An American Comandante

Posted Dec 04, 2016

Source: STR/Reuters

In August of 1953, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz went to prison.  Never a good student, Castro had 2 years to read.  He studied Marx and Kant, Dostoevsky and Les Miserables; he lectured about philosophy and world history, oratory and political economy.  He put together a library; he considered the meaning of life.

Even before he got to prison, Castro had found a voice.  On 26 July 1953, he led a failed attack on the Monacada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba against the soldiers of Fulgencio Batistia; and on 16 October 1953, he spoke for 4 hours in his own defense.  He talked about the 500,000 farm laborers who lived in miserable shacks; the 400,000 industrial laborers who lived on low wages and whose pensions were in danger; the 100,000 tenant farmers who worked like serfs; the 30,000 teachers who were underrespected and underpaid; the 20,000 small businessmen weighed down by debt; the 10,000 young professionals—doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers and others—who were up against closed doors and dead ends.  He wanted executive, legislative and judicial powers returned to the people; he wanted land ownership returned to tenants and subtenants, share croppers and squatters; he wanted to send 30% of industrial profits to mercantile and mining workers; he wanted 55% of sugar production returned to sugar planters; and he wanted to confiscate the ill gotten gains of previous regimes.  “History will absolve me,” he famously wrapped up.

Castro was released from prison on 15 May 1955; after 2 December 1956, he camped out in the Sierra Maestra, where he ran raids on Batista’s troops; after Batista left the country on 31 December 1958, he became Representative of the Rebel Armed Forces of the Presidency, and set himself up in the Havanna Hilton penthouse suite; on 16 February 1959, he was sworn in as Prime Minister.  “I’m not interested in being in power one minute more than necessary,” Castro told Meet the Press.  But Número Uno, a.k.a. El Jefe, a.k.a. El Caballo, a.k.a. El Caudillo, a.k.a. El Comandante, a.k.a. El Líder Máximo, “the Maximum Leader,” would rule Cuba for 47 years.

He did well for himself.   In summers, he traveled to Cayo Piedra, his personal island, aboard Aquarama, his private 90’ yacht, flanked by Pioniera I and Pioniera II, a pair of 55’ yachts fitted out with his security service and medical staff; in winters, he hung out at La Deseda, his personal hunting lodge.  There were more properties in Havana; there was a private marina in the Bay of Pigs.  And there were movable goods: a decade before he died, Castro was ranked the 7th richest world leader by Forbes, worth an estimated $900 million, with power over a web of state owned enterprises— among them, El Palacio de Convenciones, a convention center; the retail conglomerate, CIMEX; and Medicuba, a seller of pharmaceuticals and vaccines.  But as the Forbes reporter concluded: “Castro, for the record disagrees, insisting his personal net worth is zero."

The son of a Spanish immigrant father, who started out as a day laborer in the Old World but ended up as a landowner in Cuba, Fidel Castro was a bastard: his mother was one of his father’s maids.  Lina Ruz González went to work for Ángel Castro y Agriz when she was 15, and gave him 4 daughters and 3 sons.

Fidel would go on to have affairs of his own.  There was Natalia Reveulta, who corresponded with him in prison; there was Maria Laborde, an admirer from Camagüey who gave him a son; there was another admirer from Santa Clara, who gave him a daughter; there was Teresa Casuso, a 40-year-old scriptwriter in Mexico City; there was Carmen Castudio, Casuso’s 18-year-old houseguest and Castro’s fiancé for less than a month; there was “the Godmother,” madrina Celia Sánchez Manduly; there was the Venezuelan journalist, Isa Dobles; there was Gina Lollobrigida, the Italian actress; there was Graciela, a 16-year-old Tropicana dancer; there was Rosana Rodriguez, the wife of a communications chief; there were Pili, Gladys and Juanita Vera, his interpreters; there was Marita Lorenz, the assassin who couldn’t pull the trigger; and there was Dalia Soto del Valle, Castro’s companera for 5 decades and the mother of 5 of his sons.

But most of his women didn’t have names.  Partners would be scouted and checked out by security guards, after which trysts would be set up.  “Get her for tonight,” El Comandante would ask.  The tradition was that Castro and his escorts would meet in a house at the heart of Unit 160—a walled, 5-acre tract in Havana where the Castro family stores were kept: guns (Kalashnikovs, Makarovs, Brownings), telecommunications, a garage (for his fleet of Mercedes), hens, geese, bulls and Holsteins, a private cinema, a museum and an ice cream factory. “Sex, to the adult Castro, meant a succession of one night stands with any women who might be available.  A responsibility of his security guards when he was prime minister and later president of the country was to find him bed partners,” wrote his biographer, Robert Quirk. “The private life of the Comandante was the best kept secret in Cuba,” wrote a member of his bodyguard, Juan Reinaldo Sanchez.  “The personal is the political,” wrote another biographer, Ann Louise Bardach.

Some estimates were enormous.  When the documentary filmmaker and New York Times bestselling author, Ian Halperin, went to Cuba in 2008, he got in touch with a government official, "Ramon," who guessed that Castro had slept with 35,000 women.  Every day, he took a woman at lunch, and another at supper, and occasionally another at breakfast, over his nearly half a century in power.  Do the math, it adds up.

That sort of thing tends to happen on islands.  Not far from Cayo Piedra, colonies of Sylalpheus regalis, a snapping shrimp, fill the sponges of Caribbean reefs.  Those sponges are hard to come by: unoccupied habitats pretty much don’t exist.  So subordinate shrimp work hard, and dominant shrimp take advantage of that.  With their small claws, or minor chelae, worker shrimp scrape food from their hosts; and with their large claws, or major chelae, they defend their sponge fortresses.  Invaders are antennated, threatened, grappled with or pinched; in some cases, serious damage is inflicted.  Every sponge has just one breeding female, or “queen,” who lords it over as many as 350 workers, or “crawlers.”  Those workers defend their colonies and sacrifice their lives.  And the queen breeds.