Posted on Saturday, 04.28.12
Quest for closure
Widow fights to reclaim American rebel's remains
Olga Morgan Goodwin is determined to fulfill the request of her
mother-in-law, a plea made 24 years ago.
By Michael Sallah and Alfonso Chardy
For Loretta Morgan, it was a final, desperate plea before dying 24 years
ago: bring her son's remains home from Cuba, so he can be reburied in
the United States.
In the ensuing years, letters were written on her behalf to President
Obama, members of Congress, and even Pope Benedict XVI. Top U.S. leaders
would travel to Havana, asking for the remains of William Morgan.
But to this day, the body of the Yanqui Comandante remains in a massive
cemetery in the heart of Havana — 51 years after he was shot by a firing
squad at La Cabana prison.
"This has been so hard," says Olga Morgan Goodwin, who married the
celebrated rebel fighter in Cuba in 1958.
For the past decade, the bequest made by Morgan's mother at a Toledo
nursing home has fallen on her daughter-in-law, who has waged letter
campaigns and even appealed to the exile community in Miami.
"I would hold her hand and sit on the floor next to her," said Goodwin,
a native Cuban who moved to her husband's hometown of Toledo in 1980. "I
made a promise to her. I knew her suffering."
Since then, the quest for the body has been an emotional roller coaster
for Goodwin, 76.
At first, she was hopeful that a meeting between veteran Ohio
congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and Fidel Castro in 2002 would lead to a
breakthrough. Castro said he would consider it.
Five years later, Cuban diplomats were willing to start the process, but
the U.S. State Department stepped in and barred the family's lawyer from
traveling to Havana.
"I was getting more help from the Cuban government than our own," said
G. Opie Rollison, a Toledo attorney working with the family.
It changed in 2009 when the Obama administration approved the family's
right to travel to Havana, but this time, the Cuban government balked.
Nine U.S. House members signed a letter to President Raúl Castro asking
for the family's lawyer to be allowed to travel to Havana to find the
grave, "but [Castro] never responded," said Rollison.
Just last year, a delegation led by former President Jimmy Carter said
it was assured by top Cuban representatives that the Castro government
was open to the idea.
"They said they were willing to work it out," recalled Robert Pastor,
national security advisor to the Carter White House who raised the issue
with Josefina Vidal, chief of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs'
North American unit.
But when family representatives tried to reach out to the Cuban
government to get a visa, they never got a response, they said.
"I feel frustrated for the Morgan family," Rollison said.
One expert said a major snag could be Morgan's own history in Cuba and
his public break with Castro over the government's growing ties with the
Soviets in 1960.
"It is risky in Cuba to talk about people who have challenged the
revolution," said Aran Shetterly, author of the book, Americano:
Fighting with Castro for Cuba's Freedom. "For whatever reason, the old
guard still seems to think Morgan's memory represents a threat even
though most young Cubans have never heard of him."
But there may be a more practical reason, he said. So far, no one knows
for sure if Morgan is still buried in the Colon Cemetery, where he was
laid to rest after his execution in 1961. "Are we sure that the Cubans
know where Morgan's remains are?" asked Shetterly.
Burial records show the body was interred in the massive graveyard, and
in 1971, was moved to a new site on the grounds. One visitor to the
cemetery told The Herald she located his gravesite three years ago,
Goodwin, who managed to get friends in the exile community to raise
$2,500 to help pay expenses for the return of the body, said her husband
belongs in his native Ohio.
"To me, William was an American — and belongs here," she said. "I
promised his mother I would so this. I can't give up."