THE AMERICANO: FIGHTING WITH CASTRO FOR CUBA’S FREEDOM by Aran Shetterly (Algonquin), 300 pages, $27.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Now that Cuban president Fidel Castro has taken early retirement, the old despot may have time to reflect on the strange and mysterious men who fought on both sides during the Cuban revolution.
Perhaps none of the phantoms from that past is more enigmatic than American-born ex-GI William Morgan, who fought for and against Castro in the uprising and its aftermath.
Morgan’s life trajectory, from outcast kid in Toledo, Ohio, to firing squad outside Havana, makes a fascinating tale told with great sympathy by Aran Shetterly.
Morgan’s meteoric rise and bloody end are related in short, sharply drawn chapters that accelerate toward Morgan’s date with Castro’s executioners.
He didn’t project the kind of image most people think of when recalling the fathers of the Cuban revolution. The 29-year-old former jailbird and janitor first wandered into the rebel camp in the Escambray Mountains dressed in the bright white suit foreign gamblers tended to wear in Havana’s casinos.
Yet Morgan quickly proved himself a fearless fighter and fun-loving comrade. The mysterious Americano became a leader of the 4,000 rebels in his group, the only foreign-born revolutionary besides Che to hold the position of comandante.
Unfortunately for Morgan, he told anyone who would listen that the revolution and Castro were not red. When the revolution did take on a Communist character, he joined the counter-revolution.
Yet he was not just an adventurer in the fight for thrills and fame. He believed he was living up to the best in American altruism by helping to bring down the corrupt U.S.-backed Batista regime that had been oppressing the Cuban people.