Agustin Alles Soberón, the first Cuban journalist to interview Fidel Castro and his guerrillas in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra Mountains in 1958 and later a senior editor with Radio/TV Marti for 20 years, died Sunday in Miami at the age of 87.
Alles retired from the U.S. government’s Marti stations in late 2011 and was just two chapters short of completing a book about his life when he died from heart failure, said his son-in-law, Javier Yanes.
He was best known for his trek up Cuba’s highest mountains, with photographer Eduardo Hernández, to interview Castro and other guerrillas including Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, in March of 1958.
A graduate of the Journalism School at the University of Havana, Alles was a top correspondent for Bohemia, the island’s leading news weekly, covering politics and the Congress.
At the time of the interview, Castro had only about 100 guerrilla fighters under his command, but was promoting a national strike to force Fulgencio Batista from power. The strike failed, but Batista fled the country on Jan. 1 1959, leaving a power vacuum that Castro quickly filled.
New York Times correspondent Herber Matthews had interviewed Castro in 1957. Because of Batista government censorship, Alles’ interview with Castro in 1958 was not published in Bohemia until Feb. 22, 1959.
Alles fled Cuba in 1961 and worked as a writer and editor for a string of exile publications, including Bohemia in exile, Replica magazine and Miami radio stations WQBA, WRHC and WCMQ.
Alles caught up with Castro in 1991, when the Cuban leader was visiting Mexico. Castro immediately recognized him in a hotel lobby, called him by the nickname “Agustincito" and asked him how he was doing.
Very well, Alles replied, working. When Castro asked where, Alles stuck out his microphone, said Radio Marti and asked him a question, according to published reports from that time.
“In the interview that I did with you in Sierra Maestra, you said that your government program was democracy, freedom and respect for human rights. Why did you not give that to the Cuban people?”
Castro’s answer: “I don’t remember promising that.”
When Alles pressed that his promises had been published in Bohemia in 1959, Castro answered, “Well, I have done everything I have promised.”
Alles served as news director of Radio Marti, the U.S. government broadcaster to Cuba, from 1991 to 1995 and collaborated closely with Jorge Mas Canosa, one of the station’s main supporters and a founder of the Cuban American National Foundation.
He remained at Radio Marti after 1995 as a senior supervisor and assignment editor until his retirement on Dec. 31, 2011.
Alles was survived by Eneida Alles — his wife of 53 years, son Peter and daughter Eneida Yanes.
Services will be held Thursday from 6 p.m. to midnight at the Bernardo Garcia Funeral Home in Kendall.