief of the General Staff was the very faithful Ulises Rosales del Toro. Everything ends in explosions and missiles.

Fidel Castro has been the most silent villain of all the James Bond films and in some ways has served as inspiration for all the others

Disguised in the ugly uniform of the Armed Forces, 007 finds the device that will take him out of Cuba: a Bede BD-5, the smallest plane in the world. He says goodbye to Bianca, a mulatta who helped him, promising her in his Bondian way, “I’ll see you in Miami.”

Watching the getaway is an astonished Fidel Castro, a kind of swarthy hippie who pushes everyone aside as he walks. A soldier with a Guatemalan or Salvadoran accent breaks the bad news to him: “The Englishman has escaped.” A few years later, Castro – the real one – saw fiction become into reality when the pilot Orestes Lorenzo hopped into a shiny MIG-23 belonging to the Cuban army and followed James Bond’s route.

Fidel Castro has been the most silent villain of all the James Bond films and in some ways has been the inspiration for rest. Head of a criminal network like Ernst Stavro Bloefeld, tropical dictatator like Dr. Kananga, frustrated scientist like Julius No, bloodthirsty soldier like Ourumov. What role has the comandante not played? Cuba has also provided its own cheap thug and Bond girl but that is a topic for another day.


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