Gov. Ron DeSantis awarded Cuban American soldier and intelligence officer Félix Rodríguez with the Florida Medal of Freedom Thursday, for defending freedom in his birth country, his adoptive country and abroad.
Rodríguez — born in Havana, Cuba, in 1941 — served the CIA as a member of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and as a lead operative in the capture and execution of Che Guevara. The Cuban exile became a U.S. citizen and then a colonel in the Vietnam War, where he flew 300 helicopter missions and was shot down five times. He repeatedly infiltrated Cuba and was also involved in the Iran-Contra affair in Nicaragua.
The Legislature established the Florida Medal of Freedom in 2020. That year, the Governor awarded the inaugural medal to Florida State football coach and college football Hall of Famer Bobby Bowden, who died last month. Rodríguez is the second recipient.
A handful of possible recipients “leapt to mind” when lawmakers first created the award, the Governor added.
“What Bobby Bowden was to football, Félix Rodríguez is to the cause of freedom,” DeSantis said.
Throughout his career of service and beyond, Rodríguez has received roughly a dozen awards, including the CIA’s Intelligence Star. Only a few dozen people have received that honor, awarded for risking one’s life with voluntary acts of courage or service in the face of danger.
DeSantis noted the popularity of wearing T-shirts depicting Guevara, a communist icon. Guevara was no match for Rodríguez, he said.
“You should be wearing Felix Rodriguez shirts if you believe in freedom,” DeSantis continued.
In July, as protests erupted across Cuba against the communist regime, the Governor and other Republicans encouraged Democratic President Joe Biden to intervene, namely by providing internet access to the island nation. Later that month, the Biden administration announced sanctions against Cuban officials and the prospect of more action, including the development of a plan to provide internet to Cubans.
By DeSantis’ standards, that is not enough.
“I sure wish we had an administration that was willing to stand with those folks fighting in Cuba right now, but I hope that you will be able to see that island liberated someday,” DeSantis said.
Rodríguez said he is concerned about a socialist regime taking control of the United States. That’s beginning to happen, he warned.
And he encouraged people to vote in the 2022 election, because losing the House and Senate could lead to what he called the United States of Socialism.
“Go out and make sure that we’ll regain those two houses, because that’s the only way that we’re going to save the United States of America,” Rodríguez said.
DeSantis has not officially launched his reelection campaign, even amid speculation that he’ll run for President in 2024. But that didn’t stop the Republican Governor from chiming in as well after Rodríguez called him the nation’s greatest Governor.
“House, Senate, important,” DeSantis said. “Governor election, very important, too.”