U.S. News & World Report
February 1, 1999

A '50s affair: Fidel and Naty

A socialite's love letters helped sustain Castro's revolution


    HAVANA–Back when he was a beardless young lawyer, Fidel Castro and his conspirators gathered
night after night in a columned mansion in Havana's leafy Vedado section to plot the first attack of the
Cuban revolution. The year was 1953, and the house was the home of Natalia Revuelta, a
green-eyed socialite, and her husband, a well-to-do physician. Opposition to the dictatorship of
Fulgencio Batista was growing even among the upper middle class, but Naty, as Natalia was
known in Havana society, went further. Drawn to Castro and inspired by his crusade for social
reform, she gave him a key to her home so he might, if necessary, have a haven. Then, to finance
the rebels' first assault on a government Army barracks in Santiago, she emptied her bank
account and pawned her emerald earrings, gold bracelets, sapphires, and diamonds.

    The recent publication of love letters that Naty Revuelta and Fidel Castro once swapped is lifting
the shroud that for four decades has cloaked Castro's private life. Their love affair is long over, but
Revuelta's story provides a glimpse of the young man whose charisma and ambition swept up much
of Cuba. Forty years ago this month, delirious crowds cheered Castro and his rebel band for
overthrowing an army 10 times bigger. Many Cubans would consider Castro's turn toward
Marxism a betrayal of the revolution. But their ranks do not include Revuelta.

    "He was the kind of person who couldn't be ignored. If he was in a room, people paid attention to him,"
Revuelta recalls. "I too had a certain charm of my own." That is readily confirmed by a glance at the
'50s-era portrait of her in her hallway, plus photos of her modeling fashions at charity benefits and
enveloped in jewels for a Hotel Nacional ball.

    "Loving friendship." As much as she savored the social whirl of the 1950s, with its parties at the
Biltmore Yacht Club and tournaments at the Vedado Tennis Club, the young wife and mother
was also concerned about Cuba's brewing corruption, repression, and poverty. What she and
Castro had, she says, was "a loving friendship: We had common goals, common interests, common
tastes." Now 72, she reads a yellowed, '50s treatise calling for social justice, political liberties,
and economic independence. "I've never given up those ideas," she says.

    At dawn on July 26, 1953, when Castro and his rebels attacked Batista's troops in Santiago,
Revuelta broke the news to journalists and political allies. The assault failed, and Castro was captured
and imprisoned on the Isle of Pines. To let him know she was safe, she sent a book with her
picture inside. For almost two years while he was in jail, they exchanged passionate letters about
literature, philosophy, and love. She sent him works of Dostoevsky, Freud, and Hugo and a U.S. history,
then swapped mail discussing their readings.

    Her letters brought the outside world to him. "I put sand from the beach in an envelope. I sent him
programs from a concert; I got the director to sign the program. I sent him photographs of a Greek
folk-dance performance. With his Greek nose, the dancers reminded me of him. I wrote, 'You were
there. I saw you dancing.' "

    "Every pleasure." The epistolary romance flowered, emotional vows alternating with political
lessons from Castro, who was busy refining his ideas. "I want to share with you every pleasure that
I find in a book," Castro wrote. "Doesn't this mean that you are my intimate companion and that I am
never alone?" In solitary confinement, he chided her for not writing: "I'm going to count the days that you
don't write to me." The sustenance the letters provided was mutual. With her husband immersed
in his work, Revuelta was often alone. "Despite the distance," she told Castro, "you are very good

    "There is a type of honey that never satiates," he wrote her on Jan. 31, 1954. "That is the secret of
your letters. I have been meaning to ask you for several days now to stop using the typewriter once
in a while and write longhand . . . I love your handwriting, so delicate, feminine, unmistakable."
Nine days later, he wrote again: "I am on fire. Write to me, for I cannot be without your letters. I love you
very much."

    In May 1954, Castro's letters to Revuelta and to his wife, Mirta, were mysteriously switched, creating a
scandal and leading Mirta to seek a divorce two months later. (The prison director, Revuelta is
convinced, maliciously arranged the mix-up.) When Castro was freed the next year, he spent two
months in Havana before resuming his guerrilla work, first from exile in Mexico, then from the
mountains of Cuba. It was in that brief Havana interlude that he and Revuelta were lovers, and a
daughter, Alina, was conceived.

    "I wanted to have a part of him with me always," Revuelta recalls. "I was convinced that I would never
see him again, that he would most likely be killed." Castro at that time entrusted her with the letters
she had written him, some of which now appear in two books, Castro's Daughter by Alina and Havana
Dreams, Wendy Gimbel's account of four generations of Revueltas.

    In 1959, the victorious Castro visited Revuelta's home, eager to see her and their daughter, whose
paternity was not public knowledge. Revuelta's husband suspected the affair, got a divorce, and left
for exile in the United States, taking along an older daughter. But Naty Revuelta would have no future
with Castro: He soon became a distant figure. His sporadic visits only caused young Alina to feel
neglected and unacknowledged, and she later suffered from eating disorders and depression.

    Still, Revuelta kept working at whatever revolutionary tasks Castro gave her, including a trip
to Paris to study the French chemical industry. But she never considered leaving Cuba for good. "I can't
think of living away from my country just because I was forgotten by him." To get over Castro, she
acknowledges, "took a lot of effort and catharsis . . . It was difficult with him on the television, in the
press, everywhere, every day." She focused on her jobs in various government ministries.

    "I'm alone but not lonely," Revuelta insists. Indeed, she has many friends and ranks as a quasi
celebrity. Now retired, she is cataloguing the work of Cuban artists and plans a bibliography of José
Martí, Cuba's independence hero and revered poet-author. Later, she might write her own story,
but the remaining letters she and Castro exchanged, she vows, will not be published until he
dies. "I'm a very private person, and I respect his privacy. I never wanted the affair to be public."
When Alina was 10, Revuelta told her Castro was her father. The mother had feared that Alina might
unwittingly become involved with one of Castro's seven sons by other women.

    Unlike her mother, Alina had no desire to remain in a deteriorating country. In 1993, she escaped by
posing as a tourist with a falsified Spanish passport. Now in exile in Madrid, Alina frequently
denounces her father. But Revuelta refuses to criticize him. "Not even," she says, quoting her
beloved Martí, "with the petal of a rose."