His name, along with his co-defendant Joel Esquenazi, is synonymous with the “foreign official” issue. (See this article at pgs. 24-42 to learn more about the 11th Circuit’s flawed”foreign official” decision in May 2014).
Mr. Rodriguez of course is more than just a name associated with a legal concept.
He is a real person, with a real family, who is serving real time in federal prison away from that real family.
In this post, Mr. Rodriguez’s adult daughter, Angeli Rodriguez, shares her perspective on her dad and her hero.
I’d argue every child has envisioned their parent as a superhero at some point, and no one can argue that all heroes need an alias that denotes their special ability. I was no exception to this naive imagination while growing up, and I’ve concluded the only fitting title for my dad would be the Human Shield.
The funny thing about superhero tales is whenever the protagonist thinks his work is done, the city under his protection is struck by peril worse than the last. While the obvious explanation for this irony is that it’s what keeps the comic industry in business, I like to think this element of comic books grants them the slightest bit of realism. Science deems it the simplest principle of physics, or what goes up must come down. But if you really think about it, a sequence of highs and lows is above all the perfect description for life itself. Unless, of course, you have the Human Shield.
I’m more than lucky to be able to say that my childhood was always one of highs. I had both of my parents who loved my siblings and me unconditionally and raised us in a beautiful home in South Florida. For years, my dad was the vice president of a successful telecommunications company while my mom put her nursing career on hold to care for all of us. When I was four, she was diagnosed with breast cancer but, thanks to the Human Shield, I knew nothing more than “Mommy’s a little sick.” Within a year or so, I was told Mommy was better.
The shielding, however, would only continue.There came a point in elementary school when I realized Dad was no longer wearing ties or coming home at dinnertime. Soon, he was the one picking the kids up from school and Mom was the one at work. I recognized these changes but never questioned them. Instead, I was delighted to see more of my father, who would tell elaborate stories about his day every car ride home. My brother, my sister, and I always knew he was lying and looked forward to laughing with him each time we’d call him out on it. I used to think Dad’s crazy stories were solely meant to entertain us, but I’ve come to realize they were really fabricated by the Human Shield. By the time I reached middle school, I was aware that Dad’s old company had gone bankrupt. He had made a couple of attempts to work from home, but it was evident Mom was the one supporting us now. Nothing seemed different, though. My siblings and I continued to receive a private school education, let alone everything else we ever wanted.
I began to worry something bad was bound to happen, that our lives would finally come down after being up for so long. The Human Shield, on the other hand, never lost a smile. His optimism was contagious and quickly eradicated any concerns I ever had. According to Dad, happiness was all about visualization. He became enthralled with the concept of a “dream board” and helped me paste printed images of my desired future on a poster. With activities like these, I gradually grew closer and closer to my father. By eighth grade, I was blind to the fact that he no longer joined us for family beach days and was careful not to go out too late at night. Those were probably his best acts of shielding but were soon to be his last.
I vividly remember the day my parents broke the news…news which had been on their radars for over a year but nowhere near mine. I did not cry, and I did not speak. I just sat there, half listening to words that could not possibly be true. My father is a good person and good people shouldn’t secretly be on house arrest nor are they supposed to go to prison. Superhero tales just don’t end that way, especially when the “villain” in question is innocent.
In the legal world, my dad’s case is regarded as the “foreign official” issue and considered by many, including the Supreme Court, as unimportant. To me, it stands as the one “low” I could not be protected from, which shattered my shield and changed life as I knew it. I guess I never really realized how powerful my hero was or how much I needed him until he was no longer always by my side. He went away in November of my freshman year of high school, but for months I denied his absence and refused to believe the injustice my family bore. After months of this delusion, however, I forced myself to face reality. It was time for me to garner my own strength and show my dad that I could be super, too. This was much easier to do when I realized how heroic the rest of my family was.
My older brother Giancarlos started college at the University of Florida the same year that Dad was imprisoned. As the only son, his relationship with our father was undeniably special, and the times he visited home were noticeably hard for him. This past December, Gian graduated from UF with three degrees. He now has a full-time job.
My younger sister Natalia was already in middle school when Dad left. Our mom could no longer afford her Catholic school education, however, and she had to transfer schools after attending the same one for nearly ten years. She and Dad had always bonded over her volleyball career and an extremely similar sense of humor. Natalia is now class president for the third year in a row and maintains the second highest GPA of the juniors at her high school.
And, lucky for the three of us, the Human Shield is married to Superwoman. My mom has surely struggled the most with Dad’s sentence yet has managed to not only keep her life in order but all of ours. She sold the house my siblings and I grew up in as well as works two jobs to provide for us. Her spirit, however, never falters and she amazes me each day with her strength. I was empowered by both her and my father to work hard throughout high school but accredit my full ride to Boston University to her encouragement. Had I any other mother, I am positive our situation would have affected me much more negatively.
Since he left, my dad has missed three Thanksgiving’s, four Christmas’s, my 15th-18th birthdays, my brother’s college graduation, and my high school graduation, plus all of the celebratory moments and memories in between. The only contact we have consists of letter exchanges and a restricted 15-minute phone call every two weeks. Courtesy of the U.S. government, my connection to my father will remain this way until January 2018. It’s absurd, surreal, ridiculous, and undeniably unfair, but somehow he has maintained his positive outlook on life. That’s why a very small part of me is grateful for this experience. Because of the “foreign official” issue, I’ve realized how much my father once protected me and, in losing that protection, how much strength I myself possess. I may not have the superpowers needed to free him or convince courts of his innocence, but I like to think that by mimicking his optimism I can one day be someone’s hero.