Tuesday, May 22, 2012

El Americano in Cuba

David Grann has a lengthy article in The New Yorker on William Alexander Morgan, a U.S. citizen who fought for Fidel Castro during the revolution, and then was executed by firing squad as he became an opponent of the new regime.

It was March 11, 1961, two years after Morgan had helped to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista, bringing Castro to power. The revolution had since fractured, its leaders devouring their own, like Saturn, but the sight of Morgan before a firing squad was a shock. In 1957, when Castro was still widely seen as fighting for democracy, Morgan had travelled from Florida to Cuba and headed into the jungle, joining a guerrilla force. In the words of one observer, Morgan was “like Holden Caulfield with a machine gun.” He was the only American in the rebel army and the sole foreigner, other than Guevara, an Argentine, to rise to the army’s highest rank, comandante.

Interesting stuff, including J. Edgar Hoover, Rafael Trujillo, Robert F. Kennedy, and of course Che Guevara, who didn't like Morgan (they were the only two foreigners to hold the title of "Comandante").

Especially these days, when you see the geriatric dictatorship that Cuba has become, it can be hard to imagine how romantic the revolution was, and how much hope it generated at the beginning.


Randy Paul 9:18 PM  

I read Aran Shetterly's book about Morgan and recommend it. It's quite a forgotten element of the revolution's history.

leftside 1:41 PM  

"and then was executed by firing squad as he became an opponent of the new regime."

For the folks who don't care to read the long piece, Morgan was in fact executed for collaborating with the CIA and the Mafia to smuggle guns and other weaponry to those fighting the Revolution in the Escambray mountains as well as assisting with the Bay of Pigs invasion. Certainly, anyone who materially assisted a foreign invasion would be sentenced to death or life in prison in any country in the world.

The article seems to take as faith that Morgan was a faithful revolutionary until Castro went Communist. In fact, the split was well before that and Morgan had in fact sold out Castro during the Trujillo affair - and only turned into a double-agent to break up the plot when it was clear his plans had been busted by Cuban intelligence. For such a long, detailed article to get that basic accepted "truth" wrong is a mighty mistake.

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