More from the Anti-Che

Felix Rodriguez


A couple of months ago, I went to visit Felix Rodriguez in his Miami home. In the August 5 issue of National Review, we published a piece: “The Anti-Che: Felix Rodriguez, freedom fighter and patriot.” (A blunt and true title.) We also published the piece online (here).

I would like to give you a few more notes about Rodriguez, supplementary to the piece. I think you’ll find them worth your while.

But first, I should answer a question that some will have: Who is Felix Rodriguez? He is a Cuban-born American. Former CIA agent. Was infiltrated into Cuba before the Bay of Pigs. Got out some months after that disaster. Was assigned to Bolivia, to help that country’s forces hunt down Che Guevara. Got him. Rodriguez was the last person to talk to him, really. And an interesting conversation they had.

Later, Rodriguez volunteered for Vietnam, and served there in paramilitary operations. Years after his retirement from the CIA, he volunteered in El Salvador: helping that country fight off forces that wanted to make of El Salvador another Cuba — another Castroite Cuba.

In 1987, he was caught up in the Iran-Contra affair, and the “Kerry Committee” dragged his name through the mud.

Obviously, there is a lot more to tell. I will give just a few more notes from this man and this life.

And before I really launch, I should explain why I wrote “volunteered for Vietnam,” above. He was with the Agency at the time. But they intended to keep him in Latin America — and he wanted to go where the war was. So, in this sense, he volunteered for Vietnam. He didn’t have to go. On the contrary. But he insisted, because he wanted to help the Vietnamese avoid the fate of the Cubans — which is to say, avoid Communist hell.

He started fighting the Communists when he was 17. He signed up to fight in the Anti-Communist Legion of the Caribbean, based in the Dominican Republic (which was itself ruled by a dictatorship — that of Trujillo).

He asked his parents to sign a form. They refused. His father said roughly the following: “You’re going to get yourself killed. We’re not going to sign your death warrant. We won’t have that on our conscience.” Young Rodriguez said his mind was made up: He would go to the Dominican Republic, and fight in Cuba, with or without his parents’ permission. He forged his father’s signature, then and there. His father looked on, saying nothing.

Maybe he was proud, as well as scared?

You will find this story, and a lot more, naturally, in Rodriguez’s 1989 memoir, Shadow Warrior.

It came time for the first mission into Cuba. Rodriguez hopped into a chopper with his friend Roberto Martín Pérez. Roberto’s father was an officer on the scene. He was also a friend of the Rodriguez family. At the last minute, he boarded the chopper and said, “Only one of you can go.” The young men, indignantly, asked, “Why?”

The officer looked at Roberto and said, “You are my son.” He then looked at Felix and said, “You are like a son to me.” The father did not want the two boys on the same mission. Felix insisted on going. But the officer said no: Roberto was older and had more experience. So Felix was ordered off the chopper.

Very soon, the mission was a disaster. Castro was waiting for them, and all the troops were killed or captured. Roberto was captured: and spent the next 28 years in Castro’s prisons. Felix burned to liberate his friend, as well as the island as a whole.

Speaking of disasters: In his Miami den — his “Florida room” — Rodriguez went over the Bay of Pigs with me, almost blow by blow. It is hard to believe that the Americans in charge screwed this up so badly. It is hard to believe their arrogance, too.

Rodriguez cites an example: The Cubans said, “We can’t bring a vessel here, there is a large coral reef.” (I am simplifying.) The Americans said, “No, our photo interpreter says that what you call a coral reef is actually clouds, reflected in the water.” The Cubans said, “But we’ve lived there! We know the area.” The Americans were heedless and stubborn, according to Rodriguez’s account.

Still, the Cubans expected this mission — i.e., the Bay of Pigs, as the operation would become known — to succeed. Reason: America was John Wayne, and John Wayne never loses, right?


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review