Posted on Friday, 05.23.14
Former bodyguard to Fidel Castro describes dictator's luxe life in new book
With luxury homes, diamonds, women and more, Fidel Castro 'lives in a
luxury that most Cubans can't even imagine,' says a former bodyguard who
wrote a book of memoirs on the dictator.
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
Fidel Castro once claimed that he lived a life of exemplary
revolutionary frugality on a salary of merely $36 per month.
"Lies," said Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, 65, who served as a bodyguard for
the former Cuban leader for 17 years and has published a book of memoirs
portraying Castro as a sort of feudal lord who ran the island like it
was a personal fiefdom.
Castro controlled about 20 luxury homes, a Caribbean island getaway with
a pool and dolphins, the 88-foot yacht Aquarama II, and several fishing
vessels whose catch was sold for dollars deposited in his accounts,
according to Sanchez.
"He always claims he lives frugally. Lies. He lives in a luxury that
most Cubans can't even imagine," Sanchez told el Nuevo Herald in his
first interview after writing his book, The Secret Life of Fidel Castro,
published Wednesday in France.
Sanchez said he lost Castro's trust after his brother escaped from Cuba
in 1994. Forced out of the personal security details, he refused
transfers and asked for retirement but was instead sent to prison for
two years for insubordination. He spent the first three months in a
scorching-hot, mosquito-riddled tiny isolation cell and dropped from 187
to 114 pounds.
After escaping aboard a go-fast boat to Mexico in 2008, he crossed the
U.S. border and settled in Miami. A regular guest on South Florida's
Spanish-language television programs, Sanchez has previously alleged
that Castro approved a drug-smuggling operation that led to the
execution of Cuban army Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989, and commented on
other Cuban secrets. Other defectors have confirmed Sanchez, a graduate
of the Interior Ministry's Higher School for Counter Intelligence Eliseo
Reyes Rodriguez, spent many years on Castro's Praetorian Guard — the
last five in his innermost ring of bodyguards.
Sanchez has an inch-thick stack of photos of himself, in and out of the
uniform of an Interior Ministry lieutenant colonel, and certificates of
appreciation signed by Castro. However, his anecdotes cannot be
independently confirmed because of their very nature.
His 325-page book says Castro, now 87, controlled several numbered bank
accounts abroad as well as the finances of several state enterprises —
including a small gold mine in the Isle of Youth — that reported to him
as president of the ruling Council of State. When Castro received a
Cohiba cigar box full of Angolan diamonds, he told an aide to sell the
gems on the international market "and you know what to do," Sanchez said.
Two large elephant tusks that once stood in his home also came from
Angola. None of the bank accounts or enterprises were in Castro's name,
but they didn't have to be, the bodyguard said. "He didn't have to
report to anyone. He had sole control" over economic activity he
estimated at "hundreds of millions of dollars" over 10 years.
But after Forbes magazine included the Cuban ruler in its 2006 list of
10 richest "Kings, Queens and Dictators," he declared that his salary
was about 900 pesos per month, or $36. The former bodyguard said part of
the book focuses on Castro's luxurious life because so little is known
about it even within the communist-ruled nation. The leader has said his
personal life is a "state secret" because of the multiple attempts to
"Contrary to what he has always said, Fidel has never renounced
capitalist comforts or chosen to live in austerity. Au contraire, his
mode de vie is that of a capitalist," says the book, written with Axel
Gyldén, a senior journalist at L'Express magazine in France. "This is
the first time someone from Castro's intimate circle, someone who was
part of the system and a first-hand witness to these events, has
spoken," Gyldén told journalists.
Visitors to Castro's home west of Havana, known as Punto Cero, have
described it as relatively modest, perhaps on the level of an
upper-middle-class home in the United States yet far better than what
most Cubans can even imagine. But Sanchez said that away from the public
eye, Castro enjoyed a life of luxury, spending a month each year in the
paradisiacal Cayo Piedra south of the Bay of Pigs and often spending
weekends on a duck hunting preserve in Pinar del Rio called La Deseada.
Cayo Piedra, which includes a dolphin and turtle lagoon, was serviced
from a Castro-controlled marina with several hundred workers who manned
three large yachts, including the Aquarama II, Sanchez said. Finished
with precious woods from Angola, it was powered by four torpedo boat
motors sent by former Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev.
Castro also controlled two other large yachts, including one equipped as
a floating hospital, and two commercial fishing vessels that supplied
Cayo Piedra and sold the surplus in Havana for dollars that went into
his bank accounts, the bodyguard recalled.
Only special friends were allowed on the island, according to Sanchez.
Welcomed in were the late Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, CNN
owner Ted Turner and Erich Honecker, head of then communist-run East
Castro also controlled a complex of Havana buildings and grounds,
including a basketball court, a fully equipped medical center and
rooftop bowling alley, first established for him by one of his lovers
and closest aides, the late Celia Sanchez.
Castro later married the mother of five of his dozen or so children,
Dalia Soto del Valle, but still had affairs later on with a flight
attendant, a translator and another woman, he said. Soto del Valle had
her own affair with a chauffeur, but Castro forgave both his wife and
Everything the Cuban leader received, including clothes, food and even
official documents, was first checked for germs and radiation, Sanchez
said. And each morning an aide delivered to him a bundle of reports on
Cuban intelligence activities around the world plus international news
Castro moved about with at least 10 bodyguards, including two with
matching blood types who could give him a direct transfusion in case of
an emergency because he did not trust stored blood, according to the
The Cuban ruler had serious health crises in 1983 and 1992 and underwent
radiation for what doctors described as anal bleeding because of
intestinal cancer, Sanchez said. His refusal to have surgery contributed
to another intestinal crisis in 2006, when he finally surrendered power.
"In 1992 I saw him [looking] dead, on a stretcher. The nurses were
crying and everything," Sanchez said. But Castro recovered and went to
rule for another 14 years.
Source: Former bodyguard to Fidel Castro describes dictator's luxe life
in new book - Cuba - MiamiHerald.com -