Castro's Daughter: An Exile's Memoir of Cubaby Alina Fernandez
In this memoir, published in English for the first time, Alina shares the extraordinary story of her experiences growing up in the shadow of Fidel Castro. Hers is an unflinching, brutally honest account that recognizes her father's successes but does not shy away from his excesses, failures, and misdeeds. She even suggests that her father's forces may have allowed Che… See more details below
In this memoir, published in English for the first time, Alina shares the extraordinary story of her experiences growing up in the shadow of Fidel Castro. Hers is an unflinching, brutally honest account that recognizes her father's successes but does not shy away from his excesses, failures, and misdeeds. She even suggests that her father's forces may have allowed Che Guevera to die in order to create the "necessary hero." Already an international bestseller, Castro's Daughter is a glimpse of this powerful man never before seen by the world, and not to be missed.
- St. Martin's Press
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An Exile's Memoir Of Cuba
By Alina Fernández, Dolores M. Koch
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1997 Alina Fernández
All rights reserved.
My Genealogical Tree
Once upon a time in western England, there was a young lad who lived in the town of Newcastle-under-Lyme. His name was Herbert Acton Clews.
Once upon a time in Galicia, Spain, there was a boy named Ángel Castro, who lived in a coastal town in Lugo. And once again, there was a boy in Istanbul, who had ancestral memories of a greater empire, when his family of Jewish renegades probably dropped a letter from their last name, shortening it to Ruz.
All three boys were restless with yearnings for a new life.
This was also true in the north of Spain, in the city of Santander, for a youth named Agustín Revuelta y San Román. He was a descendant of a Caballero Cubierto ante la Reina in the Spanish court. In some Spanish-speaking countries a Caballero "Cubierto," or "covered" nobleman, was one who had the right to keep his prepuce intact. In the case of Agustín's ancestor, the term only meant that he could keep his head covered in the presence of Her Majesty.
For various reasons, these real machos all decided to venture into a faraway world. They were all adventurers who did not care much about their roots. They cared about power. Power has always been seen as good fortune, and good fortune has always meant one thing: money.
They boarded their respective ships at dawn. The seas offered them no resistance and peacefully allowed them the freedom of all possible destinations.
Almost in concert, with each following in the other's wake as if retracing a well-marked trail in the waters, they all arrived at the capital port of Havana. This was the location that Morgan the pirate, centuries earlier, had avoided when burying his treasure, in preference for the fleshier, more flamboyant beaches of María la Gorda, a tropical lady of joy who in the midst of her apoplectic, orgasmic panting had shown him the unique gift of a secret valley, yet to be discovered.
Though Herbert, the English lad, suffered from anosmia, an impaired sense of smell, he had a highly developed sense for the scent of money.
One of the Spaniards, the Galician named Angel, arrived as a recruit of the Spanish army. He had been captured in a medieval-style levy that he had not been able to escape.
The Turk, who faced unexpected turns of events in the confusion of the colonizing wars, decided to adopt the Castilian first name of Francisco.
The other Spanish youth, the one from Santander, had brought with him a letter of recommendation. Upon arriving in Havana, he established himself in business as a haberdasher and married a local girl named María. They were soon blessed with a son, Manolo Revuelta.
The women with whom each of these men would one day start their families were already in Cuba, totally innocent of their future but waiting for the husbands destined to join them. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were many beautiful women of mixed ancestry and social standing in Cuba: young mulattoes, the daughters of Spanish immigrants and statuesque black women; or those with proud noses and serene demeanor, whose Native American blood could be detected even centuries later; and the daughters of Chinese immigrants and mulatto women, or of French landowners and Haitian women. Over time, these racially mixed women grew lighter-skinned.
It did not take long for the Clews, Castro, Ruz, and Revuelta families to cross paths. Fate is promiscuous.
Only one of the men, Ángel Castro, had to return in defeat to his homeland. He was shattered by Cuba's war of independence, a heroic war that lasted three years, from 1895 to 1898, freed the slaves, and ravaged the eastern provinces. During the uprisings in the struggle for freedom, the insurgents, called mambises, had burned the sugarcane fields, and their women had set their homes on fire.
When the Spanish government demobilized its colonial troops in Cuba, Ángel was granted a small pension, which he promptly used to return to the Island of his dreams. He had an unmatched shrewdness and a well-devised plan to put it to work.
After buying a meager piece of land somewhere in the easternmost province, he began to create a country estate for himself in a place called Birán, gradually expanding his holdings, and thus his power. He married María Luisa Argote, with whom he had two children, Pedro Emilio and Lidia.
The British lad, Clews, had nothing to do with the Cuban War of Independence, but ended up in it purely by chance. He was a naval engineer and, during his frequent voyages, he managed to learn the value of precious woods. He already owned a sawmill before he started a business of smuggling arms to sell to the insurgent Cubans, the mambises, in their struggle against Spain. When he was denounced to the Spanish authorities, who began looking for him, he fled deep into the countryside, and by the end of the war he had attained the rank of colonel in the insurgent Cuban army.
An old daguerreotype shows him, buck naked, bathing in a river.
The prestige of having been a mambí resulted in Clews's appointment, together with a few other engineers, to build the initial section of the Malecón de La Habana, the seawall and shore drive that begins precisely at the port that Morgan the pirate had purposefully avoided. Clews's various travels took him to Artemisa, in the westernmost province of Pinar del Río, at the opposite end of the Island from Ángel's domain. There he set up an electric plant, and married Natalia Loreto Álvarez de la Vallina. They had four sons and one daughter, whom they called Natica. She was the image of perfection. Her fateful beauty came into this world with the new era.
Though Francisco Ruz may have harbored memories of past incarnations in Turkey, the one in Cuba was not favorable to him. It has been said that his lack of direction spoke for itself: giving up too easily was one of his habits. Only the winds of defeat and the divining power of snails and coconuts from his wife's santería finally propelled him to start moving one morning on a trek that would take them to the other end of the Island, trying to escape their dire poverty.
With his wife, Dominga, and three daughters on top of a cart pulled by two oxen, he started from a town near Artemisa. They had to trudge along for almost eight hundred miles before they reached the fateful Birán. Their youngest daughter was named Lina.
The lineage of Revuelta did not carry any patriotic prestige, in spite of the fact that it included some courtiers who could keep their heads covered in the presence of their queen. In their Spanish hometown of Santander, from pharmacist to hardware store owner, they had maintained a name of prosperous standing. But Agustín's son Manolo, a criollo, or Spaniard born on the Island, felt no compulsion to seek a fortune. He was the kind of man that women can't resist. He seduced them with his bedroom eyes—with that intimate look that seems to see through garments.
His handsomeness was intense but vulnerable, his personality overwhelming. He sailed through life with a guitar and the voice of a troubadour.
Actually, Manolo did not see much beyond the nebula surrounding him. He had grown fond of a popular concoction made with Cuban rum, sugar, and a sprig of spearmint, that sublime poison known as mojito. He never missed a chance to indulge.
The twentieth century was just taking its first steps when Lenin, under the spell of dear old Karl Marx and his court of celestial Engels, sat one day under a chestnut tree by the Medici fountain in the gardens of the Palace of Luxemburg in Paris, and asked himself, "What is to be done?"
Lenin had enjoyed all the pleasures brothels had to offer, and had even managed to take as booty a disease that in other times would have been considered shameful. The French government had courteously provided him with protection and assistance, and was paying him an exile's pension. "What is to be done?" he mused. The eternal murmur of the fountain waters granted him an inspiring answer. He began to write as if possessed, and was able then to rest with the clear conscience of those who know they have the power to change destinies. He returned to Russia soon after.
After Francisco Ruz and Dominga had traveled the length of the island in their wagon of Misfortune, they reached Birán. There were not many options open to them, except to drown themselves and their progeny in the ocean.
The only thing Dominga had left was her knowledge of magic and her three daughters. Don Ángel quickly made a choice of one of them.
He appreciated the liveliness of their youngest daughter, Lina, who was the same age as his daughter Lidia. The girl had no inhibitions. She overflowed with an exuberant, rebellious energy, quite unlike the submissive and defeated country girls whom he had gotten pregnant and who bore him many children, causing him not much sorrow but giving him little joy.
Around the same time, the British mambí, Herbert Clews, already established in the city of Havana, was trying to convince his daughter Natica—a marvel of incongruity already accustomed to stopping shows and trolley cars with her beauty wherever she went—not to marry an alcoholic inspector of public works. In his Spanish laced with vestiges of Anglo-Saxon tones, he predicted: "This is going to ruin your life."
Unflinching, Natica, one of the most celebrated and beautiful women in Havana, a muse to couturiers and the chosen target of satyrs, finally married Manolo, a penniless boozer, and left behind an endless string of broken hearts. The couple soon had a daughter, born under the sign of Sagittarius.
Don Ángel, the authoritarian gallego, owner of a forgotten corner of the country, who had tenderly pawed the garments off the young Lina Ruz, slowly came to adore her, and lovingly continued to give her children.
Their third child was born at dawn, under the sign of Leo. After consulting the stars, Dominga knelt, kissed the ground, and said to her daughter Lina: "This is the only one of your children destined for big things in life."
Natalia (Naty), the granddaughter of Herbert Clews, and Fidel, the grandson of Francisco Ruz, were born four months apart and at opposite ends of the island of Cuba, that lopsided alligator in the sand. They were also separated by far-reaching life forces that select and determine avatars and destinies.
Naty was properly baptized. Fidel, being born out of wedlock, could not be.
But Ángel Castro had some nobility left, hidden somewhere in his pride. He had a talk with his wife, María Luisa, and told her that the arrangement was not fair to all those children that Lina kept bearing him.
When he divorced her, María Luisa was granted only a meager pension; the powerful Spaniard kept one of his two children, Pedro Emilio.
Ángel's daughter, Lidia, became "Perfidia," developing her resentment from the moment she had to forsake the usual comforts of her farm to live in a house with her mother, the wife abandoned in favor of the mistress.
Naty grew up alone in a home strangely divided between her matriarchal mother, Natica, and her hopelessly existentialist father, Manolo. She had large green eyes and a gaze too wise for her years. She was a force of nature. At two, she managed to survive acidosis, a disease that was then killing children by the hundreds. Natica had already traveled the road to despair and back while watching her daughter fade away with unstoppable vomiting. One morning, fearing the girl was dead, she sat in the living room and burst into tears. Then she saw a black angel pass by. It was Naty, covered with the black bean mush she had spilled on herself from a pot in the kitchen. She had broken the liquid diet to which she had been restricted for days. In doing so she saved herself.
At fifteen Naty repeated her feat when she contracted brucellosis and had to spend months in feverish delirium soaking in a bathtub with ice cubes.
She survived leptospira, hepatitis, and the bite of a dog that viciously sank its fangs into her.
She turned into a beautiful adolescent and soon was the toast of Havana. She was invited to all social events because of her pealing laughter, her flexible dancer's waist, and her striking combination of blond hair, tanned complexion, and voluptuous criolla figure.
Young Fidel, together with his older siblings, spent his first days in a thatched bohío north of the Castro estate. Here his grandmother Dominga and his mother, Lina, invoked the beneficial spirits in never-ending incantations, a candle in one hand and a glass of water in the other.
Without facing any threats to his health, he was nonetheless lucky to survive his numerous attempts at flying before he was five.
His education started in a little wooden schoolhouse, several miles away from the farm. At dawn, the kids had to venture into a rough strip of land between thickets of tall guinea grass and marabú to get to their single classroom. Fidel's brothers had to keep him at the end of the line because while on their way he had gotten into the habit of taking three steps forward and one backward.
He also used to engage in a stare-down game of challenging the sun, until his pupils could not take the scorching and he had to give up. This used to drive him into a blind rage because he hated to lose.
When Lina went after the kids, belt in hand, to punish them for some mischief, all the children disappeared in order to avoid the strapping—all but Fidel, who lowered his pants and, displaying his behind, said to her: "Hit me, Mamma." This didn't fail to disarm her.
He experienced his first humiliations when seeing his half brother, Pedro Emilio, riding very proudly on horseback next to his father, while he and his siblings had to stay in the shadows like a shameful blemish.
It was quite a relief for him when Lina took María Luisa's place and the children could quit the rural schoolhouse to go as the Castro clan to the best schools in Santiago de Cuba, capital of Oriente province. But it was even better when he was sent to Havana, and all of that was left behind as part of an unredeemable and secret past.
Good luck seemed to follow Naty with a vengeance. If she grabbed a tennis racket, she would win the match. If she jumped into a swimming pool, she came out of the club with a medal around her neck. If she looked at a man, it did not take long for him to kneel down before her.
It didn't take long, either, before another sudden illness brought her down. Thanks to a ruptured, gangrenous appendix, she met Dr. Orlando Fernández, who, fascinated by the exquisite perfection of her pearly innards, asked for her hand in marriage.
She accepted and they had a daughter named Natalie.
Tired of so much unshared good luck, Naty turned her attention to the needy and to the victims of a republic that, like all the others, was corrupt. With a profound anti-Imperialist conviction, she joined the Liga de Mujeres Martianas (League of Women Followers of José Martí), who tried to keep the precepts of that incurably romantic Cuban poet-patriot alive. She discovered a voice that deserved to be heard in Eduardo Chibás, leader of the Cuban Orthodox Party. Whatever the cause, that is where her sympathies lay. Chibás had accused a cabinet minister of stealing from the public funds. In August of 1951, during one of his weekly radio programs, he confessed his inability to offer proof of his accusation, and shot himself. Naty raced to the radio station and dipped her hands in the blood of the man who did not want to live with his honor tainted as originator of unfounded rumors.
Around the same time that Dr. Orlando Fernández fell for Naty's endearing beauty, Fidel had dazzled a very beautiful young girl named Myrta, whose last name, Díaz-Balart, had family links to the political aristocracy of the Island. One of her uncles was minister of the interior.
The couple married and had a son, Fidelito.
Without finishing law school and having no other skills, Fidel attempted all sorts of business enterprises, from raising a large number of chickens on the roof of the building where he lived, to managing a street-corner fritanga (fritter) stand in La Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Both enterprises met with failure.
He then decided to use his shrewdness in the field of politics. He succeeded in getting rid of his rivals, and in a gradual rise, helped by convenient "accidental" events, he attained the status of student-activist leader at the University of Havana. He even became an Orthodox Party candidate for the House of Representatives, sponsored by Chibás's own brother. Fidel stood tall and was gifted with a roguish charm.
Paralleling the coincidences of two other women in the past, Myrta and Naty bore their first children almost at the same time.
Even though there were some suspicions that Fidel somehow had been connected with Chibas's suicide, since he later became the head of the Orthodox Party, such rumors never reached Naty. Or if they did, her everlasting confidence in human integrity was in no way diminished.
Fidel received a key inside a linen envelope that emanated a mysterious perfume, Lanvin's Arpeggio, no less. It was the front-door key to an apartment in the affluent Vedado district, and with it came the offer of that space and of wholehearted allegiance to the continuity of the Orthodox cause. The note was signed by Naty Revuelta. She had that same key copied three times and sent also, without making any distinctions, to two other high-ranking men in Chibás's political party.
Naty used to overlook, or maybe not take into account, the fact that her face, her slender waist, and her high-society status made men's hearts beat faster. Perhaps she did not think of herself at all.
Soon after receiving his key, Fidel dressed in his best starched guayabera, the crease of his pants freshly pressed. He appeared at Naty's door wearing Grandma Dominga's pathfinder amulet under his clothes.
After he passed the careful scrutiny of the clairvoyant maid and the inquisitorial mother, the owner of the key was sent for.
When Naty entered the parlor, the coup de foudre left both of them deaf and blind.
Excerpted from Castro's Daughter by Alina Fernández, Dolores M. Koch. Copyright © 1997 Alina Fernández. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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