The story of William Morgan, the only foreigner other than Che Guevara to achieve the rank of comandante in the Cuban revolution, is making waves on both sides of the Atlantic having been buried in the mists of time for more than fifty years.
A new novel by Joss Gibson titled American Rebel was published last week in the UK.
Meanwhile George Clooney is slated as director of a forthcoming Focus Features picture based on the New Yorker article of May 28 by David Grann entitled “The Yankee Comandante”.
Morgan was dishonorably discharged from the US Army in the fifties and became a gun runner to the island working for the mob. But following the death of his friend Jack Turner, who fell foul of Batista’s security forces, Morgan made a radical decision. He went to Cuba and joined the rebel forces fighting the dictator where he trained men in hand-to-hand combat and insurgency techniques.
Morgan was part of The Second Front of the Escambray, under the leadership of Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, an entirely separate guerilla army from Castro’s group which was based in the Sierra mountains and called itself The 26th July Movement. The two organizations fought together in the closing stages of the revolution but the Second Front was excluded from the power after the revolution. Morgan became a national hero in Cuba, not just for his part in the war, but also for a spectacular double-cross of a counter-revolutionary plot after the revolution sponsored by the Dominican dictator Trujillo. Around the same time, the American authorities stripped him of his US citizenship.
Gibson’s novel frames Morgan’s part in the revolution with the intriguing tale of his widow’s fight in the US Senate to have her husband’s US citizenship restored fifty years later. Blending fact and fiction, Gibson successfully recreates the heady atmosphere of the times and the treacherous waters anyone opposed to communism had to negotiate in order to survive. Morgan searched for a ‘third way’ but was finally—in Gibson’s thesis at least—crushed by a perfect storm of malevolent forces.
Focus Feature’s proposed picture based on Grann’s thoroughly researched article is not yet scripted but can call on interview material with those who lived through the revolution and knew Morgan personally, as well as documents that have only recently come to light.
American Rebel, the novel, is available through Amazon.