There are no photographs of her parents in the bungalow in Miami’s
Havana where Alina Fernandez Revuelta lives. But she need only glance
triangular birthmark on her left arm to be reminded of the illicit
that led to her conception. The skin blemish runs in the family of
When Alina was a few months old, Castro dispatched one of his
sisters to check
if the infant bore the mark. Only then did he accept she was his. Ten
later, Alina’s mother, Natalia “Naty” Revuelta, told her the man who
sometimes visited their house at night, enveloping the girl in clouds
cigar smoke and, once, giving her a bearded doll dressed in olive-green
uniform to look like himself, was her father. When she was 12, Castro
conceded Alina could carry his name. After a childhood of neglect, of
ignored when she wrote begging him to visit, she refused. By then
firmly entrenched as Cuba’s Maximo Jefe — maximum leader — a position
would hold for nearly half a century, until anointing his brother Raul
president earlier this year.
The chaos Castro’s communist regime has wrought on one of the most
islands in the Caribbean has seen more than 2m of his countrymen flee
exile. But it is his personal path of destruction through the lives of
closest to him, the legions of women he has slept with and the children
have borne him, that has, until now, been a closely guarded secret.
Castro’s private life has always been strictly taboo in Cuba’s
state-controlled media. He has rarely been photographed with any of the
women he has been involved with, and whenever such pictures have
the women have been captured coincidentally, in the background.
The overwhelming image of Castro for 50 years has been that of a
David taking on every capitalist Goliath, especially the US. Castro
made a cold calculation that his power would only last if his
and the rest of the world, did not really know him.
“He was good at PR,” says Alina, a diminutive 52-year-old with
eyes. “He always portrayed himself as this lonely man with a beard and
cigar, fighting imperialism 24 hours a day with nothing else on his
Nothing could be further from the truth. As his countrymen brace
for the mandatory flag-waving that will accompany the 50th anniversary
the revolution next month, Alina and others who fled to the “city of
as the Cuban strongman calls Miami, are stripping away Castro’s mask.
picture they paint is of a serial philanderer with an unknown number of
"My mother always said he was very passionate,” says Alina. Castro
mother, a green-eyed high-society belle, with feverish letters written
prison, when he was incarcerated between November 1953 and May 1955
his first attempt to overthrow Cuba’s despised dictator Fulgencio
They begin, “My dearest Naty”, “My incomparable Naty”. “You’re
I like that. I am on fire. Write to me, for I cannot be without your
letters. I love you very much.”
“When you’re in jail you have all the time in the world to become a
manipulator, a psychologist,” Alina says. She has reason to be bitter.
and her mother suffered at Castro’s hands. So did the woman he was
to when he was declaring his love for Naty. Mirta Diaz-Balart had
borne Castro a son, Fidelito, or Little Fidel, four years old when his
father was jailed. Castro met Mirta through her brother, a fellow law
student at Havana University, and pursued her despite opposition from
family, which had connections to the Batista regime and thought him
her. Castro was the third of seven children born out of wedlock to a
domestic servant, Lina Ruz Gonzalez, and her master, Angel Castro, a
who became a wealthy sugar-plantation owner. During his early years,
and his siblings lived with their mother in a shack adjoining the house
where Angel lived with his wife and their two children.
At the age of five, Castro and two siblings were sent to live with
impoverished Haitian foster parents. He was then sent to a Jesuit
school in Havana, where, though a brilliant student, he was bullied for
being illegitimate and not baptised. “His psychological make-up comes
being a bastard, a second-class citizen in his own home, who grew up
determined he’d never be made to feel that way again,” says Andy Gomez,
assistant provost at Miami University’s Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies. “Since he had little sense of identity as he
growing up, he created his own” — one that would always be in control,
again dependent on anyone, least of all a woman.
“I’ve a feeling that deep down he may be shy and emotionally
Castro was well into his teens before his father dissolved his first
and married Lina. From then on, it seems his parents indulged him
materially, paying for a lavish honeymoon when he married Mirta in
he soon tired of his bride, who had little interest in politics. Sure
armed struggle could overthrow Batista, he was fast becoming a
champion of social justice and national sovereignty, and his attempts
foment revolt were attracting followers, including Naty Revuelta. Also
married, but bored, she sold her jewels for the rebels to buy weapons
sent Castro the key to her home (in an envelope laced with perfume) so
he could hold clandestine meetings there. Their relationship was still
platonic when Castro was jailed. But he was infatuated with the woman
described as having the looks of a movie star “dipped by the gods into
golden oil, like Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth”.
By this time Mirta’s family connections with the Batista regime had
wedge between her and Castro, and in one letter to Naty he joked
that at least prison gave him some peace from domestic arguments: “I’m
to write to the [prison] tribunal reproaching them for having sentenced
to 15 years rather than 200.” Two letters Castro wrote to his wife and
would-be lover were switched. When Mirta read what had been meant for
she was devastated, filed for divorce and quickly married again, moving
Fidelito to New York. Castro vowed revenge, writing to one of his
from prison that he could not bear to think of his son sleeping under
same roof as “my most repulsive enemies”.
A messy custody battle over Fidelito followed the divorce. Mirta
to kidnapping her son when Castro refused to return him after a visit,
was then forced to return to live in Cuba if she wanted to remain with
child. She eventually went into exile in Spain and has never spoken of
marriage to Castro, some believe because if she did she’d never be
back to Cuba to visit her Fidelito, now a 59-year-old nuclear scientist
children of his own.
Care of his son was not uppermost in Castro’s mind, however, when he
of prison. He swiftly indulged his passion for Naty, and Alina was
conceived. He then left for a period of exile in Mexico, to continue
plotting revolution with his new comrade-in-arms, Che Guevara, before
returning to Cuba and spending two years waging guerrilla warfare from
mountains of the Sierra Maestra. When his rebel band overthrew Batista
January 1959, Castro paraded the streets of Havana astride a Sherman
with Fidelito and another loyal comrade-in-arms, Huber Matos, by his
>From then, the revolutionary hero had women at his feet. “He was young,
charismatic and powerful. He didn’t have to do much to attract them,”
Alina. During the Sierra Maestra years, he had acquired a new mistress.
Celia Sanchez, not known for her looks, was a committed revolutionary
born organiser. She would jealously guard Castro from other women for
next 2½ decades.
Huber Matos perches on the edge of his seat in the Miami home where
lived in exile for nearly 30 years, his eyes blazing as he spits out
words “crook”, “unscrupulous” and “zero morals” to describe the man he
fought alongside for Cuba’s freedom. Matos is remarkably fit for a man
who spent 20 years in prison — 16 in solitary confinement — for
Castro of betraying the democratic ideals of the Cuban revolution.
Matos and Celia Sanchez were close friends. “She was a good person,
Catholic, very passionate about social justice,” he says. “When I
got there it was very clear she was sleeping with Castro. She was both
secretary and his lover. He told me she was ‘very useful’. I thought he
should have treated her with more respect, but women were just
to Castro. I do not believe he is a man with any personal sentiment or
feelings. He uses people, and once they have served their purpose he
rid of them.”
Castro may have felt little for the women he slept with, but he
strong passions in them, as Matos recalls when he describes how Celia
reacted when one very attractive young teacher offered the maximum
private English lessons. “I was standing at the bottom of the stairs as
Castro came down and this blonde teacher shouted after him, ‘Don’t
those private lessons, Fidel! I’ll be waiting for you!’ Then I saw
come up behind her and sink her nails into the woman’s back to get her
of the way. She was very jealous.” Castro completely ignored the
going on behind him, Matos says. “He was totally indifferent.”
Celia’s gatekeeping failed to prevent numerous sexual liaisons, as
prowess increased with his power. One of the few to have kissed and
the Cuban leader is Marita Lorenz, then a naive 19-year-old
concentration camp survivor, whom Castro seduced in February 1959.
claims he installed her as his lover for seven months in a suite in the
Havana Libre hotel, formerly the Havana Hilton, which he took over as
private residence in the months after deposing Batista. “Every day,
came from women all over the world offering to do anything to meet
Lorenz, who witnessed a string of flings, has said. She was spurned,
says, after she became pregnant and had an abortion.
She returned to the US and was enlisted by the CIA to assassinate
lover. They gave her two capsules of botulism to drop in his drink.
waiting for him in the Havana Libre, she panicked and flushed them down
bidet. In a scene straight out of a thriller, Lorenz describes how
came in, lay down on the bed with a cigar and asked her: “Did you come
to kill me?” When she admitted she had, he pulled out a handgun and,
his eyes closed, passed it to her. She describes how Castro chewed his
cigar, smiled and said, “You can’t kill me. Nobody can”, before
with her and allowing her to flee.
The CIA failed in more than 630 attempts to assassinate the Cuban
while his reputation as a lady-killer flourished. There was his reputed
affair with the Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida, and alleged
with an unnamed Cuban actress who claimed he was a selfish brute for
“putting his pants down, and quick”. One underage dancer at the
nightclub said he smoked throughout; another said he never took his
Celia didn’t put a stop to such dalliances, seeing them as little
one relationship she was determined to thwart was that with Alina’s
barring her rival’s access to Castro at every turn. When Alina was
she was dispatched to Paris with her mother, who had been given a
mission to carry out chemical espionage, on the orders, Alina believes,
the woman she calls “La Venenosa” — the poisonous one. When they
Cuba, Naty was kept on the sidelines and shunted from one minor
job to another.
Alina was a nervous and rebellious teenager, developing eating
which her father ordered she undergo psychiatric treatment. She married
times in quick succession — her father attending only the first
and started mixing with dissidents. When Castro refused to let her
island, Alina sought the help of exiles and, in 1993, at the age of 37,
eventually smuggled out on a false passport.
Naty remained in Havana and has never spoken critically of Castro.
receives no privileges now or special attention. She has gone through
hard times. I think her heart was broken by my father,” says Alina. It
the only time in our conversation she has called him that.
Drive west through Havana’s suburbs and eventually you approach what
be a fishing village, Jaimanitas. After the revolution, the area became
heavily militarised. There is a military academy here, but also a far
secret installation — bristling with soldiers and secret police — that
Cubans who know of its existence call Punto Cero, or ground zero. At
heart of the complex is a swimming pool, basketball and tennis courts,
helicopter landing pad and the entrance to a tunnel to Havana’s
airport. It is said that Castro could survive at this secret compound
two years without ever having to leave.