WSJ: The Secret Life of Fidel Castro

Sunday, June 7, 2015
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

The Secret Life of Fidel Castro

A former security agent shows the leader lived large while preaching revolutionary sacrifice.

For 17 years Juan Reinaldo Sánchez was part of the elite team of Cuban security specialists charged with protecting the life and privacy of Fidel Castro. But in 1994 his loyalty came into question when, with a daughter already living abroad, a brother jumped on a raft for Florida. Castro fired him.

Sánchez was imprisoned for two years and tortured. In 2008 he defected to the U.S., making him the only member of el maximo lider’s personal escort ever to flee the island.

Last month Sánchez died, weeks after he published “The Double Life of Fidel Castro,” an English-language version of “La Vida Oculta de Fidel Castro,” first published in 2014 in Spain. The timing of his demise has some wondering if the long arm of the dictatorship did not reach out to exact revenge for his tell-all about his former boss. The official cause of death has been reported as lung cancer.

The legend of Castro as a great revolutionary who sacrifices for his people is preserved by keeping the details about his life a state secret. Sánchez’s account shows the real Castro: vengeful, self-absorbed and given to childish temper tantrums—aka “tropical storms.” “The best way of living with him,” Sánchez wrote, “was to accept all he said and did.”

The book is timely. The Obama administration has just removed Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism amid sharp criticism from exiles. Their concerns are sensible: Though Castro is now rumored to be feebleminded, the intelligence apparatus he built—which specializes in violence to destabilize democracy and trafficks in drugs and weapons—remains as it has been for a half century.

Sánchez witnessed firsthand Castro’s indifference to Cuban poverty. The comandante gave interminable speeches calling for revolutionary sacrifice. But he lived large, with a private island, a yacht, some 20 homes across the island, a personal chef, a full-time doctor, and a carefully selected and prepared diet.

When a Canadian company offered to build a modern sports-facility for the nation, Castro used the donation for a private basketball court. Wherever he traveled in the world, his bed was dismantled and shipped ahead to ensure the comfort he demanded.

Castro was obsessed with spreading his revolution. Outside of Havana was a secret camp called Punto Cero de Guanabo where, Sánchez wrote, Cuba “trained, shaped and advised guerrilla movements [and organizations] from all over the world.” Recruits from places like Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Nicaragua practiced hijacking airplanes and learned to use explosives.

“The Chile of Salvador Allende at the start of the 1970s,” Sánchez wrote, “was without doubt the country in which Cuban influence had penetrated most deeply. Fidel devoted enormous energies and resources to it” and he infiltrated it heavily with Cuban intelligence operatives.

Sánchez learned about what had happened in Chile from Castro’s notorious revolutionary spymaster Manuel Piñeiro, who “was always hanging around the presidential palace” talking about it.

The Cuban regime “penetrated and infiltrated [Allende’s] entourage” with the objective of creating “an unconditional ally in Santiago de Chile.” Marxists “ Miguel Enríquez, the leader of [Chile’s] Movement of the Revolutionary Left, and Andrés Pascal Allende, co-founder of that radical movement and also nephew of President Allende” were Castro protégés who trained in Cuba.

Allende’s daughter Beatriz, married to a Cuban diplomat in Santiago, persuaded her father to fire the presidential guard he inherited. It was replaced with “militants of the left” including Cuban agents. After Allende fell, Castro continued training Chilean recruits in Cuba. One of those was Juan Gutiérrez Fischmann, who according to Sánchez has been “long sought by Interpol” for his role in the assassination of Chilean senator Jaime Guzmán.

One day in 1988 while Sánchez was posted outside of Castro’s office, the comandante received the minister of the interior. Castro instructed Sánchez to break with his normal routine by not secretly recording the meeting.

When it dragged on and Castro never opened the door to call for a whiskey as he usually did, a curious Sánchez put on his headphones and listened in. He heard the two discussing “a huge drug trafficking transaction” that was “being carried out at the highest echelons of the state.” That’s when the scales fell from his eyes, Sánchez told me in an interview in Miami in October.

The following year Castro ordered Gen. Arnoldo Ochoa—the most revered Cuban military hero from the Bay of Pigs to the Angola conflict—and three others in the high ranks of the military to face a firing squad for drug trafficking.

Sánchez came to realize that Fidel used people “and then dispose[d] of them without the slightest qualms.” It’s the story of the Cuban Revolution, but it’s not clear if the Obama administration understands it.