Profiles in REAL Courage

By Humberto Fontova

Fidel and Raul Castro are not given to wild displays of mirth. It’s not their style. But up in their mountain camp in February 1957 they were really whooping it up. They cackled maniacally one second and gasped for a breath the next. They staggered around like winos, choking, gripping each other’s shoulders, clutching nearby trees and tent poles – anything to keep from collapsing in helpless laughter. Others "rebels" danced the Rumba around them. Who can blame them? They’d just met their first Beltway reporter. Best of all, he was from the New York Times. The lucky boys had just been interviewed by the TOP Latin American expert of the TOP Beltway paper: the infinitely shrewd, the ever judicious Herbert Matthews. Land a PR firm like that and you’d be dancing the Rumba too. Get it for free and you’d add the Hustle, the Bump and the Boot-Scootin’ boogie. The canny Matthews dutifully transcribed Castro’s most heartfelt beliefs, his guiding principles, his humble and humane aspirations. These were reproduced on the front pages of the world’s most discriminating and powerful newspaper. Fidel’s fealty for democracy, humanism and Christianity greatly impressed the reporter. The young pikeman for justice exuded an adoration for the U.S. Constitution that misted his eyes. Disdain for Communism and dictatorships of any sort were the guideposts of the young rebel’s benevolent crusade. Matthews reported how Castro’s very lips curled when mentioning these vile authoritarian concepts, so alien to his core beliefs, so contrary to his nature. So much for the "tell" part of the ruse. The "show" part was an even bigger hoot. Castro’s rebels numbered all of 16 at that time. Yet Matthews’ article mentioned several "columns" of rebel troops. How so? Well, Castro had his 16 men parade in front of Matthews, then scurry into the nearby bushes, change uniforms, and walk by again. True stuff here, folks. Even the pinkish Georgie Ann Geyer mentions it in her book. It was the beginning of a long and simply B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L romance between Castro and Beltway reporting. Not surprisingly, his very first visit to the U.S. two years later was an invitation from the National Society of Newspaper Editors, who almost deafened him with a wild standing ovation in April ‘59 at the Washington Press Club. So, has anything changed in 44 years? Yes, things are WORSE! If you saw the Andrea Mitchell interview, you know what I mean. Most people don’t know it, but Castro had the tables (or cameras or mikes) turned on him in one day in 1962. He was putting the Bay of Pigs prisoners on a show trial that memorably day and had his hat handed to him. It’s not often you see Castro stutter. And why should he? He never hears a rebuttal. His every "discussion" and "interview is with either a spineless patsy, a gaping imbecile, or a shameless scoundrel. (Here’s a fun exercise: Place Ted Turner, Herbert Matthews, Steven Spielberg, Jesse Ventura, Ralph Nader, Jimmy Carter, Dan Rather, Gov. George Ryan, George McGovern, Jack Nicholson, Peter Jennings and Oliver Stone in the appropriate category above ... Finished? Good, let’s proceed.) One of the men who made a jabbering monkey of Fidel that day was a black Cuban and later U.S. citizen named Tomas Cruz. Ever heard of him? Friends, why do I bother asking? He’s not a shakedown artist or fat, pompadoured buffoon. He’s a hero.

On April 16, 1961, Tomas Cruz and his band of brothers parachuted into an inferno of Soviet firepower at the Bay of Pigs. They went up against Stalin tanks with M-1s. Without food or water or air cover or naval fire, they battled desperately for three days. Outnumbered almost 50 to 1, they fought till the last bullet, till the last grenade. Alone and abandoned, they rammed headlong into armed forces of the hemisphere’s premier jailer, despot and murderer, who almost soiled his pants in panic. Then in three days of relentless close-quarter fighting they made a monkey of Castro’s Soviet commander at the scene (named Ceutah) and inflicted losses of 20 to one. If JFK wanted some REAL Profiles in Courage he might have looked at the men he abandoned on that beachhead. But if you ask me, their real heroics came as prisoners, during their Stalinist show trial. As I said, Master of Ceremonies Fidel, had his hat handed to him that day. The Cuban Commies’ goal was to get the Bay of Pigs prisoners to admit they were mercenaries in the pay of the U.S. government. The prisoners were thoroughly interrogated beforehand (the KGB had been coaching Castro’s Secret Police for almost two years by now) to see who’d crack, who’d play along. Only these would get in front of the cameras. Tomas Cruz, Felipe Rivero and a few others gave every impression of having broken down. They said they’d be willing to go on camera and denounce the U.S. (Not at all unreasonable, considering how they’d been abandoned on the beaches. Many patriotic Americans themselves, such as Grayston Lynch, Howard Hunt, Richard Nixon and Adm. Arleigh Burke, along with every single military man associated with the plan, sputtered in burning rage for years at Camelot’s sorry sellout.) Anyway, the day came, the Stalinist stage was set at Havana’s Sports Arena and the cameras rolled. Castro’s lackey vice President Carlos R. Rodriguez was the opening act. He put the microphone to Felipe Rivero. "Nobody paid us to do a damn thing!" Rivero blurted. Whoops! The reds’ mouths dropped. They gaped nervously. They looked around. A rumble went through the crowd. "We came here to FIGHT COMMUNISM!" Rivero continued. "Men from every class and race in Cuba VOLUNTEERED to come here and FIGHT you!" Holy S**T! What now?! The cameras started shifting nervously. Rodriguez’s lips trembled. He wiped his forehead. He stretched his collar. Some heads would (literally!) roll when the Maximum Leader sees this! The cameras didn’t know where to focus. "And another thing!" Felipe shouted. "We OUTFOUGHT YOU!" The reds were frantic now, they looked from one to another aghast and cleared their throats. They looked like Democrats during the Ollie North hearings. Rodriguez finally caught his breath and with a trembling voice started with the usual Commie mumbo-jumbo about "the masses" and "the people." "OK, FINE!" Rivero rolled his eyes and waved his hand. "You say you have the people with you? Then hold an ELECTION! That’ll REALLY tell us, won’t it!" Complete pandemonium, my friends. Even the diehard commies in the crowd couldn’t restrain themselves. Che Guevara himself had to snicker. A rumble of laughter, a rustle of claps and hoots erupted from all corners. This was on Cuban national TV, remember. And Cuba – that impoverished and squalid little Third World country Castro’s echo chamber always tells us about – besides having net immigration from Europe shortly before the glorious liberation, also had more TVs per capita than Canada or Germany. The very island almost shook with a collective roar.

Rodriguez was frantic. Finally the Maximum Leader himself pranced on the stage. Only he could straighten things out. He had it all figured out. He had an ace up his sleeve. So he approached the black parachutist prisoner Tomas Cruz. "We opened the beaches for you blacks," he sneered. (Cuba had a PRIVATE whites-only country club with a PRIVATE beach.) "So what on earth are you doing with these Yankee mercenaries?" Tell it to Charles Rangel, Fidel. Tell it to Maxine Waters and Ron Dellums, to Randall Robinson and Jesse Jackson – they’ll swallow your BS and ask for seconds. Problem was, here Fidel was trying his BS with a black who had actually lived under his system. He knew better. Even worse (for Castro), here was an honest, valiant and noble man. Give Castro shysters, cowards and idiots and he’ll work wonders. But his schemes always crumble when they slam the brick wall of integrity. (Fun exercise II: Place Chris Dodd, Saul Landau, Frank Mankiewicz, Barney Frank, Tad Szulc, Robert Redford, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ry Cooder, Jose Serrano, Sidney Pollack, Spike Lee, Ed Asner and Chevy Chase in the appropriate category above ... Finished? Okay, back to the show trial.) Cruz didn’t flinch. He looked Castro straight in the eye. "I didn’t come here to swim," He glowered. "I came here to FIGHT COMMUNISM! I came here with my brothers of every race to free my homeland from YOU and your Russian friends!" Well, folks, the reds decided to hold these "trials" behind closed doors and with the cameras off after that. I almost puke when I hear about the "courage" of an Alec Baldwin, George Clooney, Babs Streisand and all these other dingbats grandstanding in front of foreign cameras, denouncing their homeland and president. Yeah, wow! That’s SOME courage. "Bigger headlines" is all it means. Free publicity, is what it brings these popinjays. Opposing war is one thing. Many perfectly honest and decent people manage it without the shameless mugging and headline-grabbing. During their "trial" Cruz, Rivero and their comrades knew they were in a Roman Coliseum. Their lives were in the hands of a man who made Caligula look like Pee-Wee Herman. They figured they were signing their own death warrants. Yet they faced down the most murderous psychopath this hemisphere has ever spawned. They mowed down his troops. They blew up his tanks. And when he thought: "Ah-ha! finally got them in my hands! I’ll humiliate them!" – at that very moment, they tricked him so that the whole nation could see it on his own TV network – and SPIT IN HIS EYE!! You wanna talk courage? Keep your Sean Penns and Woody Harrelsons. I’ll take the Cruzes and Riveros. Keep your Clooneys and Baldwins, I’ll take the Ollie Norths, the Anthony "Nuts!" McAuliffes and the Capt. Earl Cobeils (tortured to death by Castroites at Hanoi’s Cu Loc POW camp for refusing to kneel). Amazingly, Fidel may have gotten the last laugh with Rivero, who a year later was ransomed back by a guilt-stricken JFK. In 1967 Felipe Rivero found himself in a U.S. federal prison. His crime? Trying to overthrow Castro! You read right. The same man accused and jailed by Castro for being a U.S. mercenary and lackey, of being bribed by the U.S. to overthrow communism in Cuba was later jailed by the U.S. for trying to overthrow Communism in Cuba! LBJ had to honor that Kennedy-Khrushchev swindle, you see. Laugh or cry? You decide ... I give up! I need a brewskie!

And if you think the Kennedy-Khrushchev swindle only disgusts "crackpot Cuban exiles," I give you Richard Nixon as quoted in the Miami Herald in April of ’63: "We should assist the Cuban freedom-fighters OPENLY. It makes no sense to leash them." Here’s Barry Goldwater as quoted in the same paper in ‘64: "I would help Cuban exiles, train them and supply them OPENLY. I’d give them the guns and ammunition to blast Castro out of his island stronghold now defended with Soviet arms!" If either of these men had been elected back then, you’d still have Hank Williams tunes on Miami jukeboxes, my friends. Gloria Estefan would be a visiting songstress from time to time, taking a break from her Copacabana act. To eat at Versailles you’d have to take the daily ferry across the straits, swaying to a Latin beat and sipping piña coladas on the deck while watching the sunset. Nixon would have had to hire different "plumbers" too. "But Dad!" My kids always protest here. "Then you and Mom woulda never met!" "Nonsense!" I answer. "Your mom and her sorority sisters woulda been hitting Havana on Spring Break rather than Ft. Lauderdale. We'da met! These things aren’t decided down here. Y’all would still have the same mom and dad!" Tomas Cruz was ransomed back with the Brigade at the same time as Rivero. He became an officer in the U.S. Army and served proudly for years. After retiring he became a protestant clergyman, ministering mainly to kids. He was adamant that his adopted country avoid the stomach-churning horrors that afflicted his native one. He died in a tragic auto accident in the late seventies. They say his funeral was among the biggest displays of grief and affection ever seen in Miami. Call me crazy, but this strikes me as one heck of an inspirational story, just the thing for Black History month, for a “Biography” feature narrated by the courtly baritone of James Earl Jones. Should we hold our breath? Cruz was anti-Communist. You know better.

Friends, for a point-blank look at what Cruz, Rivero and their Band of Brothers Brigadistas and Escambray rebels were fighting to stop, please click here: Each cross represents a firing-squad murder. The victim was usually gagged , lest he yell his scorn at the scum aiming at him – lest he yell his love for Christ or Liberty. Much of this slaughter came after Castro’s quarantine – his safe conduct pass – by JFK. Also, this memorial didn’t cost the hard-pressed U.S. taxpayer a penny. It was funded by private donations and assembled by volunteers (people with day jobs, no less, unlike those anti-war exhibitionists you see on CNN).

Humberto Fontova holds an M.A. in history from Tulane University. He's the author of "Helldiver's Rodeo," described as "Highly entertaining!" by Publisher's Weekly, "A must-read!" by Booklist, and "Just what the doctor ordered!" by Ted Nugent. You may reach Mr. Fontova by e-mail at

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