Cubans’ bawdy street wisdom says that Fidel had various domiciles so that he could attend to his lovers. When he was in better health, Fidel was an avid consumer of Cuba’s anti-cholesterol drug, PPG, renowned for its Viagra-like side effects. He has admitted to having at least 12 children, but acknowledges there may be others; “almost a tribe!”
Many highly intelligent and beautiful women have dedicated themselves to Fidel and his cause. But Fidel saves his most ardent passions for the Revolution, and the women (and children) in his life have been badly treated. Meanwhile, Delia Soto del Valle, Fidel’s second wife, with whom he has five sons, is rarely seen in public, and never with her husband. The average Cuban in the street knows virtually nothing of the private life of their secretive leader. The Cuban media are prohibited from reporting on Fidel’s personal life, and photos of Soto del Valle and their children have only recently been published in Cuba.
Fidel was a “dilettante extraordinaire” in esoteric pursuits, notably gourmet dining (but not cigars; Fidel quit smoking in 1985). His second love was deep-sea fishing. He was also a good diver and used to frequently fly down to spearfish at his tiny retreat on Cayo Piedra.
Fidel retains the loyalty of millions of Cubans, but he is only loyal to those who are loyal to him. His capacity for Homeric rage is renowned, and it is said that no official in his right mind dares criticize him. Paradoxically, he can be extremely gentle and courteous, especially towards women, in whose company he is slightly abashed. Cubans fear the consequences of saying anything against him, discreetly stroking their chins—an allusion to his beard—rather than uttering his name (he is also known as el que no debe ser nombrado, “he whose name can’t be spoken”).
In 1996 his biographer Tad Szulc wrote, “He is determined not to tolerate any challenge to his authority, whatever the consequences.” Fidel does not forget, or pardon, and never apologizes as a matter of policy. Beneath the gold foil lies a heart of cold steel. Thus, he is prepared to eliminate anyone, no matter who, if it serves him.
His policies have divided countless families, and Fidel’s family is no exception. His sister, Juanita, left for Miami in 1964 and is an outspoken critic of her brother’s policies (in her 2009 autobiography, Fidel and Raúl, My Brothers: The Secret History, she revealed that she even worked for the CIA against her brother before fleeing Cuba). His tormented daughter, Alina Fernández Revuelta, fled in disguise in 1993 and vilifies her father from her home in Miami. Fidel’s former wife, Mirta Díaz-Balart, lives in Spain but makes regular visits (it is Raúl Castro, however, who tends to her).
Fidel—and now Raúl—have denied that a personality cult exists. Yet everywhere monuments, posters, and billboards are adorned with their quotations and faces. Fidel’s visage is the banner of the daily newspaper, Granma, while the front pages of newspapers and television news are dominated by the brothers’ public acts or speeches. And at rallies around the country, stooges work the crowds with chants of “Fee-del!” and “Raúl!”
The indefatigable Cuban leader, who turned 84 in 2010 and has outlasted all other leaders of his time, was taken life-threateningly ill in July 2006 and underwent emergency surgery for diverticulitis (in Cuba, his illness is a state secret). In 2010, he had aged markedly and looks like the frail old man that he is. Still, he remains First Secretary of the Communist Party, and although Raúl is officially in charge, Fidel clearly exercises veto power behind the scenes. Nonetheless, he hasn’t been seen in public since having taken ill. At press time, the latest proof that he was still alive was photographs showing Fidel meeting with Brazilian president Lula Da Silva on February 24, 2010.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition