Editor’s Note: In the August 5 National Review, we published Jay Nordlinger’s piece “The Anti-Che: Felix Rodriguez, freedom fighter and patriot.” For that piece, go here. Yesterday, Nordlinger had a column of notes supplementary to the piece: here. Today, we publish a concluding such column.
In 1976, Felix Rodriguez left the CIA for several reasons. (Readers of my magazine piece will recall this.) One of those reasons was security. His cover was blown; he was receiving death threats.
The Agency offered to give Rodriguez and his family new identities and move them to a different state. Rodriguez decided against. It would be too disruptive, too upsetting to the family, he determined.
So, the Agency took some steps to afford him some security. They outfitted his home in various ways. They bullet-proofed his car, at Langley. They gave him a mobile phone — “something very rare at the time,” says Rodriguez. When he called a seller of such phones, he was told that the waiting list was ten years. Then Langley made a call. And Rodriguez got the phone in two days.
There were some other arrangements as well, and the Rodriguezes forged ahead.
Rodriguez is not very interested in money, and he has lived frugally. “I am very organized with my finances. I have never had a penny of interest on my credit card. If I don’t have the money, I don’t buy whatever it is.” He bought his house in 1969, for $29,800. “We borrowed 8,000 for the down payment.”
This seems a classic American story, old-school.
‐About Jimmy Carter, Rodriguez has very little good to say. “The worst president we ever had, though he’s being challenged by Obama.” He faults Carter for selling the Panama Canal; for undercutting Somoza, leading to the Sandinistas; for undercutting the shah, leading to Khomeini and the Islamists. He faults him for gutting special operations in the CIA and for diminishing our “human intelligence.”
He has chapter and verse. And he believes that what Carter did with the CIA has negative repercussions even today.
‐Here is a very modern concern: If there is a lie on the Internet, does it live forever, to be called up by generation after generation?
In the 1980s, a convicted money launderer for the Medellín cartel accused Rodriguez of soliciting drug money for the Contras. This accusation was leaked by “unnamed congressional sources,” in the time-honored expression of news reports. It wasn’t very hard to figure out who those sources were: the Kerry Committee, chaired by the man who is now secretary of state (much to Rodriguez’s disgust).
This accusation was a lie, and Kerry eventually apologized, after his fashion, for what he or his people had subjected Rodriguez to. But the lie, about drug money, lives forever, through the Internet. It is refreshed, retold, with some regularity. This sticks in Rodriguez’s craw.
There is a touching passage in his memoir (published in 1989, remember). He explains that there is something called Nexis, a database from which journalists pull. They may pull true things and untrue things.
We had seen nothing yet!
‐In the course of our interview, Rodriguez talks about today’s CIA: It is overly lawyered, he says, and overly cautious. Everyone is concerned about his backside, trying not to rock the boat until retirement. This is not very good for effectiveness, or for the success of missions. Intelligence work requires some boldness now and then. Other intelligence services have an advantage over us: They don’t hamstring themselves, as we do.
‐I ask Rodriguez what advice he would offer to those responsible for interrogating jihadists. He has much experience in interrogation, gained in Bolivia, Vietnam, and surely other places. He demurs. He says he dealt with different breeds, not with “the fanatics that you find in the jihad.” These jihadists are in a category of their own.
Waterboarding can obviously be abused, Rodriguez says — abused by the individual agent. This is to be guarded against. But if a prisoner had information about the impending murder of innocents, Rodriguez himself would do whatever it took to prevent this massacre. And he would sleep well.
‐He says something that almost makes me laugh out loud. In fact, I think I do. He says that some people paint the Batista dictatorship in Cuba as the ultimate in brutality. If this were so, he says, “we wouldn’t be here,” meaning, the exiles would not be in Florida. Because the government in pre-Castro days pardoned Castro and his fellow revolutionaries. Treated them with great leniency. “That doesn’t happen with Fidel, let me assure you. And Raúl executed his own uncle.”
I know just what Rodriguez means. A few years ago, I wrote a piece called “Death by Hunger Strike.” This was after a Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, starved himself to death. He had endured the most heinous things; he felt he had no other recourse.
For years, they had been torturing him in the usual ways. When he was on hunger strike, they denied him water for 18 days (which is what they do to people on hunger strike — deny them water). He got kidney failure. Then they held him over a powerful air conditioner, which gave him pneumonia. Etc., etc. The details are ghastly.
Anyway, let me quote a bit from that piece — for the purpose of giving a little of Castro’s history:
[Zapata] began his hunger strike on December 3. He wanted to be recognized as a prisoner of conscience and not be forced to wear the uniform of common criminals. He also wanted, ideally, to be treated as Fidel Castro was treated, when the future dictator was a prisoner, for a year and a half, of the Batista regime.
Oh, did Castro have it made! Large, comfortable quarters, full mail privileges, conjugal visits, daily exercise and sports, excellent food, two baths a day. He said in a letter, “They’re going to make me think I’m on vacation.”
Oh, yeah. And let me quote once more from Rafael Diaz-Balart. I have quoted him before. He was Castro’s brother-in-law. He was also the majority leader of the Cuban house of representatives. In America, two of his sons, Lincoln and Mario, would serve in the U.S. House.
In May 1955, the Cuban body passed a bill amnestying Castro and his band. (Batista would sign it.) And here is what Diaz-Balart — who knew Castro well, indeed intimately — had to say:
Fidel Castro and his group have repeatedly declared, from their comfortable prison, that they will be leaving prison only in order to continue plotting new acts of violence and whatever it takes to achieve the total power they seek. They have refused to take part in any type of peaceful settlement, threatening both members of the government and members of the opposition who support electoral solutions to the country’s problems.
They do not want peace. They do not want a national solution. They do not want democracy, or elections, or fraternity. Fidel Castro and his group seek only one thing: power, and total power at that. And they want to achieve that power through violence, so that their total power will enable them to destroy every vestige of law in Cuba, to institute the most cruel, most barbaric tyranny — a totalitarian regime, a corrupt and murderous regime that would be difficult to overthrow for at least twenty years.
An understatement, as it turned out. Diaz-Balart ended,
I believe that this amnesty — so imprudently adopted — will bring days, many days, of mourning, pain, bloodshed, and misery to the Cuban people, even though these very people do not see it that way now. I ask God that the majority of the people and the majority of my fellow representatives present here be the ones who are right. I ask God that I be the one who is mistaken — for Cuba’s sake.
‐With Felix Rodriguez, I try to get into a little of the psychology of Fidel Castro. He says that Castro “hated the Cuban people. He was a bastard son, and he knew it.” (His mother was “the maid of the house.”) He experienced various slights. “He had a lot of resentments, and he proved that when he took power.” For instance, he appointed as the head of the national police “a common thief and drug dealer.” That showed contempt for Cuba and its people.
‐For years, Rodriguez dreamed of going back to Cuba, as is natural: People don’t want to be shut out of their homeland by brute regimes. But he realizes the Cuba he knew is not the Cuba that is.
A younger friend, a Cuban immigrant to Florida, said to him, “Why the hell would you want to go back to Cuba? Everyone there wants to leave Cuba. You never saw the Cuba I saw. I would rather be in the United States. You weren’t raised under the regime. You’ve never known the lack of privacy, the hunger, the humiliation . . .”
Rodriguez contends that the Castros keep Cuba deliberately poor. If people are worried about how to survive, day by day, they don’t have much time or energy for political resistance.
‐If he went back to his hometown, says Rodriguez, he wouldn’t know anybody. His hometown is Sancti Spíritus, in the center of the country. One of the things the Castro regime did, he says, was uproot families: force them to live in places they were unfamiliar with. This was part of creating the new Communist society, in which “bourgeois” ties were severed.
You know the drill . . .
‐Rodriguez’s very first memory is of being with his mother as she talked of what Hitler was doing in Europe. He got worried that the Nazis would come to Cuba. They never made it that far. But in 1959, other, homegrown monsters took over. (Guevara came from Argentina, but nevertheless . . .)
Let me quote Rafael Diaz-Balart once more: “Fidel Castro is nothing more than a psychopathic fascist, who could choose to align himself with Communism only because fascism was defeated in the Second World War.”
Felix Rodriguez is 100 percent a Cuban patriot, and 100 percent an American patriot. Normally, that would be an utter contradiction — but the circumstances of the Cuban exile are not normal. Rodriguez himself is extraordinary, and a credit to two countries: the one he grew up in, and tried to liberate, and the one he adopted, and served so well.