Critics view him as a dictator whose administration abused human rights and led to mass impoverishment of Cuba. Supporters see him as a champion of socialism who prevented American imperialism. Fidel Castro may have been one of the most polarizing figures in the world, but how much do you know about him? Here we take a look at the home life, love affairs, and the family that turned against him.
How Much Do You Know?
His policies were polarizing, and many saw his Presidency as illegitimate. There were several assassinations attempts on his life. Throughout his life, Castro was one of the most hated men in the world. He was also one of the most interesting. How well doyou really know Fidel Castro?
Fidel Castro was the Prime Minister of the Republic of Cuba from 1959 to 1979, and President from 1976 to 2008. The Marxist-Leninist and Cuban nationalist made Cuba a one-party socialist state under his leadership. His actions sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis and the exile of more than 1.5 million Cubans.
He Went On and On and On and On…
Fidel Castro had a reputation for fiery long speeches, but he really took it to the extreme during the 872nd plenary meeting of the General Assembly on the 26th of September, 1960. His United Nations speech went on for a whopping 269 minutes (that’s 4 hours and 29 minutes).
That lengthy speech earned him the Guinness Book of World Records title of longest speech ever delivered to the United Nations, however, it wasn’t his longest speech ever. One of Fidel Castro’s longest speeches on record lasted seven hours and 30 minutes.He gave that speech in February 1998. That wasn’t the only record he held.
He Was Leader For A Really Long Time
In addition to giving marathon speeches, Fidel Castro did something else for a really long time: be head of state. Castro was the third longest-serving head of state in the world. The only two people who served longer are Queen Elizabeth II, who has been the British monarch for 65 years, and the King of Thailand, King Bhumibol, who has reigned for 60 years.
Castro was the Cuban president for 30 consecutive years, from 1978 to 2008. However, despite the title of president, Castro was never elected into office though he governed in different positions for over 40 years. During his time in leadership he had an outstanding number of assasination attempts against him. Can you guess how many?
While the actual number is unconfirmed, Fidel Castro claimed he survived a staggering 634 assassination attempts or plots during his time in government. He claims most of these attempts were masterminded by the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. exile organizations. In 2004, the centrist Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso even pardoned four Cuban exiles who were accused of attempting to assassinate Castro in 2000.
Some of the assassination attempts were anything but ordinary. Castro claims he survived a chemically tainted diving suit, a toxic cigar, exploding mollusks, and poisonous pills among other things. However, Castro didn’t die until the age of 90 November 25, 2016. The cause of his death was not disclosed.
His Trademark Beard
Fidel Castro’s beard was so important to him that there was allegedly a plan to give him a powder of thallium salts to make his beard fall out and undermine his popularity. His beard, paired with his trademark olive green military fatigues, made him one of the most recognizable figures in the world.
Castro started growing a beard for a practical reason, saying, “If you calculate 15 minutes a day to shave, that is 5,000 minutes a year spent shaving.” It also contributed to his image as a young revolutionary hiding out in the mountains, and was symbolic of his role as guerrilla fighter. Che Guevara wore a similar beard.
He Got Around
Fidel Castro claimed to have slept with 35,000 women. Supposedly he slept with at least two women a day, at lunch time, dinner time, and sometimes breakfast. What’s disturbing about this figure is that while it may be true, it’s unlikely all of those women were willing considering the hold Castro had over the country.
What’s even more disturbing is how Castro met these women. His guards would roam the Havana beaches to recruit them. He was known for making inappropriate innuendos and aggressively flirting. Castro was also married several times but had many scandalous affairs. Find out more about his family and mistresses on the next slide.
Castro’s First Wife
Fidel Castro’s first wife was Mirta Díaz-Balart. She was the daughter of a prominent Cuban politician and mayor of the town of Banes. Mirta met Castro while she was a fellow student at the University of Havana studying philosophy. They were married in 1948, honeymooned in New York City, and divorced seven years later.
While Fidel and Mirta were together, they had one son, Fidel “Fidelito” Castro Díaz-Balart. Mirta was granted custody after the divorce, but Castro kidnapped Fidelito in Mexico, prior to Fidel’s return to Cuba. He was eventually rescued from the kidnapping. Castro wasn’t faithful to her and Díaz-Balart went on to get remarried and live in Spain.
While Castro was married to his first wife, Mirta, he had an affair with the Cuban socialite Natalia “Naty” Revuelta Clews. Both she and Castro were married to other people when she gave birth to his daughter, Alina Fernández.
Natalia was active in the Cuban opposition movement after 1952, which was how she was introduced to Castro. She donated money to him and aided him in his movement. Natalia broke off the affair after the birth of her daughter and Castro’s return from exile in Mexico. She continued to support the Cuban Revolution. But all this is just the beginning of Castro’s family life.
Alina Fernández Revuelta Was Not a Supporter
Fidel Castro’s first daughter was not among his supporters. She has been outspoken about her criticisms of the Cuban government. In 1993, when she was 37, Alina left Cuba for Spain using false papers and a wig. She then lived in Columbus, Georgia, and settled in Miami, Florida where she works in radio.
In 1998, Alina wrote the book Castro’s Daughter: An Exile’s Memoir of Cuba where she described the changes under her father’s regime. However, Alina was much closer to her uncle, Raúl Castro, who succeeded her father as president. “In the family, he was the only help you could find…” she said. “Fidel was totally unhelpful.” When asked whether she hated her father though, Alina gave a surprising response: “Hate is too strong a word…I see him as having a pretty elevated level of cruelty, but I never reached the point of hating him.”
His Sister Turned Against Him
Fidel Castro’s first daughter wasn’t the only family member who turned against him. His sister, Juanita Castro, started collaborating with the CIA. Her work with the CIA is credited with helping at least 200 people leave Cuba immediately after the revolutionary period.
Juanita was initially involved in the Cuban revolution, buying weapons for the 26th of July Movement and traveling to the U.S. to raise funds. However, the growing influence of Cuban communists in the government left her feeling betrayed. Juanita left Cuba, and settled in Miami in 1964. She opened a pharmacy there called Mini Price in 1973, which she later sold to CVS Pharmacy. She published an autobiography in Spanish in 2009.
The Low-Profile Sister: Augustina Castro
In contrast to her sister Juanita and her two brothers Fidel and Raúl, Augustina kept a low profile. Augustina was the youngest of seven siblings. She died recently at age 78 from complications from a hip fracture in Havana.
Fidel’s daughter, Alina, said her aunt, “sang like a goddess.” She also described her as a faithful Catholic, and a very discreet woman. Juanita seconded this account, saying Augustina “lived humbling in Cuba, far from everything and everyone,” and was “dedicated to religion.” That might make Augustina the most normal of all her family members. It’s hard to imagine she was related to Fidel Castro.
Castro’s Second Wife
Fidel Castro’s remarried to Dalia Soto del Valle. He had five more sons in his second marriage: Antonio, Alexis, Alexander “Alex”, Alejandro, and Ángel. His sons were all named in honor of Alexander the Great, whom Fidel Castro admired. Dalia stayed with Fidel until the end, despite the fact that he was unfaithful.
Allegedly, she had an affair with a bodyguard named Jorge who disappeared. During their marriage, Castro also fathered children with one night stands. Francisco Pupo, born in 1953, was the result of a one-night affair. In total, Castro confirmed he fathered 9 children, though the real number is rumored to be much higher.
The Lover Who Tried to Kill Him
One of the many attempts made on Fidel Castro’s life was by an ex-lover named Marita Lorenz, a German born American woman. Castro met Lorenz in 1959, but little did he know she had agreed to aid the CIA in an assassination attempt. She smuggled a jar of cold cream containing poison pills into his room.
Before she could put the pills in his food, Castro figured out what she was doing, and reportedly handed her a gun and said if she was really going to kill him she should go ahead and do it. Allegedly, Lorenz’s nerves failed, and she couldn’t shoot.
He Outlasted 10 United States Presidents
Because Castro didn’t have to worry about term limits or getting re-elected, he ended up outlasting ten United States presidents: President Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and W. Bush. He also snubbed President Obama when he visited the country.
Eisenhower was initially an ally, but he regretted helping Castro and ended up severing all ties. Kennedy oversaw the most volatile period between the U.S. and Cuba, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a ramping up of CIA assassination attempts. One of the notable things Johnson did was sign the Cuban Adjustment Act which allowed Cubans who fled to apply for permanent U.S. residency.
How Did Other Presidents Deal with Castro?
Gerald Ford was the first U.S. president to try to normalize relations with Cuba, but that plan ended when Cuba sent troops to support a Marxist regime in Angola in 1975. Ford considered air strikes as retaliation. Carter also tried to fix the relations, notably throwing a pitch at a baseball game without security to demonstrate his trust in the Cuban people.
Reagan reintroduced hostile relations with Cuba by sending troops to Grenada, re-establishing a travel ban, and tightening trade restrictions. George H. W. Bush continued this policy and further tightened the trade embargo, which left Cuba broke. Then the tide turned again…
Recent Relations with Cuba
Bill Clinton also tried to normalize relations with Cuba, but ultimately the efforts failed when Cuban missiles shot down two civilians in a U.S. registered aircraft in international airspace in 1996. Three Americans and one Cuban was killed.
George W. Bush tightened the trade embargoes, added travel restrictions, and limited money transfers from Cuban-Americans to their relatives.
Then, Obama moved back toward a more open policy with Cuba, though the financial embargo remained in place. However, Obama did not meet with Fidel Castro, and Fidel snubbed Obama saying he was, “sweet-talking the Cuban people.” Obama did meet with Raúl when he assumed power.
Castro Quit Smoking
Because of U.S. embargoes against Cuba, Cuban cigars have developed a reputation as the best in the world—the fact that they weren’t legal only seemed to make them more appealing. Even Fidel Castro was a fan of cigars, and was known to chew them throughout the day.
However, Castro gave up his Cuban cigar habit in 1985. He said, “The best thing you can do with this box of cigars is give them to your enemy.” It seems ironic considering how popular they are in America. No wonder Castro lived to be 90. There was one habit he didn’t quit: being a foodie.
Castro Was a Foodie
Apparently in addition to committing some horrifying human rights abuses, Fidel Castro was totally a foodie. Fidel Castro was said to enjoy fine wine and whiskey, as well as taking an interest in food. In fact, he was said to have sent spies to Scotland to learn how to make whiskey. He was also known to wander into his kitchen to discuss meals and cooking with his chefs. His favorite food was reportedly a vegetable soup.
While literacy rates in Cuba are some of the highest in the world, and healthcare is excellent, citizens under Castro’s leadership often didn’t have enough food on their own tables, which makes his own interest in gastronomy more than a little ironic.
The Wonder Cow
Fidel Castro had a strange hobby. His cow, Ubre Blanca (which translates to White Udder) supposedly produced extraordinary qualities of milk, earning it a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for the highest milk yield by a single cow in one day. The yield was 100 liters, or 29 gallons, which was more than four times a typical cow’s milk production.
Castro even used Ubre Blanca’s incredible milk production as a tool for propaganda. Ubre Blanca became a symbol of Cuba’s collectivized agriculture in 1980s propaganda. Ubre Blanca was euthanized in 1985 and her death was commemorated by the Communist Party newspaper Granma with a long obituary.
Ubre Blanca Immortalized
After Ubre Blanca was euthanized, the cow’s body was preserved by a taxidermist. They stuffed Ubre Blanca and displayed her body in a climate-controlled case in the National Cattle Health Center where it remains to this day. Her hometown, Neuva Gerona, even erected a marble statue in her memory, and numerous attempts have been made by Cuban scientist to clone her frozen tissue samples.
Ubre Blanca was also immortalized in art. The exiled Cuban poet Ricardo Pau-Llosa wrote about her in a poem as an allegory for Fidel Castro’s rise to power. “They were educated men, / how could they not know what was coming? / How could they not save Ubre Blanca / from the endless speeches, the cameras, and the fist?”
A Son’s Death
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Fidel Castro had 11 children. His eldest son was Fidel Ángel Castro Díaz-Balart, and was affectionately referred to as “Fidelito.” He studied nuclear energy in Russia before returning to Cuba and and becoming the head of the country’s nuclear program for a time.
On February 1, 2018, Díaz-Balart committed suicide by hanging himself. He was 68 years old and had been receiving treatment for severe depression. The Cuban media issued this announcement: “Díaz-Balart, who had been attended by a group of doctors for several months due to a state of profound depression, killed himself this morning.” His death came just over a year after his father died.