The Look of a Warrior

Tony Bryant is a black militant, a hijacker, a survivor of Cuban prisons, and a Castro-hating commando. And don't you forget it.

"Willy screens all our applicants," Bryant notes. "You pay 25 bucks for membership, but not just anyone joins. We do a thorough check." He stresses the point for an understandable reason. Ever since the highly publicized revelation three months ago that the military head of Alpha 66, another exile cabal, was a Cuban spy, rumors of infiltration have run wild.

The paranoia has only been fueled by the conspiratorial murkiness that envelops the netherworld of anti-Castro activism, and the infighting that plagues South Florida's assorted factions. "It's a matter of someone wanting leadership and not accepting anyone else," Bryant explains. "It has a lot to do with courage, also. It's easy to talk. It's another thing to go across that 90 miles of water and be for real. Comandos L has done more on that front than anyone. And I'm not denouncing anyone. I'm just stating the record."

With this he returns to his message stack, regaling fellow commandos with news of a proposed pro-Castro rally, and a memorial service for Tony Cuesta to be held in New York.

As part of the service, in fact, Bryant has taken it upon himself to create a Comandos L video, and his next stop is a photographic studio on Red Road where he is to oversee editing.

Curiously, the footage for this work is drawn directly from the videos of his July 4 quest A in other words, the evidence viewed at his trial. Bryant meets with the proprietor and pops the first video in a VCR. The Florida Straits appear, as seen from the deck of the speedboat Jaws in early evening. The camera pans chaotically, but Bryant is recognizable in his trademark beret, his hand on the muzzle of a rifle. The action skips to a night scene. The camera zooms in on a blob of light.

"A freighter," reports Bryant, seated a few feet from the screen. He won't say if his crew attacked the vessel, though he hints at the possibility. "I don't care what it is," he says. "If it's bringing money to Castro, if it's in Cuban waters, it's a target." A few minutes later a distant glow appears onscreen. The Cuban coast. "We ended up further in because we had to escape two Cuban gunboats," Bryant explains.

The next segment, this one shot by the Coast Guard, shows a cutter roaring toward Jaws. Soon the disabled boat is being towed out of Cuban waters. Back at the Key West dock, the camera captures Bryant, in tropical shirt and shorts, translating Miranda rights into Spanish for two of his glum-looking companions. All that can be seen of the fourth commando is a set of feet jutting from behind a nearby boat. At an officer's request, his cohorts shake him awake. He lumbers upright, clearly intoxicated, and lists dangerously close to the edge of the dock, righting himself just as he seems destined for a plunge off the pier.

"Borracho," his friends mumble on the video soundtrack. "He has been dismissed from Comandos L," Bryant snaps, reviewing the spectacle in the editing room.

The Coast Guardsmen begin their search of the boat, aided by Bryant, who wanders around the area determined to ingratiate himself. Then an officer asks him about the damage to Jaws. "That's the only hole, right? On the starboard side," he inquires.

"I wouldn't know starboard from a Starburst," Bryant replies. "I just know the boat has a front, a back, and two sides. I don't even know how to swim." Bryant laughs at his image on the screen, assures his fellow viewers that the Coast Guard actually bought his clueless-landlubber routine. "I didn't want them to even suspect I was an actual commando," he explains.

The final tape is a compilation of TV reports about Bryant's arrest. The editor's assistant, who has just come into the room, recognizes the black man in a beret on TV as the black man in a beret sitting two feet away from him. "Did you guys get in trouble?" he asks innocently. Bryant sneers. "Man, don't you watch the news? I was in jail."

The video ends. Bryant opens his briefcase, pushes aside three different brands of cigarettes and two daily planners, and pulls out a satchel of news clippings. He points to an artsy photograph of Cuesta, the rebel's profile swimming in a sea of black. "I want the title of the film here," he tells the editor. "La lucha, el dolor, y la victoria[The struggle, the pain, and the victory]."

After a few more minutes of creative consulting, he zips off, ready for dinner at Habana Vieja, a favorite spot just down the street from the radio station where he is expected as a guest at 7:00 p.m.

As he waits for his bistec de palomilla to arrive, Bryant elucidates a few of his more radical views. "Reagan and Bush were traitors," he declares. "They gave aid and comfort to Castro because he caused enough fear to drive the market for U.S. arms in Central America." He frets over the United Nations' growing role in global politics. "We're becoming foot soldiers for the U.N. and their one-world government," he explains. "And what it's going to produce is a George Orwell 1984 nightmare. That's where it's leading. Don't you ever wonder why the U.N. Security Council is always headed by a socialist?" Hollywood's cultural elite are no better: "They wouldn't dare to make my book into a film. Even though it has all the elements of an American classic. They'll make film after film about Vietnam, but you come up with a story that's pro-American, that shows the tyranny of communism, and everyone gets scared to death."

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