The Miami Herald
October 8, 2000

Castro's Family

Alejando and Antonio Castro
Soto del Valle
Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart
Alina Fernández Revuelta


 Fidel's private life with his wife and sons is so secret
 that even the CIA is left to wonder


 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
 five sons.

 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
 74-year-old ruler.

 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
 media monopoly.

 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 speeches are
 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 Bustamante,
 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 his security
 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 about the
 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, including his
 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 city of
 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 Castro himself,
 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 Castro, identified
 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 luxuries ...
 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, said
 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 Raúl Castro,
 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 last year.
 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.

 Fidel and his wife live in western Havana near Raul

 Fidel Castro and wife Dalia live in a two-house complex in western Havana. The
 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 television that
 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, Alina Fernández
 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,'' said Fernández.
 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 of
 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 Cuban military's
 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 one outdoor
 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 heading
 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 around the
 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.

 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.''