The Miami Herald
Thu, Mar. 23, 2006

A former aide spills the dirt on Fidel Castro

A member of Fidel's inner circle now lives in Miami and is talking up a storm. He even knows why the Cuban leader burns his underwear.


As part of Fidel and Raúl Castro's inner circle, Delfín Fernández learned titillating secrets -- everything from why the Cuban leader incinerates his dirty underwear to his cravings for pricey Spanish ham.

Oh, Fidel's former gofer confirms, too, the heftier ''secrets'' that Cuba experts have talked about for years: how the brothers assemble dossiers on foreign businessmen who want to invest in Cuba, for instance.

It's Fernández's knowledge about Fidel Castro's dirty laundry, though -- literally and figuratively -- that has made him a cause célbre in South Florida. No detail about the Castro brothers seems too small for sharing with the world.

Fernández says chief of bodyguards, Bienvenido ''Chicho'' Perez, told him the Cuban leader has his underwear burned to foil any assassination plots with chemicals during laundering.

And he knows Fidel's capricious appetite for Serrano hams, having been sent to Spain to bring $2,500 worth of the pata negra delicacy back to Cuba. He knows well the Castro brothers' doctors and children, having vacationed with them at lavish oceanfront homes on the island.

So what does a man with such sensitive information do once he goes into exile?

Why, he gets a steady, if unpaid, gig on a Spanish-language TV show in Miami, of course, after having been a bodyguard to international stars -- among them, Antonio Banderas.

Fernández, cherubic, chatty and with a portfolio of sensitive photographs and a memory filled with intimate Castro morsels, arrived in Miami less than a year ago after living in Spain for five years. But already, he has a spot on a new TV show on WJAN-Channel 41.

``I was assigned to take care of the people closest to Fidel. So that they don't lack anything and don't feel threatened by anything inside or outside of Cuba. . . . When I tell about these things on television, people see me and I start making a name for myself.''

Former CIA analyst Brian Latell, a senior researcher at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, said this week he spent several hours meeting with Fernández in Miami earlier this year for academic research.

''A lot of the stories he told me were fascinating, and I found almost all of them to be highly credible,'' Latell said.

Fernández, 44, was code-named ''Otto'' when he reported to Cuban counterintelligence's Department 11 -- assigned to the Castro brothers and their closest foreign investment contacts, mostly from Spain, he said.

Fernández got the post as a trusted gofer in 1980 through his uncle, Rodolfo Fernández Rodriguez, chief of the Office of Special Affairs of the Counsel of State and one of Fidel's most trusted confidants.

While he worked for the Castro brothers, Fernández witnessed the tactics used by Cuba's leaders to monitor important foreign investors. His disillusionment with the regime, he said, and his ambitions for a better life compelled him to defect.

''The initial idea of Fidel was good. Batista was an assassin,'' Fernández said. ``What happened was, the course he took with the revolution was wrong. It has dissolved into this unstoppable, insatiable corruption without limits, a vast lie. The people are in misery. Cuba's people have been enslaved as cheap labor for foreign businessmen.''

Fernández said Cuba's leader always travels around Havana in a six- or seven-car motorcade led by three nearly identical black Mercedes-Benz 560s. The Castro brothers have as many as 300 cars for them, their families, their bodyguards, Fernández said.

Fidel Castro turns 80 this year, and he has become obsessed with his health, Fernández said. The Castro brothers each have their own clinics and their own doctors in Havana's Council of State Building and in the Cimeq Hospital. Last year, Fidel Castro built a multimillion-dollar clinic a few yards from his front door, on the grounds of his Havana estate, Fernández said he learned from his island contacts. .

''So that if Castro has a heart attack or he dies, the only people who will know about it will be his family, the guards working at the time, and Raúl,'' Fernández said. ``Fidel never cedes control, and will never cede power.''

One example of Fidel Castro's concern with ceding power is former Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina, applauded by some in the international community for trying to open Cuba to the world. But Robaina, whom Fernández knew well, was ultimately sacked by Castro in 1999, according to The Miami Herald and other media reports at the time.

''He was a guy with progressive ideas,'' Fernández said. ``But he is an example of what happens if you try to change the Cuban system from within. He was under house arrest for two years.''

Fernández paints Raúl Castro, who runs Cuba's armed forces and by extention much of its economy, as more practical and family oriented than his older brother, an analysis echoed by Latell in his book After Fidel.

''Raúl likes the money -- he has a transition plan,'' Fernández said. ``Fidel doesn't. I think Raúl would want to lead an economic transformation, and ultimately find a way to retire peacefully with his family with all the money he has stolen from the Cuban people over the years and taken out of the country.''

Fernández said he carried suitcases with cash out of Cuba for the Castro brothers.

Fernández's photographs include several of him with the children of Fidel and Raúl at one of their beachfront estates and with many high-profile Spanish businessmen.

Fernández said he defected in Spain in 1999 on a trip to Europe to drop off Raúl's daughter, Mariela Castro Espin, in Italy to visit her father-in-law and pick up a Rotweiller in Germany for Fidel.

Fernández settled in Spain for five years, becoming one of Europe's most successful bodyguards. Among his clients in Spain: actors Antonio Banderas and his wife, Melanie Griffith, soccer star David Beckham, Spanish actresses Ana Obregon and Esther Cañada, former Spice Girl Emma Bunton and several high-profile businessmen.

The Spanish media have embraced him, writing dozens of articles about his life as a Castro insider and bodyguard. He was also a consultant on an investigative book, Conexión Habana, by Spanish authors. Fernández said there's a black market trade in sensitive videos of Spanish businessmen -- videos made by Cuban agents.

''Fidel is an avid consumer of those materials,'' he said.

Last year, Fernández moved to Miami, eager to reconnect with friends and a community that reminds him more of home: like Cuba without Castro on TV every night. He has been an outspoken critic of the Castro government since he defected.

``Cuba has a death sentence against me for high treason.''

Now waiting to get residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Fernández won't talk about his own family, but he has plenty to say about the Castro clan. People can't seem to get enough.

Oscar Haza, a popular Spanish language talk show host on Channel 41, has invited Fernández on his show at least six times, firing up the ratings when he's a guest, said Channel 41 news director Miguel Cossío.

The ratings were so strong that Channel 41 offered to let Fernández be a permanent guest on a new daily weekday show, Arrebatados, at 6 p.m., hosted by Maria Laria.

''I'd like to start a bodyguard agency in Miami when I'm all settled down here,'' he said. ``I'm very grateful to the people in Miami that have been so welcoming to me.''