> Castro fought for return of his young son
> By ANN LOUISE BARDACH
> Special to the [Ft. Lauderdale] Sun-Sentinel
> Web-posted: 7:20 p.m. Jan. 14, 2000
> Some time ago, a Cuban father learned that his
> estranged wife had taken off for the United States,
> along with their 5-year-old son. Enraged at the
> prospect of his child being raised in the land of
> Yankee imperialism -- by relatives who supported
> his political enemies -- the father wrote to his sister:
> "I refuse even to think that my son may sleep a single
> night under the same roof sheltering my most repulsive
> enemies and receive on his innocent cheeks the kisses
> of those miserable Judases."
> The father later tricked the boy's mother into letting
> the child visit him in Mexico, then refused to return
> him; she hired kidnappers and got the boy back,
> eventually taking him to the United States. After a
> protracted battle, however, the father prevailed and
> the child ended up in Havana.
> At a moment when emotions have vanquished
> reason over the fate of 6-year-old Eli=E1n Gonzalez,
> this 45-year-old case is worth noting. That is
> because the divorced Cuban father was Fidel
> Castro; the abducted child, his firstborn son, Fidelito.
> Some clues to the passion and tenacity of the fight
> over Eli=E1n may lie in Castro's own family history.
> In some respects, both for Castro and for those
> exiled Cubans who despise him, the personal _is _
> the political -- and the four-decade stalemate between
> Miami and Havana is a huge family feud.
> In 1954, Castro's own family mirrored the schism
> that would eventually divide much of Cuban society.
> At 28, Castro, a rebel leader seeking to overthrow
> the dictator Fulgencio Batista, was in prison for a
> failed attack on the Moncada military garrison a year
> earlier. His wife of six years, Mirta Diaz-Balart, was
> from a powerful family with connections to the Batista
> regime. That summer, Diaz-Balart announced that
> she wanted a divorce and left for the United States,
> taking Fidelito with her. (Eventually, all the Diaz-Balarts
> emigrated to Miami; Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the Republican
> congressman from Miami who has championed the
> crusade to keep Eli=E1n in the United States, is
> Mirta Diaz-Balart's nephew.)
> =46rom his jail cell, the indomitable Castro instructed
> his lawyers to fight for custody of his son. He even
> threatened to block the divorce unless Fidelito was
> returned and enrolled in a school in Havana. In the
> same letter to his sister Lidia in which he described
> his in-laws as "Judases," he wrote: "To take this
> child away from me . . . they would have to kill me. I
> lose my head when I think about these things." Should
> the courts rule against him, he vowed, he would
> "fight until death."
> But Castro lost the first battle. By year's end, Diaz-Balart
> had gotten her divorce and retained custody. Writing to
> Lidia, Castro fumed, "One day I'll be out of here and I'll
> get my son and my honor back -- even if the earth
> should be destroyed in the process . . . . If they think
> they can wear me down and that I'll give up the fight,
> they're going to find out that . . . I am prepared to
> reenact the famous Hundred Years' War. And I'll win it."
> Released from prison in mid-1955, Castro fled to
> Mexico with a group of supporters. There he plotted
> dual strategies: his triumphant return to Cuba and
> getting custody of his son.
> In an emotional plea to Diaz-Balart in the fall of 1956,
> he asked that Fidelito be allowed to visit him in
> Mexico. He was about to undertake a perilous
> expedition, he argued, and it might well be his
> last chance to see his cherished son. Diaz-Balart
> relented, accepting his promise "as a gentleman"
> to return the boy in two weeks.
> But when the two weeks were over, the boy was not
> sent back to his mother. Instead, Castro installed
> him in the walled Mexico City mansion of a wealthy
> couple who were his allies and patrons. In a Nov. 24
> letter to the couple, Castro defended his trickery, saying
> that he acted not "through resentment of any kind, but
> only thinking of my son's future."
> On the eve of his return to Cuba to launch his offensive
> against the Batista regime, he wrote what amounted to
> a will -- bequeathing his son, in the event of his death,
> not to Diaz-Balart but to the Mexico City couple. The
> issues were not personal, he claimed, but political:
> "Because my wife has proven to be incapable of
> breaking away from the influence of her family, my
> son could be educated with the detestable ideas
> that I now fight . . . I am leaving him with those who
> can give him a better education, to a good and
> generous couple who have been, as well, our
> best friends in exile . . . . And I leave my son also
> to Mexico, to grow and be educated here in this
> free and hospitable land . . . . He should not
> return to Cuba until it is free or he can fight for its freedom."
> With that, Castro and his rebel _barbudos_ [bearded ones]
> sailed back to Cuba on the legendary Granma.
> A week later, a distraught Diaz-Balart flew to Mexico
> City, where her politically connected family, with the
> help of the Cuban Embassy, retained three
> professionals to recapture her son. The armed
> men followed Fidel's sisters, Emma and Lidia,
> as they strolled through Chapultepec Park with
> =46idelito. On their way home, the men cut off the
> Castro car and snatched the boy. After Emma
> complained to the police, the Cuban foreign
> minister responded coolly that "the child is
> with his mother, which excludes the possibility
> of a kidnapping."
> Diaz-Balart, who had remarried the son of a Cuban
> diplomat, then took Fidelito to New York, where he
> attended school in Queens for almost a year.
> But Diaz-Balart's victory was short-lived. In January
> 1959, when Castro seized control of his country, he
> promptly took charge of his son as well. He convinced
> Diaz-Balart to return Fidelito to Havana, where both
> appeared in a February 1959 television interview with
> Edward R. Murrow on _Person to Person_. On camera,
> Castro -- speaking English and wearing stylish white
> pajamas -- summoned his son, and the fair-haired
> =46idelito, clutching a puppy and looking not unlike Beaver
> Cleaver, rushed to kiss his adoring father. "Hello, Fidel
> Junior," boomed Murrow. "That's a very good-looking
> puppy you have. Is he yours?" Speaking English as
> fluently as an American kid on a playground, Fidelito
> grinned and responded, "No -- someone gave it to
> my father as a present!"
> (The scene was not unlike that of Eli=E1n Gonzalez
> who played in his relatives' Little Havana yard recently
> with a puppy, a present from Congressman Diaz-Balart,
> =46idelito's cousin.)
> Later Fidelito would be sent to the Soviet Union where
> he studied to be a physicist and married a Russian.
> He went on to become the head of Cuba's nuclear
> power program. Today, a businessman, he lives with
> his second wife and three children in Havana. By all
> reports, he is said to be a doting father. Diaz-Balart
> lives in Spain, but visits her son and his family often
> in Havana. She has never spoken publicly about her
> former husband, but according to close friends, their
> relationship is said to be amicable.
> Castro casts himself as the patriarch not only of his
> family, but of his country. In a 1993 interview, I asked
> him what he regarded as his greatest mistake, and
> he responded, "We may have been guilty of excessive
> But as students of exile politics well know, the most
> tragic casualty of the Castro years has been the
> Cuban family. Like the American Civil War, the
> Cuban Revolution ripped apart thousands of
> families -- with children pitted against parents,
> brothers against sisters. Castro's own family
> has been no exception.
> Another one of Castro's sisters, Juanita, has long
> lived in Miami, where she has been a vocal critic of
> her brother's policies. His illegitimate and ignored
> daughter, Alina Fernandez, also fled the island and
> periodically lashes out at her father. It appears that
> Castro has done far better with his sons, including
> the five he has raised with his wife of 35 years, Dalia
> Soto del Valle, who hails from the port city of Trinidad
> and rarely appears in public with him -- and who has
> seen her own extended family torn along the same
> ideological divide.
> Ironically, a primary source of income for Cuba comes
> from the estimated $1 billion sent annually to the island
> from the million-plus Cuban exiles living in the United
> States. Many are the same people who demonstrate
> in the streets of Miami ranting against the Castro
> government and against any aid to Cuba -- that is,
> with the exception of their own families.
> And many are the same people who are vehemently
> protesting the Immigration and Naturalization Service
> decision to send Eli=E1n Gonzalez back to his father and
> four grandparents -- yet another Cuban family in which
> the political and the personal have become irrevocably
> There are thousands of families for whom reconciliation
> will come only with the next generations.
> ;As the world has seen, Fidel Castro is a scorched-earth
> warrior. His belligerent intractability is a point of honor
> with him as he made clear in another letter where he
> boasted of becoming "a man of iron."
> "You know I have a steel heart," he wrote his sister.
> =46or diehards who declare that they would rather wait
> until the Castro, 73, dies before lifting the embargo,
> they had best be prepared for a long wait. The Castro
> family tends to be long lived. Both of Castro's older
> siblings, Angela and Ramon, are said to be fit. One
> Castro relation who lives in Los Angeles, returned
> to Santiago last year for his mother's 105th birthday.
> That would be roughly 32 years of more of the same.
> Ann Louise Bardach, visiting professor of international
> journalism at the University of California at Santa Barbara,
> has interviewed Fidel Castro twice and written extensively
> on Cuba for The New York Times, The New Republic and
> Vanity Fair. A version of this story ran in The Washington Post.