As a former CIA agent, military veteran and native Cuban, Col. Felix Rodriguez has an impassioned opinion of U.S. relations with Cuba.
Rodriguez was in Panama on Saturday as U.S. President Barack Obama met with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Americas Summit in the Central American country, marking the first meeting of the leaders of both nations in more than 50 years.
Rodriguez discussed his opinions on the event with an auditorium full of students Monday at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus.
While Castro’s inclusion in the summit Saturday has received both laud and criticism, Rodriguez called it “unfortunate.”
“Those countries that belong to the (Organization of American States) have to be democratically elected,” he said. “There has not been a democratic election in Cuba in the last 57 years.”
Rodriguez said Castro mentioned him by name during the summit, claiming he was one of a group attempting to prevent Castro’s involvement in the event.
“He claimed there were people who came to alter the order from the outside, and one of them was CIA agent Rodriguez,” he said.
Rodriguez said he was detained in Panama on Saturday with a group of former political prisoners who peacefully assembled to place flowers at the statue of Cuban national hero Jose Marti, directly across from the Cuban embassy.
The group was detained for nine hours after an argument with a large group from the embassy, Rodriguez said. Finally, the U.S. embassy was able to negotiate for their release.
Rodriguez was a guest speaker at the university Monday in an event sponsored by the Politically Incorrect Club.
He is perhaps best known for his involvement in the Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba, as well as the interrogation and execution of Marxist guerrilla Che Guevara, a major figure in the Cuban revolution.
Col. Archibald Kielly, a fellow veteran and UNG adjunct professor of political science, served with Rodriguez in Vietnam and brought him to Monday’s event.
“Col. Felix Rodriguez is a brother to me,” Kielly said. “We served together in the military. ... So you can hear it from me: this man here, in all my years in the military, is the bravest, most courageous man that I have ever met.”
Regarding U.S. relations with Cuba, Rodriguez said the improved relationship with Castro could actually “prolong the agony of the Cuban people.”
He said Cuba responds to strength, not diplomacy, and Obama’s tolerance of the dictatorship does nothing to help the nation’s people.
One UNG student asked Rodriguez if, during his lengthy career, he ever felt qualms about entering conflict with his home country.
“When I worked with the CIA, I was not working against my home country,” he said. “On the contrary, we were working in favor of the country and the opposition inside who want free election and a free, democratic Cuba.”
Another student asked Rodriguez why he still actively speaks on the subject after he’s clearly “done his duty to this country.”
“I think it’s important to have the truth around what is really happening there,” he said. “When I went to the Bay of Pigs, I was 19 years old. A lot of my friends were killed. Some of them were executed. I feel we have a responsibility to those who died to continue this fight until Cuba is free.”