William Morgan was an interesting person. A native of Toledo, Ohio, Morgan dropped out of high school and joined the Cuban revolutionary forces in 1957. Morgan was committed to democracy and thought, as many did pre-1959, that fidel and the boys were part of a good cause. Unfortunately, once Morgan found out the truth about the castros, he became increasingly disillusioned and started to plot against the revolution. Eventually, Morgan was executed by firing squads in 1961.
From yesterday’s Miami Herald:
Almost 50 years after the U.S. government stripped William Morgan of his American citizenship for his role as a leader in the Cuban rebel forces, the famous ”comandante yanqui” has been reclaimed by his country.
The U.S. State Department now says it can no longer uphold its previous finding that the Ohio-born Morgan — executed in 1961 by one of Fidel Castro’s firing squads for counterrevolutionary acts in Cuba — lost the right to call himself an American.
”We cannot sustain the finding of loss of nationality in this case,” the State Department said in a letter to the attorney for Morgan’s widow. “Mr. Morgan shall be deemed never to have relinquished his U.S. nationality.”
That leaves Morgan — adventurer, martial arts expert, rumored CIA operative and hero to many in Miami’s Cuban community for his unwavering anticommunist stance — officially American once again.
It also settles one question in the mysterious life and death of a man historians called a ”rock star” revolutionary who helped lead Cuba’s fight for freedom yet died without a country.
The U.S. government had long held the position that Morgan lost his citizenship in 1959, just after the Cuban revolution. But the State Department now says the old information no longer is sufficient under current standards for renouncing citizenship.
For Morgan’s widow, Olga Morgan Goodwin, the government’s acknowledgement is a bittersweet victory.
”Before he died, he said he wanted to thank this country for teaching him about democracy,” Goodwin said Monday from her home in Toledo. “He died fighting for democracy. He loved the United States.”
Goodwin, a prisoner for 12 years in Cuban jails after Morgan’s execution, said she now has one mission left: to bring Morgan’s body back from Havana for burial in Toledo, his hometown.
”I don’t rest yet,” Goodwin said. “I’ll rest when William can rest, too.”
SYMBOL OF PATRIOTISM
Though rare, the move by the federal government to restore Morgan’s citizenship isn’t unprecedented. Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis both had citizenship restored by an act of Congress — Lee in 1976 and Davis in 1978.
Last year, the State Department restored citizenship posthumously for another American fighter in Cuba, pilot Paul Hughes. He disappeared with a co-pilot during an apparent bombing attempt against Cuba in 1960.
Hughes’ daughters, who have met with Goodwin, said citizenship is a symbol to show that their father and Morgan were fighting for democracy on Cuban soil.
”They were always U.S. citizens first, and they were patriots,” said Christy Cox, one of Hughes’ daughters. “We know these men represented their form of patriotism.”
The grounds for Morgan’s expatriation, according to formerly classified government documents from 1960, included his activities as a rebel leader and, later, when he became a major in the Cuban armed forces.
The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, cited by the State Department in its findings on Morgan, puts the burden on the government to prove loss of citizenship. The government looks for two things: a Loss of Nationality certificate issued by the U.S. government and intent to renounce one’s citizenship.
In Morgan’s case, the government said, there was neither.
”There wasn’t any proof that he relinquished his citizenship and no evidence that he had intended to renounce it,” said Steve Royster, spokesman for consular affairs at the State Department. “We’re happy she pursued the matter with the State Department. . . . He was another American who stood up to fight the regime in Cuba.”
A WINDING JOURNEY
Morgan was an unlikely martyr for the Cuban cause. A high school dropout, he stunned his family when he left home in 1957 to join a movement more than 1,400 miles away. He stood out among the bearded rebels. A tall, blond American who spoke little Spanish, he carried a gold-plated pistol and was openly anti-communist. Newsweek and Time wrote up his exploits.
Olga Maria Rodriguez was 22, a passionate revolutionary, when she met Morgan, 30, divorced with two children. They married at a rebel mountain hide-out in 1958.
Morgan distinguished himself as a leader in the Second Front, or Segundo Frente, of the Escambray Mountains. But after the revolution, he found himself increasingly isolated as Castro consolidated power. In October 1960, he and his wife were arrested and imprisoned as traitors. Six months later, Morgan was executed by firing squad. He reportedly refused to kneel until his knees buckled from the shots.
Goodwin never stopped trying to clear Morgan’s name. After she came to the U.S. in 1980, she settled in Toledo and took up the citizenship quest.
In 2005, after decades of frustrated efforts, the former Cuban political prisoner took her case straight to President George W. Bush. ”My earnest plea is for you to give him back his citizenship in his home country of America,” she wrote, signing the letter “in complete sincerity.”
Goodwin, who counts the Miami-based paramilitary group Alpha 66 among her supporters, has found backing from a variety of sources over the years, including U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat who visited Cuba in 2002. Kaptur said Castro himself promised to return Morgan’s remains, but Goodwin became worried about retaliation against family in Cuba. The process was halted.
Kaptur said Thursday she remains open to helping Goodwin bring Morgan’s body home if possible but, she noted, “several years have passed.”
Earlier this month, with the help of Toledo lawyer and Democratic fundraiser G. Opie Rollison, Goodwin finally got the news she’d hoped for: Morgan was a citizen.
”The credit for all this goes to Olga, who for 45 years has been pursuing the issue,” Rollison said. “The government, when we approached the State Department, was very up front and very forthright. I’m confident now that William Morgan was always a citizen.”
For some who knew Morgan in Cuba, the reinstatement comes with the sense of a wrong being righted.
”That’s very good. Excellent. Extraordinary,” said Jorge Castellon, a member of the rebel forces who knew Morgan and lives in Miami-Dade County. “He fought for Cuba and Cubans.”
Goodwin said she learned of the news during Easter week — a sign, she thinks.
”William is happy in Heaven now,” she said. “Inside, I am relaxing now.”
But not too much. She’s still determined to bring back Morgan’s body, which she says was buried in Havana’s Colón Cemetery.
”I didn’t want to bring him back until he was a citizen,” Goodwin said. “But now, I need to bury him in Toledo.”
Her attorney, Rollison, said Morgan’s burial on his home turf is fitting.
“We have an American citizen, and it’s time to bury him on American soil.”