It was the summer of 1992. Our youngest son, Jackson, had been born in May, and I was staying put, not traveling anywhere to remain at home to help take care of him. A friend of mine named Ray Kline called. Ray was a legendary intel guy in Washington, having been the Deputy Director of the CIA under John Kennedy, and later Director of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon).
It was Ray Kline who, in the fall of 1962, drove down the George Washington Parkway from Langley CIA headquarters to the White House, entered the Oval Office, and placed the satellite photos of the Soviet missile emplacements in Cuba on Kennedy's desk to personally explain them to the President of the United States.
That's how the Cuban Missile Crisis began.
Ray was calling to tell me about a 30th anniversary conference of the veterans of the Crisis he had just come back from. The conference was in Havana, Cuba.
"You went to Cuba, Ray?" I asked, amazed. "Jack, the Soviet Union has vanished off the map [December 1991] and a lot of Castro's people are nervous" he replied. "They are trying to convince him to make his peace with the US. They even asked me if I knew of a conservative organization that would send a delegation to Havana and talk to them."
Ray paused for effect. "I suggested you and your Freedom Research Foundation."
"You've got to be kidding, Ray," was all I could say.
"Jack, Cuban intel knows all about how you instigated the Reagan Doctrine, which is why they no longer have their Soviet patron. Who better than you to go and see if they are for real?"
I told him I would think about it. I decided to go and told my wife, Rebel, my reason: "I want to look Fidel Castro in the eye and tell him that someday the Cuban people will urinate on his grave."
She decided to go with me – in order to prevent me from doing any such thing.
Thus it was in October of 1992, with my Mom looking after little Jackson, that Rebel, our oldest son Brandon (then age 8), a group of donors to the Freedom Research Foundation, and I went to Cuba.
Most countries run by a dictator are ubiquitously festooned with pictures of their Dear Leader. You can't go anywhere in Egypt, for example, and not see a billboard or lampost picture of Hosni Mubarak. The same in Zimbabwe with Robert Mugabe or North Korea with Kim Jong Il.
So the very first thing I noticed in Cuba is that Castro was invisible: No pictures, statues, huge posters or other depictions of him anywhere. There were only billboards and signs with the Slogan of the Revolution: Socialismo o Muerte – Socialism or Death.
Not once did I see the rebellious defacement the sign was begging for: the "o" scratched out and replaced with "es" – Socialism is Death.
Walking down a street in Havana, Rebel and I came upon a middle-aged man engaged in make-shift repairs on his bicycle. Fluent in Spanish, Rebel struck up a conversation with him. I noticed the bike was made in China and had a label in English: "Forever."
When Rebel asked him about his bike, he said it was no good. Trying to make our talk light-hearted, I said, "Tell him the bike is called Forever." Rebel translated his reply: "Nothing is forever."
I couldn't help myself. Instantly I said, "Like Fidel Castro."
When the man heard Rebel say this in Spanish, he was not startled nor fearful. Instead his eyes went blank, glazed over with utter incomprehension. He simply could not conceive of a Cuba without Castro.
Castro rules through a secret police and informer network who are everywhere and look like everyone else – the "government in the crowd." But at this moment, there was no one nearby who could overhear our conversation. And there didn't need to be.
Castro's rule and constant presence have been internalized by Cubans. Castro has controlled their lives for so many years, he has turned them into a nation of obedient robots.
You could see it in this man's eyes, in the eyes of the Cuban people in general. The lights are on, but nobody is home. They have checked out.
When Castro dies as he some day must, this man and the Cuban people aren't going to shout hallelujah. They are going to be lost, scared, and riotously resentful towards all their brethren who were lucky to escape to Miami.
A post-Castro Cuba will not rush to embrace freedom, nor will it embrace the Miami exiles. The deep bitterness Cubans feel towards those who got away and prospered in America will turn violent and bloody upon the exiles' return.
Let's face it. For many people, even here in the US much less Cuba, freedom is scary. Evil becomes easy to rationalize or morally praise when you're dependent upon it. Post-Castro Cuba is going to be a bloody mess for years.
Only when Cuban kids grow up and figure out the virtue of capitalism will things change. Until they do, the only Cuba Libre to be found will be in rum and Coke.
Ps: No, we didn't get to meet Fidel, who sacked his underlings for inviting us. Rebel was relieved.