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.