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Smerconish: He can't go home to Cuba again

I was worried that I'd offended Carlos Eire. The Yale professor of history and religious studies authored the definitive narrative of Fidel Castro's destruction of Cuban family life with his 2003 memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana.

I was worried that I'd offended Carlos Eire.

The Yale professor of history and religious studies authored the definitive narrative of Fidel Castro's destruction of Cuban family life with his 2003 memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana.

Born into an upper-middle-class family - his father was a judge whose avocation was the collection of antiques - Eire spent his 1950s childhood catching lizards, going to the movies, chasing the pesticide jeep spraying DDT, setting off firecrackers, and celebrating friends' birthdays. But the music literally stopped on Jan. 1, 1959, when Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista.

In 1962, Eire and his brother Tony were two of 14,000 children who fled the island nation, part of Operation Peter Pan. Their mother would eventually join them in the United States, but they would never see their father again. Not since the day they sat in the Havana airport separated by glass in the "fishbowl" departure lounge erected by the government.

Eire's book was both a National Book Club winner and a One Book One Philadelphia selection. His memoir unfolds against the backdrop of his boyhood neighborhood of Miramar and his family home.

"Rumor has it that our house collapsed about two years ago. . . . I really don't give a damn about that house anymore," he writes. "If it did indeed fall down under its own rotten weight, good riddance. If it didn't, the first thing I'll do when I return to Havana is rent a bulldozer and raze it to the ground all by myself. Or better yet, I'll stuff the house full of dynamite and blow it up. My final firecracker surprise for the old neighborhood."

But the book contains no photographs of the residence, leaving it to readers to conjure its structure. And nowhere in the manuscript is the address identified.

The closest Eire comes to pinpointing the actual locale is his revelation that Che Guevara lived three blocks away, in an estate that encompassed an entire city block. And that Batista's kids were Eire's classmates at El Colegio la Salle de Miramar, "the finest primary school in Havana." Moreover, despite the vast attention this literary masterpiece has received, nowhere is that property easily located online.

In August, our family traveled to Cuba for a series of person-to-person exchanges and while en route, I reread Eire's book. The more I read, the greater my desire to see the exterior of his boyhood home to add texture to my mind's eye of his youth. At dinner in Havana, when I shared with my family my intention to email Eire and inquire as to the address, there was uniformity of opposition. It would be in poor form, everyone agreed. "If he wanted readers to know the address he'd have put it in the book," said a family member.

Undeterred and armed with an internet access card, I sat in a public park and emailed Eire from Cuba. A day or two later I repeated the drill and I checked my account. Nothing. And upon return, still no reply. For five months, I assumed those familial cautions had been well-founded.

Then last week, after Eire published an essay in the Washington Post articulating "13 facts" that should be etched on Castro's tombstone (among them, "He turned Cuba into a colony of the Soviet Union and nearly caused a nuclear holocaust"), I interviewed him on SiriusXM radio about Cuba's future. Specifically, I wanted to know whether he agreed with Donald Trump's suggestion that the rapprochement begun by the Obama administration should be reversed. Two days after Castro's death, Trump had tweeted:

"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal."

Eire told me he agrees.

"I hope he rolls it back all the way to how it was before Obama took office, because there was no deal," he said. "It was a complete surrender to the Castro regime, and I hope, I sincerely hope, that President-elect Trump does deliver on his promises."

Eire wants all sanctions restored and an effort to do likewise with the world's nations.

"If Cuba became a pariah nation just like the old South Africa and the entire world cooperated in boycotting Cuba, that regime would collapse very quickly, just like the old South African regime collapsed," Eire said.

Then I turned to the more sensitive part of our conversation. I asked why he never responded to my email. Had I offended him?

"Oh, no. No, and I never got your email 'cause I freely give out [the house's] address. I've given it out to everyone who's asked," he said. "Ever since the book came out, I've been receiving a steady stream of photographs of my house from people who visit. . . . The last two people who went took photographs, it looks terrible, the entire neighborhood is, is basically destroyed. But they told me that the house seems to be empty. But they, of course, they can't get in, it's just, they said the house looks like it's unoccupied. . . .

"I'm so sorry I didn't get your email, I would have told you the address. I've had so many people ask for it, including several years ago, the British ambassador to Cuba, who said: 'Oh, you know, I'm living in your neighborhood. Could you please send me your address?' "

"So what's the address?" I asked.

"It's 2708 Calle, which is Street, 22."

Only Eire's not going any time soon, at least not while things remain the same. He said he is regarded as "an official enemy of the state. In Cuba you can be arrested for potential dangerousness, like the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report, where people are arrested before they commit crimes.

"I can't even look at the pictures [of the house] without crying. . . . It was so unnecessary. It didn't have to be that way."

Michael Smerconish can be heard 9 a.m. to noon on SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting "Smerconish" at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.