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Coffee and Castro

I awoke this morning to a cup of strong coffee and the news that Fidel Castro had died. The java and the news were welcome.

From the autumn of 1995 to the spring of 1996 I was deployed with my unit to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in support of Operation Sea Signal. Our mission there was to assist with a large influx of Cuban refugees who had been picked up at sea by the US Coast Guard while attempting to flee Castro’s regime in late 1994. The flotilla of makeshift rafts was so large that the US Gov’t had difficulty justifying sending them back as is normal procedure for refugees intercepted at sea. They were transported to Ft Sherman, Panama for processing. Due to the fact that there were some Castro plants in the group, riots were incited and there were US soldiers injured. The US decided to airlift the refugees to GITMO where there were better confinement facilities and better geographic proximity to both the US and to Cuba. Enter Me.

Our company’s mission, in part, was to oversee day to day operations of “Migrant Camp Delta”, one of several, and to assist the vetting of the refugees to determine if they were eligible for entry into the US. If they were ineligible for US residency, we quarantined them and transported them once a week, on Thursdays, back across the Cuban border and handed them off to Castro’s guys. And in a couple cases, we transported them to the airport and handed them off to US Marshals to return them to Castro’s guys.

The first morning of the Camp Delta mission, I found myself sitting alone in the Command Post at the top of the hill overlooking the camp. I had two gate guards posted about 250 meters to my front and down a hill. I watched the sun rise and listened to a Mr Coffee brew a cup of typically bad Army coffee.

At about 6:30 that morning, and one cup of coffee into my day, I watched an older gentleman walk out of the camp’s gate and up the hill to my CP. He entered, nodded to me, and without a word, began sweeping the CP and tidying up. I was perplexed. Who was this Cuban, sixty-something and why was he in my Command Post? Didn’t he know I was in charge and watching the sunrise?

Fifteen minutes later, he’d finished his self-appointed housekeeping duties and turned to me and asked, in Spanish, if I liked coffee. Again, I was perplexed. It had to be fairly obvious from the cup in my hand that I was enjoying the stuff… truth be told the coffee was awful but, in the absence of coffee, any coffee is good coffee. I told him that I did and he immediately poured the rest of my mostly full pot on the ground outside the CP. Now, I wasn’t just confused. I was angry.

Upon returning with my, now, empty pot, he introduced himself as Tomás and informed me that he was going to make me a “real” pot of coffee. He proceeded to make another pot… just as I had done earlier, and when it was done brewing, he threw out the grounds, replaced them with fresh grounds and recycled the fresh pot through the replacement grounds. When the pot had brewed for the second time, he poured a cup, doctored it up with creamer and sugar, and handed it over as if he had just produced me a culinary masterpiece. As it turned out, his pride in the concoction wasn’t misplaced. That was the best cup of coffee I had ever experienced.

That September morning, in addition to becoming a coffee snob, I learned all about Tomás and his life. He had been a Cuban merchant marine and could tell you, in days and hours, how long it took to get to any Communist port in the world from Havana. He had 2 sons who lived in Buffalo, NY. And… he hated the Castro brothers, Ché Guevara, and Communists.

That morning, for whatever reason, Tomás took a shine to a young infantry NCO, and proceeded to teach me all about Cuba and the evils of Communism, refine my spoken Spanish, and how to appreciate coffee. In fact, he swore that because my Spanish was without an accent that my family had to be Hispanic. I assured him that he was incorrect… but, he wasn’t having any of it.

There’s much more to the story of Tomás that I may include in another blog entry but, the point today is that, despite the mainstream media coverage that Fidel Castro’s passing is, in some way, tragic… I can tell you, based on the accounts of those in Camp Delta and others who were in a position to know, first hand, that Fidel and Rául Castro, Ché Guevara, and Communism are all evil. And any who would tell you otherwise are poorly informed fools and/or agenda driven liars.

There are few human stories more compelling or tragic than those that come directly from individuals who have lived under and survived under the repressive regimes of communism. Ignoring the facts just to put together a feel-good news story or to attempt to canonize a tyrant, post mortem, is a despicable act that should be condemned and exposed for what it is. An anti-human, miscarriage of history and a willful ignorance of real human oppression. Those “reporters” and government officials singing Castro’s praises today should be ashamed of themselves and if they aren’t, they should be condemned to spending a few years under a brutal, inhuman, tyrannical regime… exercising their “freedom of press”.

But, today, ding-dong, the witch is dead. So, pour yourself a nice cup of coffee, celebrate the death of a tyrant, and have a merry holiday season.

Nous Defions.

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