Sunday, March 20, 2016
This week, President Obama will become the first US leader to visit Cuba in 88 years. Critics say he’s lending legitimacy to the Castro regime, which has stifled dissent for a half century. In his book, “The Double Life of Fidel Castro,” Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, who served as bodyguard for 17 years to the Cuban leader, reveals the hypocrisy between the communist leader’s rhetoric and his actions.
While his people suffered, Fidel Castro lived in comfort — keeping everything, including his eight children, his many mistresses, even his wife, a secret.
Married first to the upper-middle-class Mirta Díaz-Balart and then to the teacher Dalia Soto del Valle, he cheated on the first with the very beautiful Havanan Natalia Revuelta and on the second with “comrade” Celia Sanchez, his private secretary, confidante and guard dog for 30 or so years.
Other mistresses must be added to the tally: Juana Vera, a k a Juanita, his official English-speaking interpreter and intelligence-service colonel; Gladys, the Cuban airline flight attendant who was present on foreign trips; and Pilar, a k a Pili, another interpreter, this time French-speaking. He doubtless had other relationships that I did not know about.
Cubans had virtually no idea about any of this. For decades, the public knew only a tiny part of the private life of the Líder Máximo. As incredible as it seems, Cubans did not see or even know of the existence of Dalia, the woman with whom he had shared his life since 1961, until after 2006.
The oldest of the Castro children, at least officially, is Fidelito, or Fidel Jr. (Officially because Fidel had a bastard son, Jorge Ángel, six months before Fidelito, the fruit of a three-day passing encounter.)
The physical similarity was striking between Fidel and Junior: the same nose, the same Greek profile, the same hairline, the same beard . . . but such different lives.
Born in 1949, Fidelito is the only son of Mirta Díaz-Balart, a beautiful Havanan whom Fidel Castro had married the year before when he was still a simple law student. In one of those strange quirks of history, Mirta’s family had been intimately linked to the Batista regime when the latter became dictator in 1952.
After their honeymoon in New York, Fidel rapidly lost interest in the elegant Mirta, whom he divorced in 1955. However, he won custody of Fidelito.
Early on, “little Fidel” took on the heavy mantle of potential heir, thus becoming the only one of the many Castro children to be introduced to the media. In 1959, in a memorable moment of television, the little boy appeared in his pajamas next to his father, also wearing pajamas, in a program broadcast by CBS.
In this somewhat ridiculous setting, the guerrilla fighter who had just triumphed in Cuba managed to reassure American viewers: For 10 minutes, he ingeniously explained that he was not a dangerous communist but a good family man, like any other American.
Under the pseudonym José Raúl, Fidelito studied nuclear physics in the USSR. He married a Russian girl. He was appointed head of the Cuban Atomic Energy Commission (CEAC) when it was created in 1980.
Fidelito has shown himself to be his father’s son. Drunk on the trappings of power, he walks around the streets of Havana accompanied by bodyguards. What is more, Fidelito took to embezzlement. In 1992, he was sacked from the CEAC.
The relationship between the rather starchy middle-class Mirta and the feverish Fidel had never been one of consuming passion — unlike his love for Natalia Revuelta, or “Naty,” with whom he had cheated on Mirta.
With her green eyes, her perfect face and her natural charm, this Havanan was considered in her day the most beautiful woman in the capital. Married to a doctor, Orlando Fernández, Naty sympathized with the ideas of the revolutionary movement, frequenting Fidel first as a friend and then as a mistress.
In 1956, Naty gave birth to Alina. Fidel’s only daughter, this child was also the only one who dared to stand up to him.
As she recounts in her autobiography, at the age of 14 this budding rebel announced her intention of leaving Cuba. At the time, Fidel paid no attention, but Alina persisted in the idea when she was an adult.
I remember her in the 1980s, a pretty young woman who had become a model. One day when I was in Fidel’s anteroom, Pepín Naranjo, his aide-de-camp, showed up with a copy of the magazine Cuba. Spread across its second page, Alina could be admired posing on a sailboat in a bikini, in an advertisement for Havana Club rum.
“What on earth is this?” fulminated Fidel. “Call Alina, at once!”
Two hours later, Alina strode into his office, not in the least intimidated. The ensuing argument was the most memorable of them all: shouting reverberated all over the room, shaking the walls of the presidential office.
“Everybody knows you are my daughter! Posing in a bikini like that is unseemly!”
“Oh, so you’re interested in what I’m doing now?” replied Alina, screaming even louder.
Several years went by and then, in 1993, Fidel learned via the secret services that Alina was making serious plans to flee Cuba. Fidel immediately summoned the head of the escort, Col. José Delgado Castro, my boss at that time: “I am warning you: Alina must not leave Cuba under any pretext or in any way. You’ve been warned!”
Two months later, the dramatic news fell: On Christmas Eve we found out Alina had succeeded in secretly leaving her native land, wearing a wig, equipped with a false Spanish passport, with the help of a network of international accomplices.
One rarely sees the Comandante allowing his anger to explode. In 17 years, I saw it only twice. But when Pepín broke the unpleasant news to him that day, Fidel went mad with rage: Standing up, he stamped his feet on the ground while pointing his two index fingers down to his toes and waving them around.
“What a band of incompetent fools!” he cried. “I want those responsible! I demand a report! I want to know how all this could have happened!”
Fifteen years later, I saw Alina again in Miami, where she lives modestly, never having set foot in Cuba again. When I reminded her of that episode, she smiled, with that touch of sadness that can be seen in the eyes of every exile in the world.
After Mirta and Naty, there was Dalia Soto del Valle, the most important but also the least known of Fidel’s women. She met him in 1961 during a public event in the province of Villa Clara.
As he was giving a speech in the open air, Fidel spotted in the first row a gorgeous girl with whom he rapidly started exchanging furtive and meaningful glances. Like Mirta and Naty, this stranger was a blue-eyed blonde and as slight as a ballet dancer.
After three meetings, and above all after the customary checks carried out by Pepín, Fidel proposed that she move to Havana, where he lodged her very discreetly in a house on the outskirts of the capital.
Fidel and Dalia would have five children, all sons, all bearing a first name beginning with the letter A: Alexis, Alex, Alejandro, Antonio, Angelito. The first three names were all variations of Alexander, the pseudonym adopted by Fidel when he was a guerrilla fighter, in homage to his admired Alexander the Great.
The five A’s grew up far from the seat of power, from other Cubans, and even from their relatives. None of the five A’s ever did any military training or took part in any international aid mission to assist “brother countries,” contrary to what Fidel recommended for or imposed on all young Cubans.
The five A’s grew up and most of them still live in the immense family property of Punto Cero in the Havanan quarter of Siboney, in conditions that are starkly different to the revolutionary austerity advocated by their father.
With its orange, lemon, mandarin, grapefruit and banana trees, the estate resembled a veritable garden of Eden — especially if one compared it with the notorious ration book that all Cubans, including members of Fidel Castro’s bodyguard, had to use to buy food: Per month, they were entitled to five eggs per person, a pound of chicken, half a pound of fish, eight ounces of oil, black beans, powdered milk (reserved for children under 7) and a loaf of bread a day.
In a supreme touch of refinement, each member of the family possessed his or her own cow, so as to satisfy each one’s individual taste, since the acidity and creaminess of fresh milk varies from one cow to another.
Nobody knew anything about it at the time, but the low point in their relationship was reached in 1984 when Fidel found out that Dalia was cheating on him with Jorge, a member of the escort.
The official chauffeur of La Compañera at that time was René Besteiro; one day, Dalia sent him out to buy something and, taking advantage of his absence, asked Jorge to take her to her mother’s.
In short, when Besteiro returned to Punto Cero and learned that his boss had gone to see La Abuela, his professional conscience obliged him to go there at once; when the grandmother opened the door, a stupefied Besteiro glimpsed Dalia dancing in the sitting room with our colleague Jorge.
Instinctively drawing back, he said to the grandmother, “Tell Dalia I’m here.” A moment later, Mrs. Castro appeared on the doorstep: “What are you doing here? Nobody asked you to come.”
So René Besteiro left. Back in Punto Cero, he immediately went to confide in the head of the escort, Domingo Mainet. Besteiro told him what he had seen and said he was worried about finding himself on the wrong side of Dalia. The head of the escort was flabbergasted. As he and I got on extremely well, he decided to talk to me about it and ask my opinion.
“It’s simple, you have two options,” I explained to him. “The first, which I do not recommend, is to say nothing. But the day Fidel finds out about it, you won’t last very long. The second is to repeat Besteiro’s account word for word to Fidel, as every military subordinate is supposed to do with his superiors.”
We immediately set off for the palace, where the head of the escort had a private meeting with Fidel lasting half an hour.
When he emerged, Mainet declared to me that from then on and until new orders were received, all communication with Dalia would cease. For a month, Fidel and his escort did not set foot in Punto Cero. Fidel traveled all over the country, sleeping in several of the 20 or so houses he owned.
We all thought the relationship with Dalia was over at that point, but we were wrong. After four weeks, we returned to Punto Cero without warning Dalia of our arrival — and married life resumed its course as if nothing had happened.
As for the bodyguard, Jorge, he disappeared from circulation overnight and we never heard of him again. I didn’t ask and above all I didn’t want to know.
Excerpted from “The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Bodyguard to El Lider Maximo” by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez. Out now from St. Martin’s Press.