The Magazine for Men on the Go
By: Andrew St. George
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.
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
...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
"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
..."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
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
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
(Continued on page 74)
"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
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
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
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?"
"Did you have her, Lorenzo?"
"Did you want him, Maria Dolores?"
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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
It was not much later that we discovered Fidel had vanished into the thickening
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
were going, and that was the only security measure Fidel had trusted all
"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,
"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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