Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ex aide airs Castros dirty laundry

Ex-aide airs Castro's dirty laundry
Underwear burned: Heftier 'secrets' also give insight into Cuba and its

Oscar Corral
Knight Ridder Newspapers

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

MIAMI - As part of Fidel and Raul Castro's inner circle, Delfin
Fernandez learned many titillating secrets -- from why the Cuban leader
incinerates his dirty underwear to his cravings for pricey Spanish ham.

Fidel's former gofer confirms the heftier "secrets" that Cuba experts
have talked about for years: how the brothers assemble dossiers on
foreign businessmen who want to invest in Cuba, for instance.

But it's Mr. Fernandez's knowledge about Fidel Castro's dirty laundry --
literally and figuratively -- that has made him a cause celebre. No
detail about the Castro brothers seems too small to share with the world.

For example, he claims Fidel's chief of bodyguards, Bienvenido "Chicho"
Perez, told him the aging Cuban leader has his underwear burned to foil
any assassination plots with chemicals during laundering.

And he knows Fidel's capricious appetite for serrano hams, having been
sent to Spain to bring $2,900-worth of the delicacy back to Havana.

He knows well the Castro brothers' doctors and children, having
vacationed with them at lavish oceanfront homes on the island. He also
claims to have carried suitcases stuffed with cash out of Cuba for the

So what does a man with such sensitive information -- a fixer of sorts
-- do once he goes into exile? Why, he gets a steady, if unpaid, gig on
a Spanish-language TV show in Miami, after having been a bodyguard to
international stars, among them, Antonio Banderas.

"I was assigned to take care of the people closest to Fidel," Mr.
Fernandez said. "So that they don't lack anything and don't feel
threatened by anything inside or outside of Cuba ... When I tell about
these things on television, people see me and I start making a name for

He defected on a trip to Europe in 1999 to drop off Raul's daughter
Mariela Castro Espin in Italy to visit her father-in-law and pick up a
Rottweiller in Germany for Fidel.

After five years living in Spain, he moved to Miami last year to
reconnect with friends and live in a place that reminded him of Cuba,
but without Fidel on TV every night.

Brian Latell, a former Central Intelligence Agency employee, now a
senior researcher at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies, said he spent several hours meeting Mr.
Fernandez in Miami recently as part of his academic research.

"A lot of the stories he told me were fascinating, and I found almost
all of them to be highly credible," Mr. Latell said.

The 44-year-old defector was code-named "Otto" when he reported to Cuban
counterintelligence's Department 11, assigned to the Castro brothers and
their closest foreign investment contacts, mostly from Spain.

He got the post as a trusted gofer in 1980 through his uncle, Rodolfo
Fernandez Rodriguez, chief of the Office of Special Affairs of the
Council of State and one of Fidel Castro's most trusted confidants.

While he worked for the Castro brothers, Mr. Fernandez witnessed the
tactics used by Cuba's leaders to monitor important foreign investors.
His disillusionment with the regime, he said, and his ambitions for a
better life compelled him to defect.

"The initial idea of Fidel was good. [Former Cuban ruler Fulgencio]
Batista was an assassin," he said.

"What happened was, the course he took with the revolution was wrong. It
has dissolved into this unstoppable, insatiable corruption without
limits, a vast lie. The people are in misery. Cuba's people have been
enslaved as cheap labour for foreign businessmen."

Mr. Fernandez said the Cuban leader always travels around Havana in a
six- or seven-car motorcade led by three nearly identical black
Mercedes-Benz 560s. The Castro brothers have as many as 300 cars for
them, their families, their bodyguards and official use.

Fidel Castro turns 80 this year, and he has become obsessed with his
health, Mr. Fernandez said.

The Castro brothers each have their own clinics and their own doctors in
Havana's Council of State Building and the Cimeq Hospital. Last year,
Fidel Castro built a multi-million-dollar clinic a few metres from his
front door within the grounds of his Havana estate, Mr. Fernandez said
he learned from his contacts on the island.

"So that if Castro has a heart attack or he dies, the only people who
will know about it will be his family, the guards working at the time,
and Raul," he said. "Fidel never cedes control, and will never cede power."

But Raul Castro, who runs Cuba's armed forces and by extension much of
its economy, is more practical and family oriented than his older
brother, Mr. Fernandez said, an analysis echoed by Mr. Latell in his
book After Fidel.

"Raul likes the money -- he has a transition plan. Fidel doesn't," Mr.
Fernandez said.

"I think Raul would want to lead an economic transformation, and
ultimately find a way to retire peacefully with his family with all the
money he has stolen from the Cuban people over the years and taken out
of the country."

As for Mr. Fernandez, he hopes to avoid Cuban death threats and get back
into the bodyguard business.

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