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A defamation suit against Netflix from the head of a Cuban exile organization accuses the streamer of distributing propaganda for Cuba by portraying him as a terrorist and drug trafficker in Olivier Assayas’ political spy thriller Wasp Network. In a lawsuit filed on Monday in federal court in Florida, Brothers to the Rescue leader Jose Basulto alleges Netflix and Assayas falsely depicted him as a puppet of the United States and traitor to Cuba while romanticizing the criminal activity conducted by Fidel Castro’s regime.
“This portrayal of Mr. Basulto, Brothers to the Rescue and the Cuban exile community was deliberately calculated to create two clear and unmistakable villains for the Film,” read the complaint.
The defamation action is the second from a Cuban exile arguing that the movie falsely maligns Cuban exiles as terrorists and otherwise unsavory characters. Ana Martinez sued in 2020 over her character, played as a promiscuous “party girl” by Ana de Armas, in the movie.
Wasp Network, written and directed by Assayas, is adapted from the book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War by Fernando Morais. In addition to his personal portrayal in the movie, Basulto takes issue with how the movie allegedly distorts criminal activity by the Cuban Five, a group of spies dispatched by Cuba in the early 1990s to infiltrate exile groups based in Miami.
“The Film is an obvious attempt to rewrite and whitewash history in favor of the communist Cuban regime and is factually inaccurate,” the complaint states. “The Film portrays the Cuban Five as courageous heroes who were simply defending their homeland. In reality, the Cuban Five were a spy network that produced actionable intelligence enabling the Cuban government to commit extrajudicial killings.”
The killings, the lawsuit says, include Cuba in 1996 shooting down two Brothers to the Rescue planes engaging in a humanitarian mission to rescue Cuban refugees headed to the United States on rafts in the Straits of Florida. Basulto says the movie falsely represents his nonprofit as a terrorist organization to justify spying by the Cuban Five.
Members of the group were ultimately convicted in 2001 of conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder and acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government, among other charges. Findings in the case and other legal proceedings concerning the incident are extensively cited in the complaint as evidence that the movie deliberately ignored facts about the episode. The Assembly of Cuban Resistance, which works closely with Cuban exile communities, has denounced the film as untruthful.
According to the complaint, Cuba interfered with the making of the movie to ensure a favorable retelling of history. Basulto points to requirements by the country’s film office stating that it will not allow the shooting of scripts that are “detrimental to the image of the country and people of Cuba.”
“These requirements are particularly important when it comes to a defamation suit, as Cuba’s content censoring communist party requires the ‘script, storyboard or synopsis of the project’ to be submitted and expressly states that any project that paints Cuba in a negative light will be denied a permit,” the complaint reads. “Thus, filming the true and accurate story was never even a possibility.”
As evidence of defamation, the lawsuit cites Basulto’s character in Wasp Network, also named Jose Basulto, saying that he was “Trained by the U.S. as a terrorist” and calling Brothers the the Rescue a “militant organization.” Basulto takes issue with a particular scene in which Brothers to the Rescue planes are shot down because they were shown to be violating Cuban air space when in reality, he says they were shot down in international air space, which led to worldwide condemnation of the Cuban regime.
The description of the movie states, “Based on a true and gripping story: Cuban spies infiltrate exile groups in the 1990s to stop terrorism against the island, but at a high personal cost.” In response to a letter from Basulto putting it on notice of defamation, Netflix responded that “modern day audiences of docudramas understand that they are watching dramatizations, not exacting recreations of events,” according to the complaint.
Basulto alleges defamation, defamation per se and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims. He seeks an injunction barring Netflix from further carrying the movie or an order to force the streamer to edit certain scenes and delete any reference to the movie being based on true events.
Netflix did not respond to requests for comment.
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