The death of Fidel Castro has raised uncomfortable questions about the future of his immediate family, a group remarkable both for its size — at least seven, and maybe up to 11 sons and daughters — and for how little is known about it.
Except for perhaps two of the sons, Fidel’s wife and their other children are largely unknown to Cubans, have held no political jobs and appear to have no ambition of playing a role in the island’s future.
But Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, successor and long-time manager of Castro family affairs, will need to take care of them to protect Fidel’s legacy and assure their security and economic solvency, according to several analysts.
They will not get top government jobs, the analysts added, but will be allowed to quietly capitalize on their surname so they can earn a living and remain at least publicly loyal to Raúl Castro and his successors.
“It would be terrible if Fidel’s children started to complain that they were broke, that they had been abandoned by their father’s revolution,” said a former top aide to Raúl Castro now living in Florida.
Fidel Castro left behind such a large family — a wife of some 50 years and children by several women — that Miami blogger Emilio Ichikawa once joked made him “a sort of national breeding stud.”
His nuclear family in Cuba has seven members: wife Dalia Soto del Valle, the blonde, green-eyed literacy teacher he met around 1961; their five sons; and his oldest son, Fidel “Fidelito” Castro Diaz-Balart, from his first marriage.
Dalia is a “strong person” who rules the family roost when Fidel is not around but has no personal or political power or ambitions, said Juan R. Sánchez, a top Fidel bodyguard for 17 years before he defected in 2009.
“I expect Raúl will continue to take care of them, like he took care of the others,” Sánchez told El Nuevo Herald, referring to the younger brother’s reputation for personally handling most Castro family affairs.
Raúl also likely will provide for Fidelito, Sánchez added, “not a front-row job but something in government.” He said that Fidelito lived many years in the same Havana apartment building as Raúl, and the two get along well.
Dalia and her sons will want to assure their post-Fidel survival, but they lack political muscle and therefore will avoid any possible tensions with Raúl, said Delfín Fernández, an aide to the Fidel and Raúl Castro families who defected in 1999.
“They will be more interested in securing the financial legacy of the family — their opportunities to do business, to capitalize on the Fidel name,” Fernández added in an interview.
Fidel kept his family under a veil of secrecy for decades, saying it was necessary because of the 600-plus alleged plots to assassinate him. The first details of Dalia and their sons became public in 1992, when their oldest son already was about 30 years old. Their first photos were published in 2000 — in the foreign media. Most Cubans would not recognize them if they saw them on the street.
The names of Dalia’s five sons all begin with A — Alexis, Alexander, Antonio, Alejandro and Angel — because of Fidel’s admiration for the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great. They use the surnames Castro Soto del Valle.
Most of them went to the Lenin school in Havana, reserved for Cuba’s elite, and live much of their time in Punto Cero, the tightly guarded compound west of Havana where Fidel, Raúl and other senior revolutionary leaders live.
Friends say the sons often call Dalia “ma” but refer to their father as “the professor” because they want to avoid both the unthinkably familiar “papi” and a first name that would be just too powerful to drop in normal conversations.
Fidel insisted his children be raised in the brand of revolutionary austerity that he espoused, and visitors have described his home as far better than Cuba’s average yet more modest than the homes of most Latin American leaders.
When Fidelito failed in his role as the head of the country’s nuclear-power program, his father not only fired him but publicly blasted his shortcomings. “He was fired for incompetence,” the father declared.
Only Fidelito and Antonio, team doctor for the national baseball squad, are known to have regular jobs. Several are reported to have worked in computers and photography, and the youngest, Angel, is said to run a car repair shop.
Yet all have access to goods and benefits out of reach of the average Cuban — smartphones, home Internet access and food stores set aside for the country’s elite. At some points they also have been alleged to have traded on their family name to obtain gifts, commissions or other benefits from foreign businessmen and visitors.
The family patriarch also has tried to keep his sons from getting too close to Raúl’s progeny, who were raised in a less austere environment, according to Fidel daughter Alina Fernandez, now a Miami radio host.
Raúl’s offspring in fact may prove to be critical to the future of Fidel’s family, Sánchez and Fernandez said, because they clearly have political power — enough to spark speculation that one of them may succeed him.
Raúl’s only son, Alejandro, is a colonel in the security forces who serves as his father’s top national security adviser and heads a government committee on corruption — a critical but highly sensitive topic on the island.
Described as being almost as powerful and perhaps more ambitious than Alejandro is Raúl’s son-in-law, Luis Alberto Fernandez Lopez-Callejas, an armed forces general who heads GAESA, the company that administers the Cuban military’s multimillion dollar businesses — from tourist hotels in Cuba to companies in Africa, Europe and Central America.
Fernandez is married to Raúl’s daughter Deborah. Another daughter, Mariela, is well known as a gay-rights activist, member of the legislative National Assembly of People’s Power and head of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. Little is known about another daughter named Nilsa.
“Fidel’s family will be protected as long as Raúl is there,” said Sánchez. “But after a [leadership] succession, their status may become less certain.”
FIDEL CASTRO’S FAMILY:
▪ Dalia Soto del Valle, who met Castro around 1961. Some reports say they never married, others say they made it official in 1980 — 18 years after she bore him their first son. Born in the south central city of Trinidad to a wealthy family that owned a house in town and a large farm nearby, she is believed to have several nephews and nieces in the United States.
▪ Mirta Diaz-Balart, a daughter of a wealthy and politically connected family, married Castro in 1948 and divorced him in 1955. The aunt of Florida Republicans Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, she lives in Spain.
▪ Fidel “Fidelito” Castro Diaz-Balart. Born in 1949 to Mirta, he studied nuclear physics in the Soviet Union under the code name José Raúl Fernández. He was executive secretary of Cuba's Nuclear Energy Commission from 1980 until his dismissal in 1992. Last reported to be working as a consultant to the Ministry of Basic Industries, he is believed to have divorced his Russian first wife and married a Cuban woman.
▪ Alina Fernández, born to Natalia “Naty” Revuelta after an affair with Castro. Fernandez fled Cuba in 1993 and now hosts a radio program in Miami called Simplemente Alina.
▪ Alexis Castro Soto del Valle, the oldest of Castro's five sons with Dalia. Born in 1962, he has been reported to be involved with photography and computers.
▪ Alexander Castro Soto del Valle, born in 1963. A photographer and videographer, sometimes reported to be involved in computers.
▪ Antonio Castro Soto del Valle, born in 1969. An orthopedic surgeon, he is the best known of Dalia’s sons because of his role as team physician for Cuba’s national baseball team and vice president of the Cuban Baseball Federation.
▪ Alejandro Castro Soto del Valle, reported to be in charge of a computer company.
▪ Angel Castro Soto del Valle, born in 1974. Reported to have studied medicine but to be more interested in fixing new cars and restoring old ones.
There have been several reports of other children, some more reliable than others:
▪ Jorge Angel, reportedly born in mid-1950s. Author Ann Louise Bardach identified the mother as Maria Laborde.
▪ Bardach also reported a a daughter, Panchita Pupo, by a woman from Santa Clara, who now lives in Florida.
▪ Ciro, identified by Bardach as the product of another Castro fling in the early 1960s. He allegedly works in sports medicine and lives in Havana.
▪ A Cuban intelligence defector claimed in 2007 that Castro had another son, named Fito and born around 1970 after an affair with Roxana Rodriguez, the wife of Abraham Masiques, a former director of the Cubanacan tourism agency.