Fidel Castro’s rule of nearly five decades split many a Cuban family between exile and solidarity with the communist revolution including his own.
While brother Raul was his closest confidant and successor as president, sister Juana, exiled in south Florida, called Fidel a “monster” to whom she hadn’t spoken in more than four decades.
Eldest son Fidelito, long Castro’s only officially recognized child, was a nuclear scientist in Cuba. Eldest daughter Alina Fernandez, born from an affair with a married socialite who remained on the island decades later, blasted dad on exile radio from Miami.
The sprawling Castro clan, made larger by Fidel’s early extramarital affairs, also suffered from the same sorts of dysfunction and disagreements afflicting so many other families: siblings who don’t speak, adults resentful over childhood slights and murky talk of babies born out of wedlock.
During Castro’s long illness, the tightly wrapped secrecy about his family started unraveling as his youngest sons and their mother, Dalia Soto del Valle, rallied around him.
Soto del Valle, a blonde, green-eyed former schoolteacher Castro met during Cuba’s literacy campaigns in the 1960s, was his life’s most enduring relationship. She was rarely seen in public and never alongside the “maximum leader” while he was in power.
Together more than four decades, the couple had five sons, now middle-aged. Castro, who took the nom de guerre Alejandro during the revolution, continued his homage to Alexander the Great when naming them: Alexis, Alejandro, Angelito, Alexander and Antonio.
None were involved in politics. The best known is Antonio, or Tony. An orthopedic surgeon and former official doctor for the island’s national baseball team, he later became vice president of both the Cuban Baseball Federation and the Swiss-based International Baseball Federation.
For decades their identities and their mother’s were state secrets known only to a small circle of loyalists. So private was Castro about his family life, his marital status with Soto del Valle was unknown in a country where common-law unions are as ubiquitous as legal ones.
Some reports said they married in a quiet civil ceremony in 1980.
News correspondents on the island had heard whispers about “la mujer del comandante” the comandante’s woman but didn’t get their first glimpse of her until early 2000 when she joined a huge rally calling for the return of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy rescued from an inner tube off South Florida.