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Fidel Castro’s Sister, an Outspoken Critic, Takes No Joy in His Death


Juanita Castro at a demonstration against her brother, Fidel Castro, headed to the United Nations in October 1979, as he was preparing to address delegates there. Credit Getty Images

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Juanita Castro considered her brother Fidel a traitor and had not spoken to him in 52 years, but, even so, she feels that a piece of her is missing now that he is dead.

Mr. Castro was reviled by many as a despot who had killed innocents and caused countless Cubans to flee the island, and when he died Friday night, spontaneous parties broke out in the streets of Miami. Ms. Castro expressed disdain for the thousands who danced and rejoiced over her brother’s death.

“Logically, that reaction hurts,” Ms. Castro, 83, said Sunday in an interview at her home in a quiet, well-kept neighborhood here in South Florida, where she has lived since 1964.

“It’s not necessary to do what the Cuban people have done here in the streets of Miami,” she said. “I respect the sentiment of everybody; I cannot accept this. It’s not a good thing.”

“It’s not the first time that they did it, nor is it the first time I have suffered,” she said. “When he fell ill 10 years or so ago, I had my business, and they practically lynched me there, because I said I didn’t rejoice in anyone’s sickness, in anyone’s misfortunes, nor in anyone’s death. That’s not Christian. It’s not humane.”

Ms. Castro said she learned of her brother’s death in a phone call from a friend. She was awake at the time and could not sleep afterward because the phone kept ringing. “I didn’t know where to hide the phone,” she said.

She called her sister in Mexico, hoping to get more information, but her sister had few additional details. She heard, but has not been able to confirm, that her brother had a heart attack.

Although she has not set foot in Cuba in more than five decades, she was clearly up on the latest intrigue and details. She described the photos of a weakened Fidel she saw from his 90th birthday party in August, which her sister attended. Ms. Castro noted with a tinge of concern how someone had to help him get up.

Like many Cubans, Ms. Castro initially supported her brother’s vision of social justice for the island nation. And like hundreds of thousands of Cubans who eventually fled, she grew disillusioned when Mr. Castro declared himself a Communist.

Her last few years in Cuba were spent helping other people sneak out of the country and clashing with her brother and members of his inner circle. The two exchanged harsh words as she grew increasingly vocal, particularly when people she cared about found themselves arbitrarily detained.

They barely exchanged glances at their mother’s funeral in 1963, and she decided to leave soon after when she was detained by a military official, who berated her at a bowling alley for smoking Chesterfields, an American brand of cigarettes.

Her brother’s rhetoric, she had concluded, amounted to cheap slogans.

“ ‘Bread with freedom’ — that expression remained recorded in my mind, because I thought it was going to be that way. I felt as betrayed as the most humble of Cubans,” she said. “He had it all in his hands, without having to turn it all over to any power, and then he goes and turns himself over to the worst of powers, the Russians.”


Ms. Castro at her South Florida home on Sunday. Ms. Castro initially supported her brother’s vision of social justice, but she eventually fled Cuba. Credit Frances Robles/The New York Times

Ms. Castro initially moved to Mexico and began speaking out at places like the United Nations and other international gatherings, accusing her brother of betraying his country with false promises.

She moved to Miami after a few months because she thought it was the best place to position her exile activism. But she never quite fit in among hard-liners here who viewed her suspiciously.

“They rejected me, because I had the last names Castro Ruz,” she said. “Imagine, as if I had chosen my surnames.”

Her phone continued to ring nonstop on Sunday as she sat in her den and talked, speaking deliberately and stopping occasionally to recall details. She was recovering from foot surgery and wore a medical boot. Fresh white flowers sat on the dining table in the next room.

She retired recently after having owned a small pharmacy for more than 30 years, and she has written a memoir about her brothers, “Fidel and Raúl, My Brothers,” which is to be translated into English soon.

Ms. Castro grew most animated discussing the recent presidential election, when after speaking calmly for over an hour, she practically spit out insults at President-elect Donald J. Trump.

“Repugnant” and “detestable,” she called him, as she ran through a litany of reasons she believes no Cuban should have voted for him. She seemed genuinely angry, particularly when she remembered his comments about grabbing women “by their parts.”

A supporter of President Obama and his policies toward Cuba, she sees parallels in her brother and Mr. Trump.

“The only difference is that he may have millions, but the other had a brain,” Ms. Castro said of Mr. Trump and Mr. Castro. Unfortunately, she said her brother had not used his intelligence for the good of Cuba.

Still, she said, her brother had no regrets and probably thought until the day he died that he was a great leader, never acknowledging his failures.

Ms. Castro struggled to explain her sorrow at the loss of her brother.

“This is one of those that I can say that something is missing,” she said. “And the Cuban people will also say that something is missing.”

Ms. Castro said she enjoyed a warm relationship with many of her siblings’ grandchildren, who also live abroad. In 2005, she won a libel suit, filed in Spain, against Fidel Castro’s estranged daughter for calling Ms. Castro’s father a murderer.

Each year the family is getting smaller, and she does not attend the funerals. She will skip this one, too, but she laments not having the family she wished she had been able to hold on to — the kind whose members are there to console one another when one of them passes.

“I live with pain in my heart, but I accept my destiny,” she said. “I forgive everybody, including my brother.”

Source: NYT > World

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