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Fidel Castro's Women

The Magazine for Men on the Go
Nov.  1963

By: Andrew St. George

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This is Fidel's room in Havana.  But he takes more to bed with him than a tommy-gun.  Here, a former friend reveals the surprising story of the Cuban leader's sex life.

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I have, in my day, gone out on more than one double date with my wild old friend Fidel Castro.  If I have so far refrained from rendering a report on these sorties, it was due to the fact that by the time it seemed safe to tell the truth about Fidel's women–that is, by the time I no longer planned to spend my vacations fishing in Cuba–popular notions about the bearded strongman's sex life had hardened into two solid molds, as difficult to fit together as a French wrench and a Cuban nut.

One version has it that Castro burns only with the urge to jack up Cuban farm production, that he sees women merely as potential milkmaids or tractor drivers.  The wellspring of this version is

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PHOTO... ...Maritza Rosales, Castro's favorite TV actress, worshiped the leader yet found time for other playmates.

Harold H. Martin, the Saturday Evening Post's otherwise excellent correspondent, who described a bedroom encounter between Castro and an American female admirer thusly:

"Charmed by Mr. Castro's magnetic presence, his beard, his large and limpid eyes and his flow of hoarsely eloquent Spanish, an impulsive young lady from New York had, so they say, by some means made her way to his bedroom at night.  ‘Fidel,' she whispered, gently rousing the sleeping hero, ‘I am eager to serve the revolution.  What is it you wish of me?' Mr. Castro, the story goes, sat up in bed, his whiskers bristling fiercely: ‘Tractors!' he bellowed.  ‘Tractors, seeds and fertilizers!'

The second image, erected by confession magazines, is just the opposite: a portrait of the young rebel as grunt-and-grab rapist.  Calling on all the world for her witness, as angry mothers often will, a lady from Washington, D.C., Alice J. Lorenz, has given us the classic version in her description of a tussle between her teenage daughter Marita and a fired-up Fidel:

"Castro stood up: ‘Marita...your clothes.  Take them off.'  ‘No, no, Fidel, No!' she shouted. ‘Don't touch me–I am a virgin!'  She scratched him, but he only laughed.  ‘You must, Marita,' he said, ‘I am the law.'  He grabbed at her hungrily and proceeded to ravage her, beating at her, scratching her and painfully hurting her.  Marita could not walk for three days."

Castro, in whose mind food and fornication sometimes run together, used to compare such stories to andullas, the spicy sausages stuffed with nothing but mere tripe.  Fidel long ago learned to 

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PHOTO... ..."Tete" Caruso, an old friend, finally denounced him in 1960.

live with overblown stories about his virility or lack of it.  Back in his early days as rebel chieftain, his own ebullient followers in the Havana underground once scattered thousands of anti-government leaflets showing Castro with his male parts enormously exaggerated–a mighty battering ram about to demolish the entire government.

In Havana, where "Superman" is a common term of enviable male endowment, just about everyone enjoyed the cartoon.  Everyone, that is, except Castro.  "What porky junk!"  Castro raged at little Universo Amejeiras, the underground propagandist who had thought up the stunt.  "Don't ever let me see bawdy drawings or sexy slogans used by our movement again!"

Universo had already been jailed and thoroughly tortured three times by the Batista government for such activities, but he had come through it all an unbowed Havana boulevardier.  "Why, Fidel," he protested, "you are taking all the pleasure out of underground work!"

If Fidel did, it must have gone against his own instincts.  The fact is he likes girls as well as any Cuban.  He married early–at 22, in the fall of 1948–and eagerly carried off his bride, a slim, trim, saucer-eyed little brunette called

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PHOTO... ...Celia Sanchez.

Mirta Diaz Balart, to an ardent honeymoon on Miami Beach, where they overstayed their budget.  Castro had to pawn his watch and dress jewelry.

"Well, Mirtha wouldn't leave before she'd seen Miami," the older Castro brother, Ramon, once remarked admiringly.  "And the first week, Fidel hardly let her out of the room."

But if the young law student's love-making was untiring, it was not exactly luxurious.  Mirtha found that she had not merely gotten married–she had entered a distaff derby for Fidel's favors.  At times it was a match race.  (Once Fidel became very interested in a cinnamon-skinned Havana University co-ed named Mapita Morales.)  And at times it expanded to an all-out contest, with a Havana divorcee joining the field.

Of course, Fidel's real interest was politics, and Cuban politicians have long enjoyed extraordinary privileges in attending their female constituents.  The old Havana Senate gallery had a separate enclosure for the queridas, the mistresses of legislators, with a separate exit in case any of the wives showed up.

But Fidel was not headed for Congress.  He was headed for the calabozo.  He was in prison by the fall of 1953, under a 15-year sentence for a reckless attempt to overthrow Batista by armed insurrection.  While in solitary, Fidel became an enthusiastic letter-writer.  Regulations in the Presidio Modelo allowed inmates only one letter per week.  But prisoners found it easy to smuggle out additional love letters in bags of laundry or other packets; after all, the guards were men, too–and Cuban men at that.

Fidel Castro Ruiz, however, who had reached for bullets in place of ballots, was a special case. Military intelligence plainclothesmen kept checking his prison mail with vindictive interest.  When it was discovered that his concealed, tightly folded letters carried messages of undying love to different women–his wife Mirtha and a Havana divorcee, Maria-Louisa Laferte–someone decided to pull a switch.  The wife's letters went on to the mistress; the passionate love-calls to the mistress were sent on to the wife.

Shortly before noon on May 15, 1955, Fidel Castro and his 21 comrades were released under a political amnesty.  Sweethearts, wives and children were waiting for all of them at the prison gate–for all except Fidel.  There was no sign of Mirtha Diaz [Balart] de Castro, or of their three-year-old son, Fidelito.
(Continued on page 74)

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"There was a wild, empty look in Fidel's face," recalls Conchita Fernandez, who later became his secretary.  "But then the crowd came up roaring, waving the flag, and Fidel was swept off his feet.  In prison he had become a national hero.  The crowd raised him on its shoulders and carried him along.  He was on his way, and I think that he forgot about married life right then and there."

Fidel quickly sensed that crowds are feminine, too.  They embrace their idols as fervently as a female submits to a conquering male.  He also discovered that crowds have hundreds of individual females in them, females who are wild to see their hero, to touch him, to rub up against him.

"By the time he got to his Havana apartment that day," reported Jules Dubois of the Chicago Tribune, "Fidel's shirt was smudged with lipstick."

Still, many an old sweetheart eyed the returning heroes curiously.

"It was king of embarrassing," Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother, told me years later, "You see, when we were arrested after attacking that army fort (Moncada Barracks) on 26 July 1953, the soldiers who captured us...well, it was true, we had killed some soldiers in the attack.  The guardia, the soldiers, were crazy for revenge."

In a week long manhunt, more than a hundred of Castro's confederates were rounded up.  Most of the first 30-odd suspects caught were killed by castration.  Raul told me of his friend Pepe Jurema; two soldiers fell on him with their machete in such frenzy that they nearly mutilated themselves tool.

One of Castro's rooftop snipers, Victor Torres, was taken alive by the guardia in downtown Santiago.  Later in the day, they also arrested a girl, Haydee; she turned out to be his financee [fiancee].   The frenzied guardia troopers cut off Victor's testicles with a pigsticker, and a sergeant named Montes de Oca carried them over to the girl's cell in his hand, brandishing them while yelling insanely: "Look, look! You better ask the guardia here to service you, because your fiancee will never do it for you again!"

Afterwards, there were rumors that the guardia had castrated all the prisoners, including both Castro brothers.  The poor girls were wondering if any of the released men would ever do much for them again.

Their doubts were soon dissipated.  Fidel himself was seen around Havana squiring Maria-Luisa–he had arranged a quiet divorce from his wife–and other politically minded women.  None of them ever looked anything but contented.

But Fidel was restless; by now he was a hardened, hot-eyed revolutionary.  When he decided to move from Havana–first to Miami, then New York, and finally Mexico City–only brother Raul went along.  Some of the old comrades were quietly told to follow him, but none of the girls.

In Mexico City, Fidel began to organize what eventually became the greatest political adventure of his generation–a guerrilla expedition to Cuba.  He was chindeep in conspiracy, weapons-smuggling, recruitment and moonlight training marches.  But in the midst of it all, he fell in love with a green-eyed, golden-skinned 18-year-old girl named Lilia Vasconcelos.

The dated dined, walked hand-in-hand and became engaged.  Seized with fits of bourgeois generosity, Fidel went out and bought her some shoes.  There was to be a quick wedding before the expedition left.

And then Lilia made a decision: Fidel was, really, nothing but a square.  He thought mud-colored double-breasted suits were the dress for young bloods.  His shoes squeaked.  He loped like a great, earnest Doberman, and sometimes even cocked his head in a faintly doggy way.  He scratched with abandon.  He talked a lot loudly, but never anything except Cuban politics.  He was careless about his fingernails.  And worst of all, Fidel did not know to dance, possibly the sole voting-age Cuban male so benighted.

At her next date with Fidel, Lilia yanked off her engagement ring.  She had decided to marry an old beau, a Mexican dentist.  They are still happily married, but Lilia's married name will never interest anyone except her mailman.

Fidel was furious.  The rejection cut him where he felt it most–in his sorely swollen vanity.  He would never again expose that to the whims of a woman.

In the meantime, Lilia luckily had a friend who was her exact opposite.  Teresa "Tete" Casuso was older than Fidel.  A dark, dashing, warm-lipped divorcee, she had been a novelist and a movie actress, and she knew what she wanted.  Fidel fascinated her.  The young revolutionary had obviously special talents; Tete felt that he would have been successful either as an actor or as salesman, for he had a marvelously genial gift of gab.

THE sullen Fidel moved his guns into Tete's house, then moved in himself.  Tete not only hid the hardware, but when Fidel went broke, she helped him land a $50,000 loan from a millionaire politician.  The money took care of Fidel's most urgent need-an invasion ship, the famed Granma.

The expedition to Cuba was shaping up nicely in November, 1956, when the Mexican police became curious.  The Casuso residence was searched and some of Fidel's ammunition came to view in the upstairs closets, behind Tete's slip and undies.  Tete was hauled in, mouthing protests.  She spent a month in the pokey.  Fidel vanished.

It was in the women's prison in Mexico City that Tete Casuso first spotted the headline: "Castro Expedition Attempts Landing–Invaders Reported Killed."  She knew then that the expedition had left Mexico in the yacht she had helped provide, and she wept wildly until she was transferred to the prison hospital.

What she did not know was that half the news was false: Fidel and Raul Castro had landed in Cuba, but were anything but dead.

For two years and more, the Castro brothers fought their guerrilla campaign of hardship and hunger.  Romance was rare in the bush.  When the men dreamed of a dish it was liable to be beans.  Recreation was limited to sleep.

There are critics who explain the Castro guerrillas' high moral tone by pointing out that they had no beds, only rope hammocks.  But the fact is that in the mountains, abstinence was a tactical necessity.  Without the support of the peasant population, the bush fighters would not have survived a month.  And farm folk are notoriously narrow-minded about their ladies.

Castro ticked off a set of simple rules for his troops.

Never pass a countryman without a greeting.
Never try to take away his hunting weapons.
Never eat or drink in his home without paying.
Never, but never, trifle with women.

The wages of sin was shooting.  For the first time in military history, lovers, not fighters, suffered the higher casualty rate.  Toward the end, when Castro was in a hurry, he would give the man accused of rape–and the complaining woman–instant justice:
"What is your name, soldier?"
"What is your name, senorita?"
"Maria Dolores."
"Did you have her, Lorenzo?"
"Si, senor."
"Did you want him, Maria Dolores?"
No, senor."
Castro shook his head with heavy anger, waved, stepped away–never enjoyed executions–and his hard-eyed brother Raul would have the offender tied to an execution tree and a tow of rifles pointed at his face.  The whole trial and execution took less than a quarter-hour.

I spent more than six months in the mountains during 1957 and ‘58m covering the revolution and the remarkable Castro brothers; we became really good friends.  During this time, I saw nearly 30 men blown apart by firing squads for a bit of rowdy romancing.  Whatever else it may have been, it was utterly un-Cuban.  Most of them died with expressions of surprise and disbelief.

CASTRO himself, sad to say, was the first one to crack under this unaccustomed celibacy.  In the summer of 1958, while his lieutenants kept the guardia at bay among the foothills, Castro set up a small headquarters on a remote, inaccessible peak called La Plata.  Here he acquired, in rapid succession: (a) a woodburning range; (b) a set of frying pans; (c) a hairy cook known as Miguelito; (d) a small Diesel generator; (e) an electric icebox; and (f) the first meal of steak and eggs in 18 months.

All through the campaign, Fidel had slept under the open sky like the rest of us.  His hammock had the only mosquito netting in camp, but that was his sole distinction.  But now I found that Fidel was living in a log cabin built especially for him.  It contained the range, the icebox and the goodies brought up in relay mule trains especially for him.  And its windows were made of timber panes, lowered at night to convert the cabin into a soundproof box–especially for him and the girl whose hammock now hung under the roof.

She wasn't a new girl.  She was Celia Sanchez, Fidel's longtime clerical aide.  Like Tete Casuso, she was older and wiser than Fidel.  Like Tete, she had helped Fidel enormously.  But there the resemblance ended.  Tete was svelte and sophisticated; Celia was quiet, fanatic and a slim as a boy.  She was also the most utterly fearless woman I have even known.

During the shaky first year of the insurrection, when Castro's destiny hung on the thread of his lifeline to the outside world, Celia served as the guerrillas' most dependable courier.  Carrying secrets and bulging banknote packets, she slipped through the guardia's lines as effortlessly as a small bird.  The rebels called her La Paloma, the dove.

After the revolution's triumph, Celia showed even stronger steel.  No matter how Fidel carried on, she never allowed herself to be caught showing a twitch

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of jealously.  This was for a woman in love, a fabulous feat of inner force.  Today, seven years later, Celia Sanchez alone of all girls remains near Fidel.  She is still his trusted aide.  Fidel still sleeps in her neat little Havana apartment–when no other girl happens to have a bed waiting for him.

Not even his followers claim that Fidel is the handsomest head of state.  Nor is Castro the most amorously inclined.  He is not even in the same class with the recently assassinated Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo used to import aphrodisiacs from all over the world and test them on his elderly cabinet ministers, who were ordered to imbibe a double dose and report the results on the local equivalent of a hotline.  When Trujillo grew older, he built the world's only aphrodisiac bottling plant in Santo Domingo and marketed the stuff under government monopoly, like stamps.

Yet when Fidel arrived triumphantly in Havana in January, 1959, women went weak and worshipful at the very sight of him.  If feminine following is any measure, Fidel is the sexiest newcomer in politics since Cleopatra.  When he emerged into the streets, hundreds of hit, tender hands plucked at him from every side.  In the Havana Hilton, where Castro had commandeered a suite, bikini after broke out at poolside [pool side]  to tempt the hirsute hard-charger.

Errol Flynn, who had already met Castro, now popped up at the Hilton to track down a movie concession.  To breast the opposing tides, as it were, he had brought along a bevy of underage, overdeveloped Lolitas headed by the blonde Beverly Aadland who was, at 18, the dean of the little darlings.

Morning Errol would deploy his pony troop around the pool, arrayed in skimpy swimsuits recalling the payoff of a strip act.  At night, piercing squeals and lusty noise from Flynn's suite revealed that Errol was hard at work on a revolutionary adaptation of his famed Hollywood suckling pig parties.

Such tactics were wrong, of course.  From Italy the lush Italian actress [Silvana] Sylvana Pampanini soon flew in to announce that she would star in a film about the Cuban revolution–provided il divino Fidel approved.  To make sure of approval, Sylvana rented Cabana #1 and draped herself in front of it, her abundance restrained only by a bikini that would have scorched the sand at Cannes.  Her agent, a much more thorough man than Flynn, had discovered that from his 18-floor eyrie, Fidel had a direct view of Cabana #1.

Most of this witchery was wasted.  At first Fidel seemed mostly preoccupied with bettering his country's lot.  Lowell Birrell, who ran the Havana racetrack syndicate in those days, recalled it in Rio not long ago:

"First off, everyone who owned a piece of action in Havana had to kick in to Castro for his agrarian reform.  The casino guys had to contribute so much for tractors, the bolita guy so much for livestock, etc.  I got the word my bite would be five big ones for fertilizer.  Five thousand bucks for manure!  I already knew these bearded nuts weren't looking to lay up a sausage; you couldn't buy them off.  I figured maybe girls might do the trick.  I had a solid-gold chick down from Miami working for me-socially so to speak.  She was an ash-blonde that could have given Marilyn Monroe inches front and back, and I sent her up to Castro's suite.  Told her to go in, smile, and say "Hi, Mr. Birrell sent me up.'  I knew no Cuban guards would have the heart to stop her.  She did it, and you know how Castro reacted?  ‘Birrell sent you?  Ah, good, you are the one with the fertilizer money!' "

There was, it seems, a streak of truth in the early tales of Fidel, the rustic rebel whose strength was his L'il Abnerish innocence.  Unhappy with or without that set of chin spinach, Fidel turned out nothing like L'il Abner.  Behind all the headlines and heady oratory, Castro turned out to like many another talented and ambitious actor-type: very vain, hammy, immature, narcissistic–never really in love with anyone but himself.

In time, however, there came stories with an uglier punchline: Fidel, the hairy rapist.

By March, 1959, if Mrs. Lorenz is to be wholly believed, the Beard's bedroom customs were those of a moon-mad tomcat.  The Lorenz story is still hard to assess.  Neither has Castro ever come forward to comment or deny the story of how he raped an 18-year-old American girl in his Hilton suite–an then forced her to undergo and ugly abortion–nor has another girl come forward to substantiate it.

But there are some hard facts on view.  Castro was quickly corrupted in Havana, perhaps by his own weaknesses, perhaps by his lust for power.  The liberator changed into libertine.  And in the deeper sense that cold-hearted lechery always involves a little rape, Castro, once the nemesis of rapist, became a rapist himself.

For a while he could be both bashful and bold with beautiful women who caught his attention.  Beverly Gary, the lovely and talented correspondent of the New York Post besieged the Havana Hilton for days in search of an interview, until Castro discovered that here was no unshaven legman but a tall, cool honey-blonde.

Instead of making an appointment, Castro suddenly stepped into Beverly's hotel bedroom at one in the morning.

"He sat down beside the bed," Beverly recounted later.  "We started talking Cuban politics, and one by one he began emptying the pockets of his fatigues on the nightstand–lots of big pockets with lots of things in them.  Maybe he was looking for a cigar.  Maybe something else.  At any rate, he soon realized that he would have to make out with the cigar.  Talking faster than ever, he started putting everything back again into those gaping pockets.  We ended up chatting through most of the night.  It was a good interview, and he seemed a nice enough guy."

A few weeks later, I happened to be covering a Castro rally in the company of another pretty correspondent–Ruth Lloyd, a dark, intense radio newsgirl from New York.  That night, the phone rang in my room.  (Like everyone else, I was living in the Hilton, almost directly under Castro's own suite.)  Startled, I found myself making a date with Fidel for late dinner the next night.  Castro wanted to meet Ruth. 

Fidel said he would bring Lia–Aurelia Vasquez, a petite fashion model–who had been Miss Havana Yacht Club and Pupo, his bodyguard.  There was to be no one else; it would be just a small intimate supper.

Fidel was late, but he showed.  At 2 in the morning, we found ourselves at the Kasalta Restaurant, his favorite place for seafood.  He began by ordering three dozen Sagua oysters.  "They're very small," he explained to Ruth.

The waiters ran up and clustered excitedly around their idol.  They were joined by the other guests, who left their tables to crowd around ours.  Soon a newsman was hanging on every pay phone in the lobby.  Chasing Fidel, who dashed around town fitfully and never kept his appointments, had become the top sport of public-minded people.

Within minutes, our quiet little supper was interrupted by (a) the Minister of Agriculture, who brought some papers to sign; (b) a British Embassy type with an urgent message; (c) a delega-

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tion of 14 fishermen from Marianao, who had been waiting since early morning to present him with a record-sized kingfish, which, judged by its smell, must have been caught way before the revolution; (d) the "grease-gun" escort of bearded tommygunners who appeared on the scene whenever Fidel was getting mobbed.

It was not much later that we discovered Fidel had vanished into the thickening mob.

In spite of such pressures, Fidel seemed to steady himself at times.  Ignoring La Pampanini and Flynn's nymphet circus, he picked out a girl from the Hilton poolside who happened to be both lovely and intelligent–a long-legged, blue-eyed lady psychiatrist from Buenos Aires who is not too happily married in this country to be known here as anything but Linda, which is not her real name.

LINDA was ideal.  A practicing psychiatrist, she considered wild talk and couches a natural parlay.  She fell for Fidel, hard–but not hard enough not to see through him.

"Oh, what a troubled man," she would murmur sadly while sunning herself at the pool.  "Did you know Fidel was an illegitimate child?  His parents got married long after he was born.  No wonder he is wild.  No wonder he is terrified of rejection, of any kind of responsibility.  You know, such people stay part child all through their lives.  They kept running after the sense of belonging that was denied them in childhood."

Whether because she had found him part child or part bastard, Fidel and Linda broke up quickly.  For a while, Castro had a new interest: Gloria, the slight, passionate, dark-eyed daughter of his first political idol, the late Eliecer Gaitan.

But Castro was coming down fast.  I sat with him through a long baseball game in midsummer of 1959, escorting Maritza Rosales, a sharp-tongued little pouter pigeon who was Fidel's favorite TV actress.  Maritza was muy Fidelista, and she harangued me about Fidel's many virtues all the way to the stadium.  But when we were ushered into Fidel's box by the faithful Pupo, Maritza grew quiet and somehow smaller.

Gone was the dogged, likable square of Mexican days.  Gone the bearded caballero of the cloud-hung mountains who could make any of us warm to his charm with smile.  Fidel was paunchy, unkempt, fidgety and irritable.  His eyes were darting and devious.  Behind him sat a girl in pink pedal-pushers and pancake makeup.  She was a minor café society figure, imported from New York at the revolution's expense.  The girl was too garish to sit beside the Maximum Leader in public, and she knew it.  She stared at his back with a sullen frown.

Castro was changing from rebel to commissar, and he was feeling for the commissar's furtive pleasures.  Provocative women no longer upset him.  On an official visit to Santiago, I saw him walk briskly past the greeting line in the Casa Grande until he came to a tall, willowy tourist from New York smiling at him with wistful, wet-lipped yearning.  Without breaking his stride or the grave cast of his visage, I saw Castro shoot at her the only purposeful phrase under the circumstances: "What is your room number?"

The girl called it after him–the Casa Grande was Santiago's only good hotel–unable to tell even if the great man had heard it.  Unable to tell, that is, until Captain Yanez Pelletier knocked at her door around midnight.

Captain Jesus Maria Yanez Pelletier, military aide and senior adjutant to Prime Minister Fidel Castro, had no part of bearded bushwhacker in him.  He was an erect, handsome, well-mannered and smartly groomed gentleman.  He had been a Cuban career officer before fate washed him up against Fidel Castro.

BACK in 1953, when Yanez was serving as military prison superintendent in Santiago, the captured Castro brothers were brought to him for safekeeping by the guardia.  Soon afterwards came orders to mix poison with the prisoners' dinner; General Batista wanted a permanent solution to his problems.

Yanez refused.  Officers were gentlemen, not assassins.  It saved Fidel's life, but lost Yanez his army his army commission.  He was dumped out of uniform and spent the remaining years of Batista's rule washing crockery in a New York cafeteria.

Then came victory, and with it the grateful embrace from Fidel and promotion to be the great man's personal aide-de-camp.

Procuring might not have been his idea of the principal purpose for a military aide.  Nevertheless, under the terrible corruption of Fidel's charisma–his uncanny ability to make people do his bidding–Captain Jesus Yanez became a procurer.

To accommodate the assignations, Yanez was assigned a suite of his own in the Hilton, on the same floor as Fidel's.  To get the girls upstairs without attracting the attention of the many curious characters camping in the hotel–newsmen, diplomats, intelligence agents and the like–Yanez worked out a clandestine supply route.

The Hilton had a VIP entrance in its basement garage.  Yanez locked it and pocketed the key, pointing out that the revolution had abolished all VIPS but one.  Next to the basement door sat an elevator call button wired to a special buzzer.  Whenever that buzzer sounded, the elevator nearest to the basement was stopped and all its passengers were ushered out.

The empty lift was then dive-bombed down into the basement to collect Yanez and his charges–one, two or three girls, as per Fidel's orders–and ride them directly to the 18th floor.  Upstairs, the captain guided his bunny flock down the carpeted corridor and into the special suite, equipped with a German hi-fi, sweet Spanish wines on the sideboard, and lights softly shimmering through tongue-pink lamp-shades.  Now all the bunnies had to do was wait for the Big, Bad Wolf.

During the fall and winter of 1959, I heard that special buzzer more than once as I was traveling up or down in the Hilton's elevators.  I always thought of Captain Jesus Yanez and felt sorrier for the corrupted officer than for myself, though every time I heard the buzzer I found myself stranded on a strange floor, with my elevator vanishing down into the basement.

One day, while on a diplomatic mission in New York, trying to smooth over the Lorenz rape scandal, Yanez was cashiered from the army and arrested on his return.  A strong, mysterious enemy seemed to be pulling strings against him.  His house was searched by security agents, and the case report taken to Armed Forces Commander Raul Castro.  It showed, among other things, that a check of Yanez' clothes closet had unearthed an unrevolutionary lot of polished shoes–15 pairs to be exact, most of them from the venerable house of Lefcourt, which passes them out at about $60.00 a pair.

Raul, who went about in campaign boots, smiled his wintry smile:

"Muy bien.  We'll give him a court-martial, and at the court-martial we'll give him a year at hard labor for every one of those shiny shoes."

Though the charges against Yanez were never fully clarified, at his trial–a short one–he got 30 years.

Now there are signs that even the Maximum Leader is losing out in his restless pursuit of happiness.  Not long ago, I had dinner with an old friend in Cali, Colombia, where he now lives in secluded exile.  Jose Pardo Llada is among the loneliest of defectors, for he was, until recently, a truly intimate friend of Fidel, more so than anyone outside Cuba today.

In Cuba, Pardo was the nation's top TV and radio commentator.  A college classmate of Castro's, a veteran companion of the Sierra Maestra, he was closer to Castro than most of his own blood relatives.

AFTER dinner in the Hotel Alferez Real, Pardo told me a story.  It was, I found with fascination, the most revealing story I had ever heard of a dictator's loneliness and of his terrible inner defeat.

"Last year I was seeing less and less of Fidel," Pardo said.  "He was growing manic-depressive, it seems, and his relations with people were deteriorating all around.  But at three in the morning one day last fall, I ran into Fidel stuffing himself on chop suey in the Radio-Centro restaurant in downtown Havana.

 "Fidel was with his usual gang of escort guards and hangers-on.  But when he saw me he motioned me over to his table and pointed to a very pretty girl sitting in one of the booths, asking me with his eyes if I knew her.  She was a singer, not over 20 or so, fresh-faced and very, very pretty.  Of course I knew her.

"I went over and she said without hesitation, yes, why not–anything for Fidel.  The only thing she asked was that Fidel get rid of his bonche, his bunch of hangers-on.

"Well, it was risky, it was risky every time we did it, but there was only one way to do it.  Fortunately, I had a girl with me, too.  So I got my girl, and the singer who was about to become, at least for one night, Fidel's girl, and we got into my car and drove up to the corner of 23d Street.  We stopped and waited.  Pretty soon Fidel's escort convoy rolls up, stops, and Fidel hops out as quick as a wink and into the rear seat of my Chrysler.  We were off like lightning.

"In the car, Fidel tried to think of a place to go.  Yanez was in jail, that place was gone.  There was another girl sleeping in the other Hilton suite, probably the last person Fidel wanted to meet right then.  He had a secret house in Miramar, but there were a half-dozen Venezuelan Communists there waiting to tell him all their troubles.  He had a top-secret house near the old Country Club, but that was where he'd sent his escort, and the girl had wanted privacy.  With one thing and another,–I am not exaggerating–Fidel did not have a single quiet place left to go to.

"I suggested we drive out to the beach near Tarara.  It sounds foolish.  But remember, none of this had been planned, not even by Fidel himself.  No one could possibly know were we

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were going, and that was the only security measure Fidel had trusted all his life.

"It was a pleasant night and a long drive.  Fidel seemed depressed.  To cheer him up, I began to talk about our old, happy days in the mountains, how free we felt then, how strong and cheerful.  I reminded Fidel of the night we occupied the first little town among the foothills, Charco Redondo–how our horses' hooves drummed on the dry earth, how every family stood beside its house holding red candle lanterns to catch a worshipful glimpse of us, who were then the saviors of Cuba.  It was different then, or maybe just we were different.

"Anyhow, Fidel started reminiscing, too.  He talked on and on about his mountains and this and that in the old days, until we got to the beach and I stopped the car behind the dunes.  Fidel got out and took his girl, this girl to whom he had not yet spoken a single personal word, and they disappeared into the darkness.

"I sat there with my girl smoking cigarettes in the dark and listening to music from Miami, Fidel and the little singer came back in about twenty minutes.  They were still holding hands, but now Fidel was not talking.  He sagged into the car and told me to take him to the house where the Venezuelan delegation was waiting.  He lit a cigar and never said another word till we let him out at the big iron gate in Miramar.

"Well, I had my girl with me, and I shouldn't have done it for a lot of other reasons, too.  But you know how we Cubans are.  I simply couldn't keep myself from doing it.  I turned back and winked at the singer and asked her how it had gone.

"She looked at me very strangely.  But what she told me was not unpleasant, only odd.

"It seems that after they had gone off together among the dunes, hand in hand, Fidel kept right on talking feverishly.  They wandered around a bit, then lay down in the warm sand.  Fidel caressed her, her eyes and her hair, but he never stopped talking for a moment.  It went on like that for twenty minutes–Fidel stroking her hair and talking intensely, hoarsely, as if she were an old war buddy or a whole audience, not a little girl on a big date.

"He told her things she couldn't half understand, names and places she couldn't even recognize.  At one point, it seems he was telling something Celia had done when she was a courier in the war.  Anyhow, he suddenly stopped.  He looked at her, go to his feet and puller her up, too.  They came back to the car together, but he hadn't even kissed her.  Something must have saddened him, I guess.  After that, there was nothing to do but go home."


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