Fidel Castro’s oldest son — Fidel “Fidelito” Castro Díaz-Balart — committed suicide on Thursday in Havana, according to Cuba’s state media.
Castro, 68, whose resemblance to his father earned him the nickname “Fidelito,” had been seeking medical attention for the past few months after falling into a “deep depression,” Cuban officials said.
“His delicate health situation required hospitalization and then continued with outpatient follow-ups as he reintegrated himself back into society,” a reporter said on Cuban television.
Fidelito was born to Fidel Castro’s first wife, Mirta Díaz-Balart, on Sept. 1, 1949 in Havana. He was cousin to Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart — two South Florida Republican political leaders known for their vehement opposition to Castro. Mario is a congressman; his brother Lincoln is a former congressman and now an attorney.
Along with Castro’s wife Dalia Soto del Valle, Fidelito and six siblings formed Castro’s family.
Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Coral Gables-based nonprofit Cuban Studies Institute, said Fidelito was the only one of Castro’s children who chose a life in government and politics.
“He worked with his father, and his father tried to build him up,” Suchlicki said.
The son was sent to the Soviet Union to study nuclear physics, and he oversaw Cuba’s nuclear power program from 1980 to 1992 — until Castro publicly fired his son.
“He was fired for incompetence,” the father declared.
In the twilight of Castro’s life, Fidelito’s role and stature diminished, a trend that continued when Castro’s brother, Raúl Castro, took over in 2006. Fidel Castro died in November 2016 at age 90 — one of the last times Fidelito was seen in public.
The eldest son of the Cuba’s revolutionary leader had less clout in recent years.
“In the past few years, his star had been declining. He hadn’t been doing much,” Suchlicki said. “I understand he was depressed for a while.”
Frank Calzon, executive director for the advocacy group Center for a Free Cuba, said there may be tensions in the Castro family stemming from Raúl Castro’s ascendancy to power.
“There has been some speculation of the anger and disappointment of Fidel’s family after General Raúl Castro became president and his children took the spotlight, and hardly anything else was heard of Fidel’s offspring,” Calzon said, adding he didn’t know whether the tense family relations played any role in Fidelito’s suicide.
Calzon noted that other prominent figures in Cuba’s Castro-era history have taken their own lives. Haydée Santamaría, a heroine of the revolution who remained in a leadership position until her death, killed herself on the anniversary of the revolution in 1980. Eddy Suñol, a rebel army officer who later became a judge, killed himself after Fidel Castro overruled one of his decisions.
The suicide rate in Cuba is among the highest in the Americas, according to a 2014 study by the Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of the World Health Organization.
Prior to his death, Fidelito served as a scientific adviser to the Cuban government and was the vice president of the country’s Academy of Sciences.
He began his studies in Cuba and later moved to the now-defunct Soviet Union, where he received his Ph.D. in physics from the Kurchatov Institute in Russia. He later earned a degree from Lomonosov Moscow State University and continued his studies in Cuba and Spain.
He had three children — Mirta María, Fidel Antonio and José Raúl — with his first wife Natasha Smirnova, whom he met in Russia. After divorcing Smirnova, he married María Victoria Barreiro from Cuba.
Fidelito is also survived by five half brothers: Alexis, Alexander, Antonio, Alejandro and Angel (children of Castro’s second wife), as well as a half sister, Alina Fernández Revuelta, who was born out of wedlock.
Funeral arrangements will be made by the family, according to Cuban officials.
El Nuevo Herald Staff Writer Nora Gámez Torres and Miami Herald Staff Writer Glenn Garvin contributed to this report.