Former U.S. Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart recalls his mother as a brilliant and sweet woman who was never fooled by “ el gangsterito” – the little gangster, retired Cuban ruler and former brother-in-law Fidel Castro.
Hilda Caballero Diaz-Balart, matriarch of the political dynasty that includes her late husband, Rafael Diaz-Balart, and sons Lincoln, Mario, José and Rafael, died Wednesday in Miami at the age of 88.
“She was fundamental in the political career of her husband and sons, as well as brilliant and the sweetest person I have ever known,” said Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
The former Republican Congress member from Miami said she died Wednesday. “No illness. She was 88. She simply felt faint and left yesterday,” he said.
A Mass in her memory will be celebrated at 2 p.m. Friday at the Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church in the Roads section of Miami.
Her son Lincoln served in Congress from 1993 to 2011, when he declined to run for re-election and went on to head The White Rose Institute, a non-profit in Miami named after his father’s anti-Castro group in the 1960s, to work for democracy in Cuba.
His brother Mario, also a Miami Republican, was first elected to Congress in 2003 and won the district vacated by his brother. José Díaz-Balart is a journalist and anchor for Noticiero Telemundo and Rafael Díaz-Balart is an investment banker.
“This great Cuban American family can rest assured that every day they will bear witness to the lifelong work that Rafael and Hilda achieved rearing such remarkable men who have left their indelible prints in all that they do,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.
Hilda Caballero was born Nov. 18 of 1924 in the Stewart sugar mill in the Cuban province of Camagüey, the daughter of the mill’s chief engineer, and was sent to a Presbyterian boarding school in the city of Cardenas.
She met her future husband there and they married in 1948. The couple then left for the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, where Rafael had won a scholarship to study to become a minister while also preaching part-time.
“They were poor, very poor there,” Lincoln Diaz-Balart said.
But while in New Jersey, Rafael Diaz-Balart realized his true calling was politics and the couple returned to Cuba, where he served as majority leader of the House of Representatives and Interior Minister in the Fulgencio Batista government.
His sister, Mirta Diaz Balart, married Fidel Castro in 1948, gave birth to Fidel “Fidelito” Castro Diaz-Balart and divorced him in 1955, after Rafael Diaz-Balart had denounced his brother-in-law as a dangerous radical.
Hilda Caballero never thought much of Castro and called him “ ese gangsterito” — that little gangster.
The family left Cuba in December of 1958, the month before Castro’s victory over Batista, and never returned. They settled in Miami but moved in 1963 to Spain, where the father revalidated his law degree and joined several businesses.
Hilda and Rafael divorced in 1975 and the mother returned to Miami with the children. The father, a frequent commentator on Spanish-language radio in Miami and considered an expert on all things Cuban, died in 2005.