Bayard & Holmes
~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes
Nine years ago, Bayard & Holmes designated October 31 as Love-A-Spy Day—a day when we honor the men and women of the Intelligence Community who dedicate and sometimes sacrifice their lives to keep the fight from our shores. On this 9thAnnual Love-A-Spy Day, we make our most personal dedication to date to honor a Cuban we will call “Fernando X,” who devoted his life to saving his people from the Castro regime.
If you are a Castro-apologist this article will surely confuse and stress you. For the rest of you, if you ever visit Key West, Florida, stroll to the south end of the island. You will find there a monument heralding the southernmost point in the contiguous forty-eight states. The monument will tell you that Cuba is ninety miles to the south. The monument is mistaken. Cuba is ninety-five miles south. It could be corrected, but we hope it remains inaccurate. In its current condition it serves, albeit accidentally, as a monument to the many popular misconceptions that Western journalists and politicians harbor about the reality of Cuba.
Rather than focus on the many grim aspects of life in Cuba, we prefer to remember the brave Cubans that have risked their lives in the hope of bringing freedom and justice to the island of Cuba. At this point, most of them would settle for just the freedom.
Holmes will tell you about one of them in particular that he was honored to know and call friend—Fernando “X.”
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The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Revolutionaries
~ Jay Holmes
Fernando was older than I am. The last time I saw him, he told me he would not live to see Cuba free. He said in Spanish, “The son of a bitch assassin Fidel will outlive me. Well, that’s life. I have done the best I could, brother.” I knew he was right.
Fernando was in poor health and didn’t look like he had much left in him. I know the look. I was not ready to admit it. I lied to him. I told him with a few of my favorite Spanish curses that Satan couldn’t keep Fidel out of Hell forever, and that he would die soon. We laughed. Fernando looked at me, and he knew that I knew. He said, “It’s OK, hermanito. I can’t stay forever. Take good care of your children. Give them the love that I won’t be here to give them. I would have liked to. It was my one way of thanking you.” I wanted to cry, but I knew I owed him something better than that, so I just smiled and assured him that I would, and that they would not forget him. They haven’t, and they won’t. Neither will the people of Cuba.
Six and a half decades earlier, on an afternoon in October of 1958, Fernando’s life was about to get more exciting.
The teenage revolutionary wanted a rifle and grenades and some excitement on one of the many raids that were being conducted against the incompetent dictator Fulgencio Bautista’s clownocracy. Instead, Fernando was equipped with soap and sponges in his personal battle against the dirty pots and pans in his camp’s kitchen. He was not enjoying the revolution much. He wondered if he shouldn’t have listened to his mother and stayed home to tend the pigs and chickens. He was starting to miss his boring, more pleasant home life.
For reasons unknown, the group’s comandante decided to bring “El Niño,” the boy, along on the day’s raid.
Fernando remembered being excited. He intended to make a name for himself. He had insisted to his cohorts that his nickname was “El Tigre,” the tiger. His cohorts were even more insistent that his nickname would remain El Niño. Before the day ended, they were calling Fernando “El Tigre Con Cojones Imensos,” the tiger with immense balls.
Fernando was given a captured American made M-1 Garand. He was small and the rifle was heavy. Too heavy. The group decided he should carry a much lighter captured American made M-1 carbine. The fact that they had no ammo for it was a disappointment for Fernando. His cohorts assured him that they were just going to occupy a recently-abandoned police station, and that there would be plenty of ammo there for everyone. Fernando should just stay behind everyone else until they secured the building.
The five revolutionaries climbed into a Chevrolet sedan and drove to the supposedly abandoned police station, but the best-laid plans of mice and revolutionaries . . .
They arrived at the plaza where the police station was located and jumped out of the Chevrolet with much bravado. Oddly, none of the locals came out to cheer or jeer. The revolutionaries walked toward the front door of the station, and a shot rang out. The round kicked up dirt near them.
They jumped for cover—all of them except El Tigre. The fifteen-year-old Fernando stood his ground with his empty rifle.
The somewhat loyalist police retreated to the roof top. They had ammo in their weapons. Fernando wasn’t sure how many police there were, nor what they had to fight with, but he stood his ground without flinching. He stared up at the policeman that stared down from the parapet of the roof. The policeman said they didn’t want to kill anyone, and that the revolutionaries should all just get in their car, leave, and not return. Four of the five revolutionaries thought it sounded like a great deal and jumped in the car. They yelled to El Tigre to get the hell back in the car. El Tigre didn’t budge.
The policeman vanished from the parapet for a moment. A few seconds later, one of the police returned to the edge of the roof and yelled down, “Let us leave and you can have the station. Just let us leave without any shooting.” The cops were either impressed by the kid’s courage, or they just didn’t want to shoot a child on behalf of a government that they never much liked. The revolutionary comandante got out of the car and yelled up his agreement. No shots were fired that day, but a hero of the revolution was born.
Fernando was something of a celebrity—a teenage superhero.
A few months later, Cuban dictator Bautista realized that neither his fellow Latin-American despots nor the United States was going to back him up. He hit the road. Fernando and his friends celebrated. They were free. They could build a free and just society.
In the following months, as Fidel Castro consolidated his grip on power, inconvenient dissenters died publicly or vanished.
Then, as Fernando grew into adulthood, like many of his revolutionary cohorts, he grew disillusioned with the new regime. All he could see in Cuba was less freedom, more misery, and a vanishing hope for his people and country. The new bastard-in-chief Castro somehow managed to be even worse at governing than the previous bastard-in-chief Bautista had been.
With all the standard Soviet-style rhetoric and Soviet specialists assisting, Fidel and his elite friends assured the public that once they overcame the mostly-imaginary aggression of the evil American imperialists, they would all build their great socialist paradise. The new president of the American imperialists, John F. Kennedy, radically trimmed back the planned support of exiled Cubans for an impending invasion of Cuba. Worse still, the operation had been penetrated by the Cuban government. Eventually, against the advice of the US military, a half-hearted invasion occurred at the wrong location, the Bay of Pigs.
The previous president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was an “invade Normandy with everything we can send” sort of man. He had been successful using that strategy when invading Normandy. However, the new president was a “do way more with way less” PT boat veteran. He had been somewhat successful with that strategy in the wildly dangerous waters of the Solomon Islands. In Cuba, the “way less” was way too little. The invasion failed. Fidel celebrated his “grand victory” over the feeble attempt.
Eventually, Fernando, whose first priority was always the Cuban people, decided it was time to resist against the new despots. He did. He helped the United States try to help Cuba.
As a revolutionary celebrity, Fernando had status and access to many top members of Fidel’s regime. This gave Fernando a great deal of valuable information about the regime’s intentions. Through a like-minded ex-revolutionary cohort, Fernando was able to make contact with the US Intelligence Community, and for several years, he risked his life by sharing valuable information with the United States. I will not elaborate on the nature or extent of that information. Suffice to say that, thanks to Fernando’s efforts, numerous Cuban dissidents were able to escape from Cuba and move to the United States or Spain. Many of these people would have been tortured and even executed if not for Fernando’s quiet help. He saved many lives and asked for nothing in return.
It couldn’t last forever. Fernando was betrayed.
He ran for his life and hid, but he was eventually captured. To Fidel and his monsters, Fernando was a traitor. To us, he was a hero. Fernando expected to be shot. Instead, he was sent to the infamous political prison on Isla de Juventud to rot in grim conditions for a few decades. Day after day, year after year, he wondered if he would live to feel the sun on his skin before he died. He survived the torture and abuse, though many did not.
One day the prison authorities caught Fernando writing in a hidden journal. They broke several bones in each of his hands. He received no medical attention. For the rest of his life, his hands caused him great pain.
Nearly twenty years ago, by methods that I will not elaborate on or ever admit to, Fernando was able to leave the prison on Isla de Juventud and come to the United States.
Along with several others of my favorite Cuban exiles, we became close friends. In poor health, Fernando lived a sparse life here. My friends and I helped him a bit. He more than deserved it. He was poor in American terms, but in terms of spirit, he was a rich man with much to offer the world. I knew I was blessed to have him as my friend.
One Christmas I was home for the holidays, and I brought Fernando to our house to join my family and many of our mutual Cuban friends.
He had saved a few dollars from his tight budget to buy my children gifts. They were poorly wrapped by his tortured hands, but I thought they were the most beautiful gifts my kids had ever received. They loved Fernando and understood. They were touched by the gifts. My wife had knitted him a nice sweater and scarf. My father gave him a gift certificate for groceries. He was thrilled. I gave him a case of decent rum. He used a couple of shots before bedtime to deaden the pain in his hands enough to sleep for a while.
One of the party attendees, my dear friend, the brilliant Doctor Jesus Jose Acea Rodriguez, was also in attendance that evening. He, too, had taken risks to try to help Cuba. Jesus asked Fernando to recount his well-known heroic events for the benefit of Jesus’s teenage son.
Fernando described in brilliant detail the events of that day when he earned the name El Tigre. I could smell the salt air of the Cuban coast and feel the Cuban earth beneath my feet as I imagined the cop firing that shot. Then Fernando told us a previously unshared detail of that battle. He had not budged when the police fired because he was scared stiff and couldn’t move.
The police apparently misjudged the situation. Fortunately, everyone else except for Fernando misunderstood, as well. El Tigre was forever a hero because he was frozen in fear. We laughed a long time. Fernando comically pantomimed his famous stand-off as my son rolled on the floor laughing. We loved him. Everyone did. . . . Everyone except Fidel Castro and his regime.
Before driving Fernando home the next morning, I took my Garand rifle out of my gun safe and slipped it into my car. When we arrived at his apartment, I told him he had waited a long time for the rifle he wanted. I gave the M-1 to him. He laughed. He was thrilled. We hugged.
I am sitting here at the same antique table that we sat at that beautiful Christmas night. I miss him. The brilliant Jesus is gone now, too. I miss those two the most of the many Cubans that now reside in my past. They and many others stood up for freedom at a great cost.
Fernando once told me to never give up hope for Cuba, and to teach my children to understand that in the end, evil will always fail because freedom and justice are natural and right. He believed that. I do, too.
The Caribbean Sea holds the blood of many brave Cubans. Most of the many Cuban people that have secretly risked their lives in the hope of bringing Cuba a better future will never be known. Many did not live to see Cuba free. I might not live that long, either. But for all my days, I will hold onto my hope and remember my many beautiful Cuban cohorts. I hope that you will, as well.
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In honor of our 9th Annual Love-A-Spy Day, the Kindle and Nook versions of SPYCRAFT: Essentials and The Spy Bride are on sale now through November 3, 2018 for only $0.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. See links below.
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