Cuba’s first family not immune to political rift

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s family has
not been immune to the political rift his left-wing rule has
caused among Cubans since his 1959 revolution.

Castro’s six sons live in Cuba and support their father’s
government from a second-row position, increasingly showing up
at public events.

But other members of the family live abroad, from where
they often make a living by spewing vitriol.

His daughter Alina Fernandez, who fled the island disguised
as a Spanish tourist in 1993, is one of his fiercest critics in
the exile bastion Miami where she hosts a radio talk show.

“Fidel has ruined Cuba. He has slaughtered its people and
bankrupted the country. And for what? I don’t think even he
really knows,” she said in a 2002 interview with The Times.

Two nephews of his first wife, Lincoln and Mario
Diaz-Balart, are Republican congressmen from Florida who have
led the fight for tougher U.S. policies to rid Cuba of
communism and a man they call a “totalitarian dictator.”

“Even Stalin and Hitler did not have the degree of personal
control over every little decision that Fidel Castro has,”
Lincoln Diaz-Balart told Reuters Television in an interview
last month. “There will be relief that the monster is dead.”

Prying into Castro’s private life has long been taboo in
Cuba, and he has kept his immediate family out of the

Most Cubans do not know the name of his wife (it is not
known if they are actually married) Dalia Soto del Valle, a
schoolteacher he met during a literacy drive in 1961.

The attractive blond wearing a baseball cap went almost
unnoticed at a May Day rally in 2004 in Havana’s Revolution
Square, sitting at a distance from Castro.

Their five sons, Alexis, Alexander, Alejandro, Antonio and
Angel, are so named because of Castro’s father, Angel, though
some say it is due to his fascination with Alexander the Great.

Best known by Cubans is Antonio, an orthopedic surgeon and
doctor on Cuba’s national baseball team. He was seen leaping
from the dugout to hug home-run hitters at the World Baseball
Classic in March.

Eldest son Fidel Castro Diaz Balart is a Soviet-trained
nuclear physicist who ran Cuba’s atomic energy program until it
was mothballed a decade ago. Known as Fidelito, he strongly
resembles his father, down to the bushy beard.

His mother Mirta Diaz Balart was Castro’s first wife. Her
brother Rafael was dictator Fulgencio Batista’s deputy interior
minister. Mirta and Fidel Castro were divorced in 1955 and she
lives in Madrid.


With Castro keeping his private life to himself, Cuba’s
unofficial First Lady for decades has been sister-in-law Vilma
Espin, a chemical engineer trained at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and the nation’s most powerful woman.

She is married to Raul Castro, who took over as provisional
president on July 31 when his brother was forced to relinquish
power temporarily after major stomach surgery.

Turning against her upper-class upbringing — her father
was an executive at the Bacardi rum distillery — Espin joined
Castro’s guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra mountains.

She has been a key figure in advancing equality for women
in Cuba as president of the Cuban Women’s Federation.

Her daughter Mariela Castro, a sexologist, is pushing to
legalize the change of identity for transsexuals and provide
sex-change operations by the state. She has helped foster
greater tolerance for transvestites and gays in Cuba.

Raul Castro is viewed as more family-minded than Fidel,
holding get-togethers and always remembering everybody’s
birthdays, according to Alina’s book “Castro’s Daughter: An
Exile’s Memoir of Cuba.”

Alina, 50, who last week signed on with CNN as a
commentator, was the product of Castro’s affair with beautiful
Havana socialite Natalia Revuelta, the wife of a cardiologist,
during his early years as a clandestine rebel.

She was 10 when her mother told her who her father was.
“He’d always visit at night time, in his uniform and his boots.
I remember the smell of his cigar,” she told The Sunday Times
last year.

While Alina lays into her father from Miami, her mother
Naty refuses to leave Cuba, still a faithful backer of the
“Comandante” and a regular on the diplomatic cocktail circuit.

“Young Cubans want to leave, because the grass is always
greener on the other side, but here they live healthy lives in
a drug-free society,” she said.