More from the Anti-Che

by Jay Nordlinger

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?

The Bay of Pigs, says Rodriguez, and say many others, cemented the Castro dictatorship. Sealed the revolution, in a sense. Until then, many Cubans thought that the dictatorship was just a temporary pestilence. Ordinary Cubans were willing to cooperate with the active opposition. But after the Bay of Pigs, cooperation dried up: because many of those who had helped the opposition got their throats cut. The feeling sank in, “Americans won’t ride to the rescue, and Castro and his Communists have settled in for a good long time.”

Longer than most people dreamed, probably including the Communists: They have now lorded it over that island longer than the Communists lorded it over Eastern Europe, by ten years and counting.

In his den, Rodriguez and I talk about racism, both in Cuba and in the United States. There was racism in Cuba when he was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s. (Rodriguez was born in 1941.) But nothing like what he saw in his adoptive country, the country of his refuge. America was soon to become a much better nation, racially. But what Rodriguez saw, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, shocked him.

There was the routine segregation, of course. And I will report one very ugly incident:

Rodriguez took a bus from Philadelphia all the way down to Mexico City. His mother met him in Laredo, Texas. After the bus arrived in one Texas town — Rodriguez can’t remember which — he saw an elderly black man, on his hands and knees, scrubbing the bus. Then “an American redneck” started kicking him and beating him. He said, “You’re not making it cleaner, you’re making it dirty!” And he did all this with impunity.

Even today, more than 50 years later, this visibly pains Rodriguez.

Cuba, of course, was to go backward, racially. There’s a reason that so many of the leading dissidents, political prisoners, and democracy activists are black (or “Afro-Cuban,” as they say). Oscar Biscet, Berta Soler, and the hero simply known as “Antúnez” are three of them.

That the Castro dictatorship has been good for blacks is one of the great lies of the revolution.

Rodriguez says that Fidel Castro sent Che Guevara to Bolivia for one thing: to be captured and killed. He explains what he means in considerable detail. Benigno has said and explained the same thing: that Castro sent Guevara to Bolivia as a means of getting rid of him. (Totalitarian dictators tend to be wary of other totalitarians, especially when they have a touch of romance about them.)

And who is Benigno? That is the nom de guerre of Dariel Alarcón Ramírez, who was Guevara’s lieutenant in Bolivia, no less. Benigno was a member of Castro’s inner circle. He defected in 1996 — and now he and Felix Rodriguez, one of his opposite numbers, are friends.

At length, Rodriguez talks to me about Vietnam: what he did, what American forces in general did, what South Vietnam did, what the Communists did. As always, it is a painful, infuriating story. Many Americans were brave, and so were many of their Vietnamese comrades in arms. And they were fighting together to prevent exactly the fate that occurred: the takeover of the whole of Vietnam by the totalitarians in Hanoi. When the North won, they killed about a million, quite aside from the “reeducation camps” and other horrors.

Rodriguez is of the school that says, “We had it won, militarily. Washington decided to lose it, politically. And we betrayed the people to whom we had made promises, and alongside whom we had shed blood.”

I was always taught to disdain this school, even laugh at it. The “stab-in-the-back” theory. In truth, I don’t.

On that happy note, I think I’ll knock off for today — and conclude these notes tomorrow. Thanks, and see you.

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