Monday 5 December 2016

Castro family torn by dysfunction and disagreements

Anita Snow

Published 26/11/2016 | 07:57

Cuba's President Fidel Castro addresses the crowd at the Plaza de la Patria (Homeland Square) in Bayamo, Cuba, July 26, 2006. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro addresses the crowd at the Plaza de la Patria (Homeland Square) in Bayamo, Cuba, July 26, 2006. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo

Fidel Castro's rule of nearly five decades split many a Cuban family between exile and solidarity with the communist revolution - including his own.

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While his brother Raul was his closest confidant and successor as president, his sister Juana, exiled in south Florida, called Fidel a "monster" to whom she had not spoken in more than four decades.

His eldest son Fidelito, long Castro's only officially-recognised child, was a nuclear scientist in Cuba. His eldest daughter Alina Fernandez, born from an affair with a married socialite who remained on the island decades later, attacked her father on exile radio from Miami.

The sprawling Castro clan, made larger by Fidel's early extramarital affairs, also suffered from the same dysfunction and disagreements that affect so many other families: siblings who do not speak, adults resentful over childhood slights and murky talk of babies born out of wedlock.

Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during interviews with the press during a visit of U.S. Senator Charles McGovern, in Havana in this May 1975 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during interviews with the press during a visit of U.S. Senator Charles McGovern, in Havana in this May 1975 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro looks at the crowd during a mass rally in Cordoba, Argentina July 21, 2006. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro fights a yawn on the first day of the VII Ibero-American summit on Margarita Island in this November 8, 1997 file photo. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro relaxes in a swimming pool during a visit to Romania in this May 28, 1972 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (L) exchange documents during a treaty signing ceremony in Havana in this April 4, 1989 file photo. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn/File Photo
Pope Benedict XVI meets former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana in this March 28, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Alex Castro-Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) visits his then Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro in Havana in this August 13, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Estudios Revolucion-Granma/Handout/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during a meeting of the National Assembly in Havana, in this December 2, 1976 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (C) casts his ballot at a polling station in Havana in this February 3, 2013 file photo provided by Cubadebate. REUTERS/Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Former South African President Nelson Mandela (L) hugs Cuba's President Fidel Castro during a visit to Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg in this September 2, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Kotze/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (L) talk during a meeting in Havana in this March 30, 2011 file photo. The woman in the center is a translator. REUTERS/Alex Castro/Courtesy of Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Ernesto Che Guevara (front) plays golf as Fidel Castro stands behind him at Colina Villareal in Havana in this undated file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) winks at a woman at the graduation of hundreds of Cuban art students at Havana's Sports City in this October 28, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during an event with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez on Havana's Revolution Square in this February 3, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro listens during a meeting with his brother Cuban President Raul Castro (R) and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (L) in Havana in this June 17, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Estudios Revolucion/Handout/File Photo
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) listen to the Cuban national anthem at the baseball stadium "Latinoamericano" in Havana in this May 14, 2002 file photo. REUTERS/Rafael Perez/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro walks to the podium during the May Day commemoration ceremony in Revolution Square in Havana in this May 1, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro salutes as the national anthem plays during a reception for the Cuban baseball team in Havana in this March 21, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro talks to then Pope John Paul II during the presentation of their delegations at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana in this January 22, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Paul Hanna/File Photo
People are seen through a poster with a picture of Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro and late Argentine revolution leader Che Guevara (L) during the May Day parade in Havana's Revolution Square in this May 1, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Fidel Castro (L) is seen during a hunting trip in Romania in this May 1972 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro (L) talks to Elian Gonzalez during a political rally in celebration of Elian's 12th birthday in Cardenas, Cuba in this December 6, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro acknowledges the applause of the audience while standing underneath an image of late revolutionary hero Ernesto Che Guevara, during the inauguration of games involving mainly Cuban and Venezuelan athletes in Havana in this June 17, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (L) holds up the arm of his brother, Cuba's President Raul Castro, during the closing ceremony of the sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana in this April 19, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro attends manoeuvres during the 19th anniversary of his and his fellow revolutionaries arrival on the yacht Granma, in Havana in this November 1976 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro plays baseball in Havana in this August 1964 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during an anti-Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meeting in Havana in this April 28, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/Files
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during a political rally in celebration of the 12th birthday of Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez in Cardenas in this December 6, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro laughs during the year-end session of the Cuban parliament in Havana in this December 23, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez chat on the field after taking part in a friendly baseball game between their two countries at the Barquisimeto baseball stadium in this October 29, 2000 file photo. Picture taken October 29, 2000. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/Files
Cuba's President Fidel Castro attends a Mercosur trade bloc summit in Cordoba, Argentina in this July 21, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/David Mercado/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro gestures during a tour of Paris in this March 15, 1995 file photo. Ailing Cuban leader Castro said on February 19, 2008 that he will not return to lead the country, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro speaks during celebrations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) in Havana in this September 28, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona play with a ball during an interview in La Havana, in this October 26, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Canal 13/Handout/File Photo
Iin this Feb. 6, 1959 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro speaks to a crowd during his triumphant march to Havana after the fall of the Batista regime. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/File)
Fidel Castro, left, raises his brother's hand, Cuba's President Raul Castro, center, as they sing the anthem of international socialism during the 6th Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba.(AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro glances over his shoulder during the May Day commemoration at Revolution Square in Havana, in this May 1, 2004 file photo. Picture taken May 1, 2004. REUTERS/Rafael Perez/Files
Cuba's President Fidel Castro addresses the crowd at the Plaza de la Patria (Homeland Square) in Bayamo, Cuba, July 26, 2006. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro listens to a speaker during the May Day parade in Havana's Revolution Square in this May 1, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (L) and his Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro joke after joining their medallions, given by medical graduates, at Havana's Karl Marx theatre, in this August 20, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience as president of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations in New York, in this October 12, 1979 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez joke during a batting session where Chavez pitched to Castro after taking part in a friendly baseball game between their two countries at the Barquisimeto baseball stadium in this October 29, 2000 file photo. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro attends the closing ceremony of the sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana in this April 19, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
In this March 14, 1957 file photo, Fidel Castro, the young anti-Batista guerrilla leader, center, is seen with his brother Raul Castro, left, and Camilo Cienfuegos, right, while operating in the Mountains of Eastern Cuba. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew St. George, File)
In this Aug.18, 1999 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro gestures at a speaking event as he explains that he does not understand why he is not blind after all the camera flashes he has received in Havana, Cuba. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia, File)
In this April 19, 2016 file photo, Fidel Castro attends the last day of the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba. Fidel Castro formally stepped down in 2008 after suffering gastrointestinal ailments and public appearances have been increasingly unusual in recent years. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP, File)
China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (L) writes in a notebook as former Cuban leader Fidel Castro holds it during a meeting in Havana in this August 1, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Roberto Chile/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro attends a conference on terrorism in Havana's convention centre June 3, 2005. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo
Cuba's President Raul Castro announces the death of his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in a still image from government television in Havana, Cuba November 26, 2016. Cuban Television via Reuters TV
FILE - In this Jan. 25, 1998 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, left, greets former Pope John Paul II at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/Ruth Fremson, File)

During Castro's long illness, the tightly-wrapped secrecy about his family started unravelling as his youngest sons and their mother, Dalia Soto del Valle, rallied around him.

Soto del Valle, a blonde, green-eyed former schoolteacher Castro met during Cuba's literacy campaigns in the 1960s, was his life's most enduring relationship. She was rarely seen in public and never alongside the "maximum leader" while he was in power.

Together more than four decades, the couple had five sons, now middle-aged. Castro, who took the nom de guerre Alejandro during the revolution, continued his homage to Alexander the Great when naming them: Alexis, Alejandro, Angelito, Alexander and Antonio.

None were involved in politics. The best known is Antonio, or Tony. An orthopaedic surgeon and former official doctor for the island's national baseball team, he later became vice president of both the Cuban Baseball Federation and the Swiss-based International Baseball Federation.

For decades their identities and their mother's were state secrets known only to a small circle of loyalists.

So private was Castro about his family life, his marital status with Soto del Valle was unknown in a country where common-law unions are as ubiquitous as legal ones. Some reports said they married in a quiet civil ceremony in 1980.

News correspondents on the island had heard whispers about "la mujer del comandante" - the comandante's woman - but did not get their first glimpse of her until early 2000 when she joined a huge rally calling for the return of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy rescued from an inner tube off south Florida.

Soto del Valle also made a rare public appearance the following year at the Tropicana nightclub during Cuba's annual international cigar festival.

But she was not seen publicly alongside Castro until the summer of 2010, when he made a series of appearances after a four-year absence, including his first address to the National Assembly since falling ill.

There were also dividing lines in the family tracing back to a custody battle over Fidelito even before Castro toppled Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Those divisions would only grow deeper and more bitter after the revolution, similar to the splintering in untold Cuban families with members on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Fidel's first wife, Mirta Diaz-Balart, divorced him in the mid-1950s and took Fidelito, born in 1949 as the oldest of at least nine children Castro fathered, to the United States. Castro wanted the five-year-old kept from Mirta's family, which included her brother Rafael Diaz-Balart, an official in Batista's government.

Two of Castro's nephews, Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, later became Florida congressmen who personified exile opposition to his regime.

"I refuse even to think that my son may sleep a single night under the same roof sheltering my most repulsive enemies and receive on his innocent cheeks the kisses of those miserable Judases," Castro wrote his half-sister, Lidia, in 1956.

While in Mexico preparing for the guerrilla war, Castro persuaded Mirta to send Fidelito for a two-week visit, then refused to send him back. Later, as Castro's sisters were taking the boy for a stroll in Mexico City's Chapultepec Park, three armed men jumped from a car and grabbed him to return him to his mother.

Even Castro's own childhood in eastern Cuban had its family complications.

Patriarch Angel Castro, who immigrated from Spain's Galicia region and established a farmstead in a place called Biran, was still married to his first wife when he started a family with Fidel's mother, Lina Ruz, the family maid.

It is unclear what happened to Maria Argota, Angel Castro's first wife, who bore him Lidia and Pedro Emilio. But Angel and Lina ultimately had seven children together, finally marrying in a church after Fidel, their third child, was born.

Fidel's older brother Ramon, a lifelong rancher, was occasionally seen in public, and his sisters Angela and Emma also remained in Cuba. The youngest sister, Agustina, lived in Mexico for many years.

Among his own offspring, Fidel only publicly recognised Fidelito, the angel-faced, blond boy from revolution-era photographs who today causes double-takes because he so resembles his father. As an adult he rose to the top post at Cuba's Atomic Energy Commission before his father removed him for unpublicised reasons in the early 1990s.

Alina Fernandez was born on March 3 1953, from Castro's love affair with Natalia Revuelta, a dark-haired, green-eyed beauty and cardiologist's wife who became enamoured of Castro during his revolutionary struggle.

Fernandez left Cuba in 1993 wearing a wig and carrying a fake Spanish passport, later describing her feelings of abandonment in a book, Castro's Daughter - An Exile's Memoir of Cuba.

"I wanted him to find a solution to all the shortages: of clothes, of meat," wrote Fernandez, who was hired by CNN to provide commentary after her father fell ill in mid-2006.

"I also wanted to ask him to give our Christmas back," she added, referring to her father's abolition of the holiday so workers could take part in the then-critical sugar harvest.

Castro fathered at least two more children out of wedlock: Jorge Angel Castro, who remained in Cuba and fathered at least four children of his own, including triplets; and Francisca Pupo, who migrated to the United States with her husband in 1999.

Juana Castro has told of meeting Pupo after the younger woman emigrated to the United States with her husband in 1999.

Meanwhile Raul's daughter, Mariela, married an Italian businessman and became something of a family rebel by heading Cuba's National Centre for Sex Education and speaking out for gay rights, though her activism was later very much within the political mainstream as Cuba became more tolerant of homosexuality.

Despite their differences, the Castros still living on the island were said to regularly attend weekend gatherings with outdoor meals and horse riding hosted by Raul in his role as lead organiser of family events.

And as in many families, even the most disaffected set aside resentments during crises. Juana Castro refused to celebrate with other exiles when her brother Fidel had emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006.

"In the same way that people are demonstrating and celebrating, I'm showing sadness," she told The Associated Press then. "It's my family. It's my brothers."

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