Fidel Castro the restless revolutionary had no time for pleasure, despising holidays as bourgeois and claiming to live in a fisherman’s hut. His only luxury was the cigars that he continually chomped.
Or so he insisted to fellow Cubans who endured decades of abject poverty, crumbling housing and food rationing during his long rule. However, the reality — carefully kept from public consumption thanks to his iron grip on the media and public discourse — was very different.
A prodigious womanizer and food connoisseur who kept some 20 luxurious properties throughout the Caribbean — including a private island he used to visit on his beautiful yacht — Castro was a complete fraud.
The man who spent his life railing against the excesses of capitalism lived like a king — and a very debauched one at that.
Western observers have long suspected that ‘El Comandante’ — The Commander — was siphoning off the proceeds from state-run enterprises, including a small gold mine.
However, when Forbes magazine listed Castro in 2006 as one of the world’s richest ‘kings, queens and dictators’, he angrily insisted he lived on a salary of £20 a month.
The full extent of his hypocrisy and personal excesses emerged only in 2014 when a former longtime bodyguard, Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, wrote a book about Castro’s secret life and estimated he was worth at least £100 million.
He revealed in lavish detail that would have appalled struggling Cubans how even a typical day’s spear-fishing for Castro in the crystal-clear waters off his private island was like the ‘royal hunts of Louis XV in the forests around Versailles’.
Rising at midday, Castro would be dressed in his scuba gear by kneeling flunkeys. He would then head off in a gleaming motor boat — filled with his favorite expensive whisky and grilled langoustines — to waters that had already been scouted that morning by staff anxious to find the areas with the most fish.
Castro was terrified of being poisoned and sourced all his own food locally or from rich overseas friends who supplied him with edible luxuries. Castro not only had his own cow to provide all his dairy needs but so did each of his children. Close to Unit 160, a separate and more secret abode was set aside for another of his vices — women. Castro regularly met his mistresses there.
Castro, who even kept secret the existence of his wives, was able to conceal a rapacious infidelity that produced at least nine children by four women. Reported lovers ranged from the Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida to an underage nightclub dancer who reported how he smoked continually during sex.
His notorious affairs earned him the nickname ‘the Horse’. He had a taste for young Cuban women of every color and background, and half-jokingly told a journalist that it was his colossal sexual drive that had led him away from the Roman Catholic Church.
As for that private island, Cayo Piedra, Sanchez described it as a ‘garden of Eden’ where he entertained famous guests such as the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and could show off a spectacular lagoon filled with turtles and dolphins. Castro would sail there on an 26m luxury yacht fitted out with rare Angolan wood.
On the mainland, his grand homes included an ‘immense’ Havana estate with a rooftop bowling alley, personal hospital and indoor basketball court, and a seaside villa with pool, jacuzzi and sauna. His most notorious home was Unit 160, or Punto Cero, a fortress-like compound which wasn’t just the HQ for his torture and surveillance regime, but also housed his own ice-cream factory.
In Havana, the story went that, when engaged with his nubile sexual partners, he always kept his army boots on — a legacy, presumably, of his days as a revolutionary guerilla, when enemies might strike at any moment.
Castro cheated on both his wives. His first, Mirta Diaz-Balart, whom he wed when he was still a law student, gave him a son, Fidelito (Little Fidel). However, after she divorced him, Castro cruelly engineered for the boy to visit him in Mexico and never let his ex-wife have the child back. Fidelito was educated in Moscow and became a top Cuban nuclear scientist before his father sacked him.
One of Castro’s early mistresses was Natalia Revuelta, a cardiologist’s wife who gave him a daughter. The latter, Alina, became a model and scandalized her father by appearing — dressed in a bikini — in a Havana Club rum advert. She later fled her father’s repressive regime wearing a wig and with a fake Spanish passport.
Castro then had an affair with his longtime secretary, Celia Sanchez. When she died in 1980, he married his second wife, Dalia, a former schoolteacher, who gave him another five legitimate sons. They had in fact been lovers for many years, with her discreetly installed in a Castro-owned house outside Havana.
According to his bodyguard, Sanchez, Castro had first seen the ‘gorgeous’ Dalia at an open-air speech in 1961. She was in the first row and ‘he rapidly started exchanging furtive and meaningful glances’ with her, said Sanchez.
The old goat, who used Viagra in later life, had flings with his English and French interpreters and an airline stewardess, Gladys, who attended to him on foreign trips. ‘He doubtless had other relationships that I did not know about,’ said Sanchez.
Castro’s craving for prostitutes made problems for his Communist allies. Markus Wolf, East Germany’s former spy chief, recalled a security scare when Castro disappeared on a visit to East Berlin. He climbed out of his hotel window one night and headed off to an illegal brothel.
He knew his hosts could have supplied him with girls but, as Wolf said, ‘that simply wasn’t his way’. According to Sanchez, Castro’s claims to live ‘frugally’ were ‘lies — he lives in a luxury most Cubans can’t imagine’.
With his shadow gone from their lives, Cubans will soon discover all too painfully the extent of the terrible trick he played on them.
This article was originally published on news.com.au