Former correspondent remembers Fidel Castro’s son as a ‘virtual prisoner’ in Cuba

Fidel Castro with his son Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart during an interview in Havana after the 1959 revolution.
Fidel Castro with his son Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart during an interview in Havana after the 1959 revolution. AP

In 1967, as a staff writer and columnist for the Miami Herald, I wrote a piece on Fidelito, who was a teenager then. The article had a gloomy tone. It started like this:

“Fidelito, a shy, dark-haired youth, once was the most popular boy in Cuba. But time and circumstances have brought a change in fortunes for Fidel Castro Jr. Today, at 17 and living under an assumed name, Fidelito is a forgotten figure and virtual prisoner in the country his father rules.”

For some reason known only to him, Castro always showed little affection for his son, once making a habit of refusing to see wife Mirtha Díaz-Balart and Fidelito when they came to visit at the Isle of Pines prison where he was jailed in the mid 1950s.

Castro’s aloofness from the boy brought him closer to his mother, a woman in her late 30s in 1967 who remarried in 1956. Fidelito lived much of his early life with his mother and her new husband, lawyer Emilio Núñez Blanco. Life was good with his mom and stepfather at Tarará Beach, east of Havana.

But then Castro seized power on Jan. 1, 1959, and claimed the boy. A life of hell began for Fidelito. He went from one boarding school to another. His name was changed several times. At boarding school both in Cuba and Moscow he finally yielded to communist indoctrination — much to his mother’s disdain — after showing earlier contempt for the doctrine.

With Castro now controlling both Cuba and the boy, Mirtha and her husband moved to Madrid, Spain with their two baby daughters. My wife Olga and I visited with Mirtha and her husband in Madrid often. Always, Fidelito remained the love of her life. He would telephone her from Havana weekly, and once even called while we were at the apartment.

Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, son of Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro with his mother Mirta Diaz-Balart, during the opening session of a scientific seminar in Havana Friday Nov. 14, 2008. Ismael Francisco AP

Today, Mirtha is 90 years old and frail and living again in Havana as a single mother. She once told a common friend that Fidelito and his two half sisters were what were keeping her alive. Back in Havana, Fidelito visited daily and looked after her with a passion after his father grandly turned his back on him (Castro once put Fidelito under house arrest after publicly firing him for “incompetence” as head of Cuba’s nuclear power program).

Fidelito is now tragically missing from Mirtha’s life. Maybe her head is not what it once was, and she hasn’t been told yet. But she will soon notice that her boy is no longer visiting daily, and bringing along his own children. And that could prove too much for Mirtha’s strong, tired heart.

To read the full article from 1967, click here.

Carlos Martínez Barraqué, who worked for the Miami Herald in the 1960s, is retired.

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