A roomful of college students got a 90-minute snapshot of the last 50-plus years of world history — from the Bay of Pigs to the Vietnam War to the most recent events in Ukraine — from a man who helped shape world events.
Felix Rodriguez, a longtime CIA agent and military colonel, talked with University of North Georgia Gainesville campus students about his involvement in the 1961 Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba, gave his views on President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and fretted about the recent call for a reduction of the U.S. armed forces.
Much of his presentation, which was sponsored by the college’s Politically Incorrect Club, was focused on the 1967 capture of communist guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia. Guevara was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary and a major figure in the Cuban revolution.
Rodriguez, a Cuban exile who advised Bolivian troops in the hunt for Guevara, had been questioning Guevara when Bolivia’s president wanted him executed — even though the U.S. wanted him detained for further interrogation.
Guevara told Rodriguez in a conversation before his execution, “Tell my wife to remarry and try to be happy,” Rodriguez told the audience gathered in the Continuing Education Building’s main auditorium.
He told the audience he believed Kennedy’s push to liberate Cuba from the communist regime led by Fidel Castro “cost him his life in Dallas, Texas, in 1963.”
“Later on, President (Lyndon) Johnson ... said the promise of President Kennedy to free Cuba died with the president.”
Rodriguez also served in the Vietnam War, where he flew hundreds of combat helicopter missions.
“I was shot down five times and ... my back got in very poor condition, so, in 1972, I was evacuated to the United States,” he said.
Later, he flew more missions in El Salvador in the 1980s to help its people defeat communist guerrillas.
Rodriguez also spoke about ongoing troubles in other parts of the world, including Ukraine, where neighboring Russia has a hold in the Crimean peninsula.
“Sanctions by Europe and the United States (against Russia) are going to be a strong response,” he said. “Otherwise, nothing will happen. (Russia) doesn’t care about a letter of reprimand or anything like that.”
Finally, he said the moves to reduce the size of the U.S. armed forces “is a mistake.”
America’s military might “is why people respect us around the world,” Rodriguez said. “If we debilitate our armed forces, we will not be in a position to be a world leader anymore. ... We would no longer be a world power, like we’ve been called.”
Col. Archibald Kielly, a fellow Vietnam veteran and UNG political science adjunct professor, brought Rodriguez to Monday’s event.
“He’s been all over the world doing things for our country,” Kielly told the audience in his introduction.
“Felix Rodriguez is a hero,” Kielly said. “He is the bravest, most courageous man I’ve ever known.”