Ileana de la Guardia: "Castro Executed My Father Because of Rivalry" /
Juan Juan Almeida
Juan Juan Almeida, 16 December 2016 — Twenty-seven years after Cause
Number 1, the judicial proceedings that resulted in the deaths by firing
squad and arrests of several high officials of the Cuban army and secret
services, Ileana de la Guardia–daughter of the then-colonel of State
Security of the Havana regime–believes that the decision to execute her
father was made by the Cuban dictator to teach a lesson.
According to De La Guardia, who lives under asylum in France, Castro did
not accept the critiques that her father and others, such as the general
Arnaldo Ochoa–also executed–made regarding the need for changes in the
country. She affirmed that the deaths of her father, Ochoa, and two
other officials served as a way to cast the blame on them for the charge
by United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that Cuba was involved in
international drug trafficking.
Until the time of your father's trial, who was Ileana de la Guardia, how
did you learn of the trial, how did you experience it?
At that time I was living in Cuba, had finished my university studies,
and was a psychologist. I learned of the seizures of my father and my
uncle, Patricio de la Guardia, on the same day. We did not know where
they were nor what the charges were. Eventually, we learned that they
were being held at Villa Marista [Central Offices of Cuban State
Security], and we went there. Upon arriving we were told that they were
being detained, that they were not arrested, that we had to leave, and
that nobody could tell us what the charges were. This is how justice
works in Cuba–"justice" in quotation marks, that is, because it is not
A week went by, and I was given the authorization to see my father. I
asked him if he knew what he was being accused of and he told me no. I
also asked him if he would be tried, and he said he didn't know. That
same day in the evening, when I arrived at my grandparents' house, I
learned from a phone call that I was required to appear in the
auditorium of the Armed Forces (FAR) the next day because that was where
the hearing would take place.
Imagine receiving this news without them having the right to have their
lawyers present. The lawyers who were there were "public" defenders. The
one assigned to my father told me that he was ashamed to represent him.
The one for Patricio told us that he had not had time to read the file
and did not really know how to defend "that gentleman."
That was when we knew that they were all lawyers with the Ministry of
the Interior (MININT). Before starting the proceedings, before trying
them, Granma newspaper ran headlines announcing the death penalty. The
front page said, "we will cleanse with blood this offense to the
fatherland." It was clear that the decision to execute them had already
The trial was a kind of circus in which all were accused or accused
themselves. Later we learned that they had been blackmailed, that they
had to incriminate themselves to escape the death penalty–and to protect
their families–there was a lot of blackmail with regard to the families.
Thus the trial went until the end.
Our family wanted to appeal, but we were denied. Later, the Council of
State, fully and unanimously, came down in favor of execution. They were
executed exactly one month after being arrested: General Arnaldo Ochoa;
Martínez, the assistant; my father, Colonel Antonio de la Guardia; and
his assistant, Amado Padrón.
The memory of that trial brings back images of confusion and much
division within the high military command. How do you remember it, and
what were the repercussions for you, your family?
The consequence for our family was being watched all the time. There
were always cars parked near where we lived, and when we went out, these
cars would follow us with officials inside them who would watch us.
There were also cameras filming us from the houses across the street
Your father, as well as Patricio (the brother of your father, Antonio de
la Guardia), and General Arnaldo Ochoa were well-known and admired men.
Throughout that trial, what happened with their friends?
I could not say that all the friends stopped seeing us; I believe some
people were afraid, others were not. I maintained relationships with
many people who continued coming to see us. I know that many people were
let go from the MININT, many officials, a high percentage. That ministry
was taken over by Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, who up until that moment was
in the FAR. There was a takeover of the Interior Ministry by military
What information do you have about the real reason that your father and
the other defendants in Cause Number 1 of 1989 were executed?
From the beginning, I knew immediately that the charges against Ochoa
and Patricio, who were in Africa, were trumped up. All of them were
charged with drug trafficking, which made no sense. If they were working
in Africa throughout so many years, directing the Cuban troops in
Africa, how were they going to be accused of something that they
couldn't control? If drug trafficking was going on, and the ships were
docking in Cuba, it was happening while these men were in Africa.
Later we realized that Raúl Castro, in a speech to the armed forces that
was broadcast on television, had said, "those officials who are
criticizing, let them go to Eastern Europe," and then, "down with Ochoa."
Then, connecting the dots, we realized that Ochoa and the group of
officials around him criticized Fidel Castro and the regime a great deal
because of the need for changes. This reached the ears of Fidel
and Raúl because Ochoa had made sure to make it public, within the army
and in family gatherings–besides telling them directly.
This is the fundamental reason why Fidel decided to eliminate these
officials: because of the political aspect.
Meanwhile, the DEA was accusing Cuba of involvement in drug trafficking
to the United States, and Castro found the perfect excuse to eliminate
these military men while at the same time eliminate the DEA's accusation
of the Cuban government.
Prior to these events, what would you hear your father say about Fidel
As of 1986 or 87, there were very critical articles starting to appear
in the press in Cuba, in the [Spanish-language Soviet] magazines Sputnik
and Novedades de Moscú, which spoke of glasnost and about how Gorbachev
was trying to make rapid changes.
People read these publications and these topics were discussed a great
deal in my father's house, we would speak of it on the patio. They
thought the place might be bugged but they didn't care.
The fact of being at a high level of command and knowing that the
Soviets were already changing the system made them think that Fidel
Castro would accept this. They thought that he couldn't be so crazy as
to oppose the changes. "He has to realize that this doesn't work
anymore, people must be given freedoms to express themselves, to travel,
to have human rights"–they talked about all of this.
When I left Cuba–first to Mexico and later to Spain–it was very
difficult to talk about this because we were still undocumented, we had
no residency anywhere, no political asylum. It was in France, where we
received support, including political asylum, where I decided to speak
publicly. Articles started to come out, journalists started to
investigate, and other facts emerged. We learned that there are
officials in Russia who say that Ochoa met in private with Gorbachev in
Cuba. Ochoa spoke Russian, there was nobody else present, Gorbachev
wanted to speak only with Ochoa. Fidel could not stand this.
Ochoa never kept quiet about anything. One day, right in front of me at
Patricio's house, he said, "This has to change, it cannot go on this
way, that man is insane, what are we going to do with the crazy man."
In Cuba, it was always said that the writer Gabriel García Márquez,
winner of the Nobel Prize in literature and personal friend of Fidel
Castro, tried to intercede so that they would not execute your father
and Arnaldo Ochoa. Is this true?
What I know for sure, because my husband Jorge Masetti and I went to see
him, is that we took García Márquez a letter from my grandmother, asking
him to intervene so that these officials, including my father, would not
be put to death.
He told us, "I will do everything possible, I believe that this is not a
good idea, and I have tried to get across to Fidel Castro that it is not
a good idea for him personally." But I never had proof that he did this.
After the execution, did you ever see García Márquez again? Did he tell
you anything about this matter?
No, never again. I was now the daughter of a traitor. García Márquez was
a powerful man, friend to powerful men. After being executed, my father
was no longer a powerful man, he was a victim.
Did you have the chance to speak with your father after the sentence and
before the execution?
Yes, before the trial, then during the trial I had a visit, during which
he gave me to understand that they asked him to take responsibility and
then they would not execute him, but that there was blackmail regarding
the family and also with his life, and if he did not say that
[incriminate himself], they would execute him.
And they did execute him. During the visit prior to the execution, which
was very personal, he said, "things are going to get bad, but very bad,
in this country." Later came the "Special Period [grave economic
crisis]." He knew what was awaiting Cuba.
Have you had any further news of your uncle Patricio, where he's living?
Does the government provide him with any retirement pension?
I cannot speak about this very much because it is a bit sensitive. What
I can say is that he paints, because they [Antonio and Patricio de la
Guardia] were painters before being military men, and they studied at an
art school in the United States. He paints very well. He lives in the
family home, it is not a house given to him by the Cuban state. Our
family had properties before 1959. I don't speak much about him these
days, because if I say where he is or if I say too much, they will throw
him in jail again.
Do you have contact with the family of General Ochoa or any of the other
In 2006, because of illness, Fidel Castro gave over the command of the
country to his brother, Raúl. The day after this announcement, I entered
the cafeteria of the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, ran into one of the
daughters of General Ochoa, and she told me, "I don't want him to die, I
want Fidel to suffer at least the half of what my family has suffered."
What did you feel at that time, when you heard this announcement, and
what was your reaction when you found out that Fidel Castro had died?
At first, I didn't believe it. When they called me from the US and my
husband answered the telephone, I said to him, "He died again? I want to
continue sleeping, leave me in peace." Later when I got up and realized
that it was true, it was like a sense of relief.
My husband asked me, what do you feel? I told him an enormous relief.
The matter is that for me, it's as if I had died spiritually. Besides, I
already knew that he was ill and that he had lost his senses somewhat,
given the things he would say. For me, he was like a shadow, a ghost.
But that sense of relief was also because that symbol of the repression
is no more, he doesn't exist.
Does the death of Fidel Castro modify or change what 13 July 1989, means
to you and your family?
To a certain point, I will tell you that for me, it is a relief that the
one responsible, who decided the death of my father, has died, and in a
certain way it gives me joy, I must admit. I cannot say that the death
of him who ordered my father to be executed makes me sad, that would be
absurd. That would be hypocrisy.
What does Raúl Castro mean to you?
For me, Raúl Castro represents the continuation of the system, with
certain attributes different from those of his brother. They are two
different people and have different command styles. The two have that
ideologically dogmatic aspect, but perhaps Raúl is a bit more pragmatic,
thus the changes that have been made on the economic level.
This is why I have been in favor of Obama's visit, the opening of
tourism, and of certain exchanges because it is the Cuban people who
will benefit from this. Unfortunately, the regime takes advantage of
this situation, but so does the average Cuban, those who have been able
to start a business derive benefit and thus are able to help their
families and other Cubans. And it is better than nothing, the problem is
that it is not enough.
The country will not change until there are real political changes.
After the execution of your father, have you talked with or run into any
of the children of Fidel or Raúl? If this were to happen, what would you
say to them?
No, never, no. I didn't know them. I never went anyplace where the
children of Fidel Castro might be. I did meet two of Raúl's daughters,
but they were not friends of mine, we ran into each other somewhere.
Mariela also studied psychology, so one time we coincided in some place.
How do you see Cuba's immediate future?
In the short run, as things are now, the growth of tourism and Cubans
surviving. This is what for now the government wants so as to not have
social conflicts with the people because of the difficult economic
At the political level, they are demonstrating that if they have to
repress people for taking to the streets, for writing certain things in
the blogs, they will do so. They will try to maintain control that way.
We will have to wait and see if they realize that a country cannot
develop without liberty.
Your family, like many others, is scattered around the world. Do you
think that you will ever reunite again in Cuba?
I don't know, the truth is that this is very difficult to answer. Seeing
how things are, knowing that Raúl Castro has placed his children and
relatives into the most important sectors of the country, taking control
of the country with a view towards the future. Truly, I cannot give you
a yes or no answer if I do not know what will happen. It would have to
be a situation that would allow the return to a place with certain
guarantees of justice and legality.
Would you delay, then, being able to give your uncle Patricio a hug?
For now, it will be delayed, if they don't make changes and accept that
one can go there having different opinions, which I have stated publicly
outside. I don't believe that I can go."
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
Source: Ileana de la Guardia: "Castro Executed My Father Because of
Rivalry" / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -