Friday, March 24, 2006

A former aide spills the dirt on Fidel Castro

Posted on Thu, Mar. 23, 2006

A former aide spills the dirt on Fidel Castro

A member of Fidel's inner circle now lives in Miami and is talking up a
storm. He even knows why the Cuban leader burns his underwear.

As part of Fidel and Raúl Castro's inner circle, Delfín Fernández
learned titillating secrets -- everything from why the Cuban leader
incinerates his dirty underwear to his cravings for pricey Spanish ham.

Oh, Fidel's former gofer confirms, too, 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.

It's Fernández's knowledge about Fidel Castro's dirty laundry, though --
literally and figuratively -- that has made him a cause célbre in South
Florida. No detail about the Castro brothers seems too small for sharing
with the world.

Fernández says chief of bodyguards, Bienvenido ''Chicho'' Perez, told
him the 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 $2,500 worth of the pata negra delicacy back to
Cuba. He knows well the Castro brothers' doctors and children, having
vacationed with them at lavish oceanfront homes on the island.

So what does a man with such sensitive information do once he goes into

Why, he gets a steady, if unpaid, gig on a Spanish-language TV show in
Miami, of course, after having been a bodyguard to international stars
-- among them, Antonio Banderas.

Fernández, cherubic, chatty and with a portfolio of sensitive
photographs and a memory filled with intimate Castro morsels, arrived in
Miami less than a year ago after living in Spain for five years. But
already, he has a spot on a new TV show on WJAN-Channel 41.

``I was assigned to take care of the people closest to Fidel. 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 myself.''

Former CIA analyst Brian Latell, a senior researcher at the University
of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, said this
week he spent several hours meeting with Fernández in Miami earlier this
year for academic research.

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

Fernández, 44, 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 said.

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

While he worked for the Castro brothers, Fernández 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. Batista was an assassin,''
Fernández 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 labor for foreign businessmen.''

Fernández said Cuba's 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, Fernández said.

Fidel Castro turns 80 this year, and he has become obsessed with his
health, Fernández said. The Castro brothers each have their own clinics
and their own doctors in Havana's Council of State Building and in the
Cimeq Hospital. Last year, Fidel Castro built a multimillion-dollar
clinic a few yards from his front door, on the grounds of his Havana
estate, Fernández said he learned from his island contacts. .

''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 Raúl,'' Fernández said. ``Fidel never cedes control, and will never
cede power.''

One example of Fidel Castro's concern with ceding power is former
Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina, applauded by some in the international
community for trying to open Cuba to the world. But Robaina, whom
Fernández knew well, was ultimately sacked by Castro in 1999, according
to The Miami Herald and other media reports at the time.

''He was a guy with progressive ideas,'' Fernández said. ``But he is an
example of what happens if you try to change the Cuban system from
within. He was under house arrest for two years.''

Fernández paints Raúl Castro, who runs Cuba's armed forces and by
extention much of its economy, as more practical and family oriented
than his older brother, an analysis echoed by Latell in his book After

''Raúl likes the money -- he has a transition plan,'' Fernández said.
``Fidel doesn't. I think Raúl 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.''

Fernández said he carried suitcases with cash out of Cuba for the Castro

Fernández's photographs include several of him with the children of
Fidel and Raúl at one of their beachfront estates and with many
high-profile Spanish businessmen.

Fernández said he defected in Spain in 1999 on a trip to Europe to drop
off Raúl's daughter, Mariela Castro Espin, in Italy to visit her
father-in-law and pick up a Rotweiller in Germany for Fidel.

Fernández settled in Spain for five years, becoming one of Europe's most
successful bodyguards. Among his clients in Spain: actors Antonio
Banderas and his wife, Melanie Griffith, soccer star David Beckham,
Spanish actresses Ana Obregon and Esther Cañada, former Spice Girl Emma
Bunton and several high-profile businessmen.

The Spanish media have embraced him, writing dozens of articles about
his life as a Castro insider and bodyguard. He was also a consultant on
an investigative book, Conexión Habana, by Spanish authors. Fernández
said there's a black market trade in sensitive videos of Spanish
businessmen -- videos made by Cuban agents.

''Fidel is an avid consumer of those materials,'' he said.

Last year, Fernández moved to Miami, eager to reconnect with friends and
a community that reminds him more of home: like Cuba without Castro on
TV every night. He has been an outspoken critic of the Castro government
since he defected.

``Cuba has a death sentence against me for high treason.''

Now waiting to get residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Fernández
won't talk about his own family, but he has plenty to say about the
Castro clan. People can't seem to get enough.

Oscar Haza, a popular Spanish language talk show host on Channel 41, has
invited Fernández on his show at least six times, firing up the ratings
when he's a guest, said Channel 41 news director Miguel Cossío.

The ratings were so strong that Channel 41 offered to let Fernández be a
permanent guest on a new daily weekday show, Arrebatados, at 6 p.m.,
hosted by Maria Laria.

''I'd like to start a bodyguard agency in Miami when I'm all settled
down here,'' he said. ``I'm very grateful to the people in Miami that
have been so welcoming to me.''

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