Sometimes, the biggest danger to a ruler is not an opposing politician, but somebody working in their own home.
Various residents of the White House had their dirty laundry aired earlier this year by staff, and now it’s Fidel Castro’s turn.
Juan Reinaldo Sanchez was part of Castro’s elite security team. For 17 years he saw the inner workings of the Cuban leader’s life. In 1994, he tried to retire. However, instead of letting him fade away on a farm somewhere, he was imprisoned and tortured. In 2008, he finally managed to defect. Now, as retribution, Sanchez has written a tell-all that dishes on the myth-infused life of Fidel Castro, The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Body Guard to El Lider Maximo. It is a fascinating look into the mind of one of the world’s most enigmatic figures, as well as a detailed reminder of just how different the reality of Cuba is from that promised by Castro’s revolution.
Bay of Pigs gave Fidel his vacation spot.
According to Sanchez, when Castro went to explore the Bay of Pigs after the botched American invasion, he came across an old fisherman. Castro asked the fisherman for a tour, and so the man took him to Cayo Piedra, which sits about ten miles from the coast. Over the years, Fidel built a vacation complex on the two islands making up the cayo, and it is also where he keeps his secret yacht. One of the few people consistently invited to the vacation spot was Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Sanchez learned Fidel was sick when he saw poop stains.
In 1983, Sanchez first realized Castro was ill when the leader wandered into the garage “with a stain on his rear end.” It turned out to be a cancerous ulcer in his intestine. While Castro was convalescing for months, a body double was used. In 1992, Sanchez again discovered Castro was ill when he saw him in the garage with blood staining his behind. Sanchez does not know, however, what the illness was. A body double was again used.
Castro wanted to be the Harlem Globetrotters.
Like the Globetrotters, Castro expected to always win at whatever game he was playing. His greatest loves when it comes to sports are fishing and basketball. Prior to his toe injury in 1982, Fidel loved playing basketball and “it was out of the question for him to lose a game.” Fidel also stacked the teams, and “chose … so as to keep for himself the best players.”
He lived like a king.
Much of the book is given over to dispelling Castro’s oft-repeated claims that he lives like the rest of the people in his country. Sanchez points to one instance in which a Canadian company offered to build a sporting facility of Fidel’s choice for the country. Instead of having something built for his people, “the Commandante asked them to construct an indoor basketball court for his sole use.” Sanchez also believes that a Forbes article that listed Castro’s fortune at around $900 million islikely to be close to accurate.
One absurd detail shared in the book is that each member of his family has his or her own cow. This is because, Sanchez writes, “the acidity and creaminess of fresh milk varies from one cow to another.” So, milk is bottled and numbered based on each Castro family member’s cow.
He has an endless list of residences.
The book details a stunning real estate portfolio maintained by Castro. There are at least six places in Havana alone, three vacation homes in the west of the island, two in the north and south, and multiple residences in Santiago in Cuba.
Castro has been cuckolded.
Sanchez claims in the book that Castro’s wife Dalia cheated on him with a member of their escort, a man named Jorge. While Dalia was forgiven, Jorge disappeared “and we never heard of him again.”
He has mother-in-law problems.
Dalia’s affair took place at the home of her mother, called “La Abuela” by all. She is described as Sanchez as a “rather unrefined, party-loving, heavily made up, and very flirtatious lady” who continued to hit on young men in her old age. She was a big drunk, and the final straw for Fidel came when he arrived home to find his personal bottle of whiskey completely empty, courtesy of “La Abuela.”
He’s a Tolstoy fan (at least as far as movies go).
Fidel’s favorite movie, which he watched again and again, is the Soviet version of War and Peace. Sanchez is obviously not a fan, describing it as “interminable and soporific” as it lasts five hours.
His extra-conjugal abode is called the House of Carbonell.
Castro actually comes across as less sexually voracious than one might expect. However, he still has carried out numerous affairs over the years. According to Sanchez there is a detached house behind the museum housing government gifts called the Carbonell House where Castro met his women.
He is a connoisseur of wine…Algerian wine.
While Castro is reportedly not a big drinker like his brother Raul, he will still have a glass of wine with his dinner. While one might expect a ruler with his kind of power to be downing expensive bottles of French or Italian wine, Castro generally drinks Algerian. The wine originally came from former President Houari Boumediene, who would send cases to Cuba.
He can’t dance salsa.
Castro apparently doesn’t like music—not Cuban, and certainly not American. Even more egregious perhaps, is that he can’t dance salsa.
Castro was a drug kingpin.
For Sanchez, one of the more disappointing moments was when he discovered that Castro was running drug operations in the U.S. to fund his regime.
Arnaldo Ochoa’s execution drove Raul to heavy drinking.
In 1989, one of the heroes of the Cuban Revolution, General Arnaldo Ochoa, was found to have been running a variety of smuggling rings, most notably for drugs. He was eventually executed after a show trial. Ochoa was reportedly quite close to Raul Castro, and as a result Raul “plunged into the worst bout of alcoholism of his life.” The only thing that pulled him out was Fidel reassuring him he would not meet the same fate as Ochoa, unless he continued drinking so heavily.