Fabiola Santiago

A match made in hell: Epstein, Fidel Castro, and the Lolita Express that flew to Cuba

The day before Jeffrey Epstein flew to Havana on his Lolita Express, 75 dissidents, independent journalists and librarians were rounded up across the island in a series of brutal raids that became known as the Cuban Black Spring.

I doubt the multimillionaire financier with a penchant for trafficking minors for sex went to advocate for human rights.

Epstein made the likely illegal trip to the island in 2003 from the Bahamas, off the grid, at Fidel Castro’s invitation.

Call theirs a match made in hell: the ruthless dictator and the sexual predator.

Former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana says he traveled to Cuba with Jeffrey Epstein at Fidel Castro’s invitation in 2003. Miami Herald files

Epstein flew to Cuba with Andrés Pastrana, the Colombian former president, who revealed the connection Wednesday after he was forced to explain why his name was on the flight manifest of Epstein’s private jet. Yes, the same one Epstein used to shuttle around the world the young girls he exploited, ages 13-17.

“Amid journalistic revelations about horrifying and reprehensible sex scandals of financier Jeffrey Epstein, a trip of mine on his plane to Nassau, Bahamas has appeared, to transfer to the final destination of Havana, Cuba, invited by President Fidel Castro,” Pastrana said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“Mr. Jeffrey Epstein left Cuba a day or two later; I stayed on the island,” Pastrana said.

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Given the timeline of his crimes, Epstein was probably already scouting for quick places to flee and hide from investigations launched in 2002 in Palm Beach County and New York into an expansive sex ring that spanned from his Manhattan mansion to his own Caribbean island home, and on to Europe.

Cuba was then and remains now a well-known oasis for U.S. fugitives, an island so close geographically yet so far away from the reach of U.S. law enforcement. From welfare frauds to a cop killer, those wanted by the law feel protected by the regime’s hatred for the U.S. government and the lack of an extradition treaty.

At the same time, and particularly from 2001 to 2003 before the dissident crackdown, Castro was basking in the accolades of the clueless Hollywood left, who were angry that George W. Bush was president. Cuban Americans in Miami had helped Bush get elected by a thread. Bush had tightened travel to and from the island.

The list of stars who traveled to Cuba in the early 2000s under cultural exchange and art-making exemptions was diverse and despicable, the talented and the mediocre in the same sack.

Jack Nicholson proclaimed Castro “a genius.” Oliver Stone said he was “very selfless and moral. One of the world’s wisest men.” Naomi Campbell, one of many celebrities who traveled in Epstein’s jet, said meeting Castro was “a dream come true!”

Kevin Costner, who in 2001 gave Castro a private screening of his film “13 Days,” which dramatizes the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, gushed at a press conference: “It was an experience of a lifetime to sit only a few feet away from him and watch him relive an experience he lived as a very young man.”

But the best propaganda yet came from Stone, who turned three days in Havana with Castro into the celebratory documentary “Comandante,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2003.

Fidel Castro and Oliver Stone in Havana. Archivo/Miami Herald

HBO, however, canceled its showing in the aftermath of international outrage over the dissident crackdown and the execution of three men who hijacked a ferry to flee to the United States, a mere nine days after their arrest. Stone pronounced himself “heartbroken” and went on to make two more films, “Looking for Fidel” in 2003 and “Castro in Winter” in 2012.

Yes, 2003 was a horrible year in Cuba.

It’s not surprising that a villain like Epstein, who lured vulnerable girls with the promise of earning a couple of hundred dollars for a massage, is in the historical mix.

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Jeffrey Epstein ran in celebrity circles and partied with them, so Cuba would have easily been on his radar.

Pastrana, who served as Colombia’s ambassador to the United States from 2005-06, said he first met Epstein at the Academy of Achievement summit held in Ireland in June 2002.

“I met Mr. Jeffrey Epstein in Ireland when I was honored at the ‘Summit of Achievements’ in Dublin, a widely publicized ceremony that was attended by Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Clinton, Bono and Jeremy Irons. I never knew about Mr. Jeffrey Epstein’s now-infamous island,” Pastrana said.

Now let’s hear more about the trip to Cuba.

Pastrana has a lot more information to give about the extent of Epstein’s VIP visit to the island and whatever exchanges took place with Castro.

The Cuban dictator, who suffered from cancer, died in Nov. 25, 2016, at age 90 from what the regime called “natural causes.”

Epstein’s death in his Manhattan cell on Aug. 10 at 66 from an apparent suicide — a convenient one for the powerful whose secrets he held — is under investigation as is his sex trafficking ring and those involved in the conspiracy.

One less creep in the world is nothing to mourn, but it denied Epstein’s victims their right to face their abuser in court. That, he also has in common with the Cuban dictator.

Castro’s victims, too, remain largely unheard.

If there’s a hell, dictator and predator should both be burning in it now.

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Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”