Sunday, February 22, 2015

Amid Cuba thaw, widow fights to bring yanqui comandante home

Amid Cuba thaw, widow fights to bring yanqui comandante home
02/21/2015 10:28 PM 02/21/2015 10:57 PM

President Barack Obama's move to thaw diplomatic relations with Cuba may
be on the verge of showing its first concrete result: a successful
conclusion to a five-decade campaign to retrieve the body of William
Morgan, the controversial "yanqui comandante" who helped bring Fidel
Castro to power and then was executed for plotting to overthrow him.

"Everything is looking good, finally, very good," Morgan's widow, Olga
Goodwin, told the Miami Herald from her home in Toledo, Ohio. "My lawyer
went to Rome and got a letter to Pope Francis, asking him to help, and
it looks like the pope is going to do it."

It was the Argentine-born Francis, the first pope from Latin America,
whose intervention with Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro nearly two
years ago kicked off negotiations that led to the December announcement
that Washington and Havana would resume diplomatic relations broken in 1961.

Goodwin's Ohio attorney, Gerardo Rollison, who has been working on the
case for seven years, declined to discuss any details of his visit to
Rome or even confirm that he took one. "But I will say that I'm more
optimistic now than I've been ever been that we're going to get this
done," he said.

If Morgan's body is returned, it may touch off some tremors in Miami,
where some families have spent years trying to recover the remains of
loved ones killed in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

Except for the daughter of an American bomber pilot flying for the CIA
who was shot down during the fighting, none are known to have succeeded.
Most haven't even been able to learn where their relatives are buried.

"The Castros have kept it a big secret where the bodies were buried, or
even if they were buried at all," said Janet Ray, who bombarded Fidel
Castro with thousands of letters and telegrams for more than 10 years
before winning the release of the body of her pilot father, Pete. "It's
a very emotional thing."

Even relatives of the Castro regime's enemies who haven't tried to
recover their remains have sometimes discovered that the Cuban
government uses them as macabre bargaining chips. The family of Howard
Anderson, executed in 1962 after he was accused of being a U.S. spy,
decided that he had loved Cuba so much that he should stay buried there.

But when his daughter Bonnie, then a reporter for the Miami Herald,
wrote a long, poignant story about her first visit to his Havana grave
in 1979, she was banned from the island for nearly two decades. When she
finally was allowed back in as a CNN producer in 1998, she visited the
grave again.

"It was just an empty hole in the ground," Anderson said last week. "The
caretaker, who I had met on my first visit, told me that after my story
ran, somebody from the government ordered him to dig up the body and
throw it away."

Commander Morgan

William Morgan was a 29-year-old roustabout who had served in the U.S.
Army and worked as a bar bouncer and a mob debt collector when he headed
to Cuba in 1957 to join the guerrilla war being waged against dictator
Fulgencio Batista.

His U.S. military experience proved invaluable to the anti-Batista
forces, mostly students and peasants who knew little about weapons or
tactics. He led rebel troops to victory in several key battles in the
Escambray mountains, and though his Spanish was limited, he was promoted
to the rank of commander.

As one of only a few Americans in the ranks of the rebels, Morgan was a
popular interview for U.S. news media, and he inevitably assured
reporters that Fidel Castro was no communist. Castro reciprocated the
compliments, proclaiming Morgan "the kind of North American that Cuba
needs." Morgan's activities attracted the interest of the CIA and the
FBI, and his U.S. citizenship would eventually be revoked.

Morgan's loyalty to Castro continued after the rebels drove Batista from
power in the final days of 1958 and Castro declared himself prime
minister. Morgan, who had married his fellow guerrilla Olga Rodriguez
and settled down in Cuba to operate a frog farm, turned double agent to
help Castro crush a coup attempt backed by Dominican Republic leader
Rafael Trujillo.

And he kept insisting to journalists that, though Castro's government
was moving steadily left, it was not communist. But his interviews now
sometimes included cautionary notes. "If something happens to me," he
told a Look magazine reporter, "then you know the commies have really
taken over."

By late 1960, Morgan concluded that they had, and began stockpiling arms
for an uprising against the Cuban government. But Castro struck first,
arresting Morgan in October 1960 and executing him five months later.
Morgan's death became the stuff of legend in Cuba after he refused the
firing squad's order to kneel and was shot first in the knees, then
killed after he crumpled to the ground. According to official Cuban
records, he was buried in Havana's vast Colon Cemetery.

Morgan's mother, Loretta, began a sporadic campaign to retrieve his body
soon after his execution. His wife Olga — who was arrested shortly after
Morgan was and served an 11-year prison term — joined in after fleeing
Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift and finding her way to Ohio. Olga
continued even after she remarried in 1985 and after Loretta died in 1988.

Renewed effort

Her efforts turned more serious in 2008 when she retained Rollison to
help. Though they were hampered by the unsympathetic administration of
George W. Bush — which refused to grant Rollison the special permit
needed for him to travel to Cuba to talk to the Castro government —
their activities began generating publicity.

A lengthy account of Morgan's life and death appeared in The New Yorker
magazine, and actor George Clooney purchased an option on the movie
rights. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Mitch Weiss and Michael
Sallah (a Miami Herald reporter) just published a book about Morgan, The
Yankee Comandante.

Former President Jimmy Carter lobbied the Cuban government, albeit
unsuccessfully, to release the body. After Obama's election, Rollison
was able to get the Cuba travel permit. The best news yet for Morgan's
widow was the December announcement about the restoration of diplomatic

"From congresspersons to senators to people in the Treasury and State
Departments, our efforts have gotten a friendly hearing, and those
efforts are still going on," said Rollison. Though the U.S. economic
embargo of Cuba, which can be lifted only by Congress, is likely to
remain in place even after diplomatic relations are restored, Rollison
said his talks with officials lead him to believe that "within the
confines of existing laws, there is a mechanism that would allow the
repatriation of William Morgan's remains."

In the letter he conveyed to the Vatican, which was released by Morgan's
widow, Rollison said the return of Morgan's remains "would be one more
step in the resolution of humanitarian issues between Cuba and the
United States."

The Miami exile community has been largely sympathetic to Goodwin's
campaign (it even raised $2,300 to help defray expenses if Morgan's body
is shipped home), but some remain skeptical that it will end in success.

"My mother tried for a long time to get my father's body returned, but
the Cuban government wasn't cooperating and the Red Cross couldn't do
anything," said Maria Werlau, executive director of the Cuba Archive,
whose father, Armando Cañizares, was killed at the Bay of Pigs when she
was 18 months old.

"Personally, I have no interest in getting his body back. I'm not going
to spend a penny on that regime. But it would be nice to know where he's
buried, to have a marked grave."

Ray, who ultimately won her battle to recoup her father's body, said her
success probably will make it harder rather than easier for others. "It
really backfired on them when they released my father," she said. "They
had kept him in cold-storage in a morgue all those years, as a kind of
trophy for visiting leftists to see, and when the body got to the United
States we were still able to have an autopsy done.

"It showed that he wasn't killed in the plane crash, but was executed on
the ground by a bullet fired point-blank into his head. So instead of
getting credit for some big humanitarian act, Fidel Castro wound up
looking really bad."

Source: Amid Cuba thaw, widow fights to bring yanqui comandante home |
The Miami Herald The Miami Herald -

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