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Fidel Castro offers rare glimpse into his personal life
It is a gentle twilight to a long, eventful life. The old man pads around in shorts in a modest two-storey house on a former golf course and occasionally wanders into the garden to enjoy the tropical plants and sea breeze.

He follows doctors' orders for some morning exercise then spends the day reading, watching TV and entertaining grandchildren and visitors. When the fancy takes him he writes a newspaper column.

Welcome to Fidel Castro's hidden world. For decades the Cuban leader has guarded his privacy, making his home, health and domestic life taboo subjects. Cuba's formidable intelligence services kept them state secrets.

Castro, after all, was the "maximum leader", a controversial political titan and the most famous name on the CIA's hitlist. He was also a shrewd promoter of his own mystique. But now in retirement the 83-year-old has opened his home to outsiders and granted them permission to talk about it, affording a rare peek into the enigma.

Among them were Oliver Stone, the US director, who interviewed Castro for a soon to be released documentary, US film-maker Saul Landau, Argentine sociologist Atilio Boron and a photographer from Paris Match. An anonymous aide supplied extra details to the Spanish newspaper El País.

The picture which emerges is of a mentally alert and physically active octogenarian who after half a century of communist revolution is happy to spend time with his family and monitor, rather than shape, world events. The image is likely to infuriate Miami exiles who consider Castro a tyrant who ruined the island.

The lifestyle could be that of a retired professor, said Dan Erikson, author of The Cuba Wars and an analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue thinktank. "If it were anyone but Fidel this would be an unremarkable retirement. But for one of the most controversial and confrontational personalities of the cold war era it marks an unexpectedly serene final chapter."

The Cuban intelligence codename for the former president's residence is Punto Cero, Zero Point. The real, warmer-sounding name is Jaimanitas, a former golf course in a fishing village just west of Havana which abuts a military garrison and small farm. Once a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, it is now more a suburb than a village,

Castro shared his modest, four-bedroom house for decades with his wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, and their five children, Antonio, Alejandro, Alex, Alexis and Ángel, and kept it off-limits to almost everyone else.

Between 2006 and 2008 an intestinal illness forced Castro to move to a nearby clinic. He returned home last year, a thin, frail figure who ceded power to his brother Raúl. The commandante's children now live in adjacent houses but regularly bring grandchildren over for visits.

After two hours of exercise each day, Castro reads detailed press briefings of Cuban and global news prepared by his staff. If a book title catches his eye but is unavailable in Spanish, his staff translate it. Recent material included a text by the economist Paul Krugman and Barack Obama's memoir Dreams From My Father.

Castro makes copious notes in the margins and also scribbles ideas for his column, titled Reflections, which regularly appears in the communist party mouthpiece Granma. "Fidel must be one of the best-informed people in the world," said his friend Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian novelist, after a meeting last year.

Not everyone is convinced Fidel stays on the margins. "I doubt he is retired," said Volker Skierka, a biographer. "His will is still present. Cuban revolution part two will start only after his, and probably Raúl's, death."
29 Nov 2009 by admin
The Havana Journal



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