by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez
THE CASTRO DYNASTY
There is nothing ordinary about Fidel Castro. He is unique, special, and different. One thing in particular, among all the others, marks him out from all his compatriots: he cannot dance the salsa! It holds no interest or attraction for him. Another thing that distinguishes El Comandante from “normal” Cubans is that he does not listen to music, neither Cuban nor classical— and certainly not American. His predilection for marital infidelity, on the other hand, is typically Cuban: it is a veritable national sport. Without being a woman chaser or a compulsive lover, like so many politicians all over the world, he still belied his name (Fidel is Spanish for “faithful”). In games of love and seduction, he never encountered the least difficulty, resistance, or frustration. True, Fidel was not one of those all- powerful dictators who organized orgies— but he was no saint, either.
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 Sánchez, his private secretary, confidante, and guard dog for thirty or so years. Other mistresses must be added to the tally: Juana Vera, aka Juanita, his official English- speaking interpreter and intelligence service colonel (she now works for Raúl); Gladys, the Cuban airline flight attendant who was present on foreign trips; and Pilar, aka Pili, another interpreter, this time French- speaking. He had doubtless had other relationships that I did not know about, before I took up my post.
Cubans had virtually no idea about any of this. For decades, the private life of the Líder Máximo was one of the best- kept secrets in Cuba and the public knew about only a tiny part of it. For, unlike his brother Raúl, the number- one Cuban has always been almost pathologically careful to hide almost all facets of his private life. Why? He thinks it is pointless, even potentially dangerous, to expose his life or display it to all and sundry in the full light of day. That was why, except in the early years, he separated his private life from his public life. This cult of secrecy doubtless originated in his clandestine years when, as with the resistance movements during the Second World War, compartmentalizing information was a question of survival.
As incredible as it seems, Cubans therefore did not see or even know of the existence of Dalia Soto del Valle, the woman with whom he had shared his life since 1961, until after 2006, when a seriously weakened Fidel was hospitalized and decided to hand over the reins of power to Raúl. For four decades, Fidel was always accompanied by a symbolic “first lady” who was not his spouse. During great occasions such as a national holiday or the visit of a foreign head of state and so on, it was actually Vilma Espín (1930–2007), Raúl’s wife and president of the Federation of Cuban Women, who appeared on stage in public beside Fidel, thereby filling the subliminal role of la primera dama.
Similarly, for almost as long, virtually nobody knew that in the 1960s and 1970s, Dalia had given no fewer than five sons to the Líder Máximo! Incredible but true: even the four children of Raúl Castro, who were kept out of the limelight, were not lucky enough to meet their first cousins before they reached adulthood! For almost twenty years, these close relatives lived just a few miles away from each other without ever meeting. As for the general public, they learned of the existence of Fidel’s five boys only after 2000, and even then they were given no information concerning their professional activities or personalities.
I, however, knew them all well. Having frequented the family for seventeen years, I can not only draw up a detailed family tree of the dynasty and set out each member’s qualities and flaws but also reveal several secrets and describe Fidel as a not very good father. This might all seem no more than gossip, but it sheds new light on the personality of one of the most influential public figures of the second half of the twentieth century.
Lieutenant Colonel Juan Reinaldo Sanchez was Fidel Castro’s personal bodyguard for 17 years before being imprisoned in 1994 for the “crime” of wanting to retire early. He left Cuba in 2008 after ten unsuccessful bids to escape. He is the author of The Double Life of Fidel Castro with Axel Gyldén, star French reporter at L’Express.