Soto del Valle
Fidel's private life with his wife and sons is so secret
that even the CIA is left to wonder
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
There are no streets in Cuba named after President
Fidel Castro, no statues or peso bills bearing the
image of the ``maximum leader,'' no mention -- ever --
in the official media of his wife of 30-plus years or their
Most Cubans, in fact, know almost nothing about the
personal life of one of the world's most private, even
secretive rulers. Not the names of his wife and sons,
not even the address of his home in Havana.
Photographs of two of Castro's sons, a niece and a
nephew-in-law that appear in today's Herald are,
indeed, the first time their faces are published
anywhere, slightly lifting the veil of secrecy that
shrouds Castro's family.
His wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, and their sons Angel,
Antonio, Alejandro, Alexis and Alex, have never been
identified in the island's media and only in a few
foreign publications not subject to Cuban censorship.
Except for brothers Raúl and Ramón and his oldest
son, ``Fidelito,'' Castro's close relatives hold no
publicly visible jobs, wield no political power, and are
unlikely to play a role in the succession to the
While they live comfortably, compared to the grinding
shortages faced by most Cubans, they are under
strict orders to avoid ostentatious behavior and live
austerely, far from the limelight, acquaintances say.
``They don't dress any better than anyone else,'' said
Castro's daughter, Alina Fernández, now living in
Spain. ``On the contrary, they are required to at least
project an image of austerity for the rest of the
Added exile author Norberto Fuentes: ``The most
avaricious cabinet minister lives no better than the
average Cuban in Miami. He has one car, not two. An
air conditioner in the car? No air conditioner.''
Unlike other Latin dictators, he promotes no cult of
Most Latin American dictators have sought to glorify
themselves. The Dominican Republic's Rafaél Trujillo
renamed his nation's capital city and highest mountain
after himself, and Paraguay's Alfredo Stroessner put
up huge posters of himself around Asunción streets.
Yet even as Castro's bearded profile has become an
icon for revolutionaries around the world after 41 years
in power, inside Cuba his desire for privacy has
generated an odd sort of reverse cult of personality.
Few public images of El Comandante are visible
around Cuba, and his Aug. 13 birthday is not a holiday
even though it's always noted by the government's
His regime instead promotes dead revolutionary
heroes such as Ernesto ``Che'' Guevara and Camilo
Cienfuegos on everything from statues to key chains
and T-shirts sold to tourists.
Though his power is unchallenged, and phrases from his lengthy
often quickly adopted as national slogans, the Cuban media is strictly forbidden
from reporting on Castro's personal life.
``His private side is a completely taboo subject,'' said Lissette
formerly a top Cuban journalist who met several of Fidel and Raúl Castro's
children before she defected in the early 1990s.
Castro has said that his penchant for privacy largely stems from
concerns, given the more than 600 assassination attempts he says the CIA and
Cuban exiles have mounted against him since 1959.
``They want to know if some day I went to bathroom or not, details
on how my
prostate is doing, they even want x-rays,'' Castro told reporters during a Havana
news conference in April.
But he has also acknowledged having a general propensity for ``permanent
conspiracy,'' and made a strong argument that national leaders should never mix
their public and private lives.
``In this sense, I have reserved for myself a total freedom,''
Castro said in an
interview for a documentary, Fidel, 40 Years of the Cuban Revolution and its
Leader, by Estela Bravo, a U.S. filmmaker who lives part time in Havana.
The film provided Cubans with rare glimpses of his personal life
when it was
shown by Cuban television, unannounced, on Jan. 1, the anniversary of Castro's
revolution, and again at two film festivals in March.
The 75-minute documentary notes that Cubans ``know very little
personal life of Fidel,'' and discreetly adds: ``It is said that he has seven children
and has been married for almost 30 years.''
Its few images of a private Castro date from pre-revolution days,
1948 marriage to Mirta Díaz-Balart, and their son, Fidel ``Fidelito'' Castro
Díaz-Balart. They divorced two years later.
``The amount and quality of hard information on that subject is
so scarce that it is
unlike any other country in the world,'' said Brian Latell, the CIA's recently retired
top analyst on Cuba and Castro.
Castro's wife and their five sons have been briefly mentioned
in books by Alina
Fernández, the offspring of an affair with Natalia Revuelta in the early 1950s, and
by Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer and Castro biographer Tad Szulc, as
well as in two recent U.S. magazine stories.
But nothing at all about them has ever been published or broadcast inside Cuba.
Dalia Soto del Valle is a former schoolteacher from the south-central
Trinidad who met Castro during the literacy campaigns of the 1960s, said
Fuentes, a member of Cuba's inner circles who met her several times before he
defected in 1994.
Now in her late 50s, she is regarded as warm, but as austere as
running his household affairs and almost never attending his public functions, said
Fuentes, who now lives in Miami.
Their sons range in age from Angel, about 25 and studying medicine,
to Alex, a
computer systems manager in his mid-30s. Antonio is studying to be an
orthopedic surgeon, and Alejandro and Alexis are computer programmers.
They use the surname Castro Soto del Valle, and their first names
come from the
nom de guerre that Castro adopted during the revolution in the 1950s -- Alejandro,
in admiration of Alexander the Great's military feats.
Almost nothing is known about a sixth Castro son, Jorge Angel
by Alina Fernández as the child of a woman who died years ago. He is believed to
be 51 years old and to have four children, including triplets. The middle name
Angel may come from Castro's Spanish-born father, Angel Castro.
All but Angel and Alejandro Castro Soto del Valle are said to
be married and have
children of their own, making Castro a grandfather many times over. Alejandro,
known as a computer and softball nut who always dresses informally, is said to
be the only one still living at home with Fidel and Dalia.
Alina Fernández recalled the five brothers as ``sensible,
intelligent kids.'' But she
felt sorry for them, she added, ``because on the one side they are tightly watched
by guards, and on the other Cubans have a great curiosity about them.''
``There is no yellow press in Cuba to report on their lives, but
of course when
people see a young guy with lots of bodyguards, they start guessing whose sons
they are,'' she said in a telephone interview from Spain.
The government takes care of their every basic need, Bustamante
said, but some
do not own their own cars and must call the family's central security office when
they need rides around Havana.
``They have privileged positions but they don't seem to have many
certainly not like the `juniors' in Mexico,'' said Latell, referring to the Mexican
slang for rich kids.
Added Fuentes: ``They live comfortably, only comfortably. In the
eyes of other
Cubans they may be living in luxury, but in Cuba eating three balanced meals a
day is a luxury.''
Most of Dalia's sons graduated from the Lenin High School in Havana,
Bustamante, a school reserved for Cuba's brightest and children of top
government officials who require special security protection.
The children of Castro and his brother, Armed Forces commander
have specially tight security details under orders never to allow them to be
photographed or approached by unknown persons, acquaintances said.
The photographs that appear in color in today's Herald were taken
by a Cuban
acquaintance who said he managed to snap them during private social gatherings
when the Castro offsprings' bodyguards were not around to stop him.
He smuggled them out of Cuba when he defected during a trip abroad
The Miami Herald purchased the images and has offered them for re-sale to other
So tight is the security around Castro's children that friends
of ``Fidelito'' still
sometimes call him José Raúl Fernández, the cover name he used when he
studied nuclear physics in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
Fidelito, nephew of Florida Republican Rep. Lincoln Díaz
Balart, is the only
offspring who has been regularly mentioned in the Cuban media, particularly when
he served as executive secretary of the Cuban Atomic Energy Commission from
1980 to 1992.
He is belived to have divorced his Russian wife several years
ago and remarried a
Cuban. A U.S. citizen who met him recently said he is now working as a
consultant for the Ministry of Basic Industries.
THE CASTRO COMPOUND
Fidel and his wife live in western Havana near Raul
Fidel Castro and wife Dalia live in a two-house complex in western
living room of the main house is described by visitors as furnished with simple
wood and leather sofas and chairs and Cuban handicrafts.
The only luxury visible to visitors, said Fuentes, is a big-screen
Castro uses to satisfy his interest in foreign news reports and videos secretly
recorded by Cuba's intelligence services.
While the nature of Castro's relations with his sons is unknown,
and Bustamante both said Raúl Castro is much more the family man, holding
regular Sunday dinners for his and Fidel's children at his home, known as La
Rinconada, two blocks from Fidel's own house in western Havana.
``He has a much better sense of family than any of his brothers,''
It is Raúl, according to two friends of Mirta Díaz-Balart, now living in Spain, who
arranges her occasional visits to Cuba to see Fidelito.
Raúl and his wife of 40 years, Vilma Espín, a veteran
of the revolution and
longtime president of the Cuban Women's Federation, have three daughters and
one son -- also never mentioned in the media.
Son Alejandro was an army officer, Nilsa was studying at the University
Havana, Deborah was an engineer working at a government enterprise and Mariela
studied child psychology and modern dance, said Bustamante, who knew the
family well before her defection.
Mariela is considered the rebel in the family, Bustamante added,
a free spirit who
performed topless in one late 1980s production and favored Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev's perestroika in the 1980s.
Dancer Ruben Rodriguez, who lived with Mariela three years before
he defected to
Spain in 1991, told Bustamante during an interview that Raúl had once
complained Mariela had ``brought perestroika into my home!''
Mariela is now married to an Italian and has two children with
him, plus a boy
from a previous union with a Chilean, according to a former Raúl Castro assistant
who defected in 1993 but stays in touch with current aides.
The only politically powerful member of the Fidel or Raúl
families is believed to be
Deborah's husband, Luis Alberto Fernández, about 40, son of an army general
and himself a lieutenant colonel in the armed forces.
Fernández heads the umbrella agency that administers the
multi-million dollar businesses, from scores of tourist hotels in Cuba to trade
companies in Panama, Angola, South Africa, Geneva and Cyprus.
``He isn't just Raúl's son-in-law or the son of a general.
Luis Alberto earned his
position because he's smart and efficient, and he'll go far in the future,'' said the
former Raúl Castro aide.
Luis Alberto and Deborah have two children named Raúl and
Vilma after her
parents, according to the former Raúl aide and two other family acquaintances.
The former aide and the acquaintances asked for anonymity out
of fear that
Cuban security agents would go after relatives still on the island in retaliation for
exposing details of the families.
The houses of Fidel and Raúl are large but simply appointed
Fidel and Dalia's compound in western Havana is equipped with
tennis and basketball court. It is ringed with pine trees that block off outside
views, and surrounded by electronic fences that detect intruders.
All streets surrounding the compound are marked as one-way streets
away from the house to deter sightseers, Bustamante said. Only official cars are
allowed to drive the wrong way into the compound.
An acquaintance who has visited both Fidel and Raúl's homes
described them as
very large by Cuban standards but relatively simply appointed with Cuban-made
furniture, with Raúl's home ``a bit nicer than Fidel's.''
The Castro brothers are known to have had several other houses
island set aside for vacations or official visits to the provinces. But they handed
over most of them for tourist lodgings after Soviet subsidies stopped arriving in
1991 and Cuba plunged into an economic crisis.
AUSTERITY AND HYPOCRISY
The elite live better, but are required to project equality
Fuentes said the show of austerity by Castro and those near him
is part of the
hypocrisy of a system in which the elite live better than the average Cuban but are
required to project an image of equality.
``You see the house of a top official all worn on the outside,
badly in need of
paint, the grass all a mess,'' he said. ``But inside he'll have two television sets, a
VCR, a nice stereo, a new fridge.''
But there are limits.
``Of course, anything the hijos de papi [sons of daddy] want they
get -- even if no
other Cuban ever sees this stuff. Computers, nice houses, vacations, you name
it. But luxuries? With few exceptions, not really,'' said Fuentes.
``I think that when this [Castro's rule] ends, most people in
Cuba will be outraged
by the relative comforts of the leadership,'' he added, ``and most people in Miami
will be surprised by their low level of life.''