Top: Josefina Vidal; Bottom: Celia Sanchez
Does Josefina remind Fidel of Celia?
Not Long before his illness in 2006 Fidel Castro was already thinking about a post-Castro Cuba. He realized that old revolutionaries, including himself and his brother Raul, just wouldn't live forever. But he wanted Revolutionary Cuba, meaning the stamp he placed on the island in 1959 with his triumph over the Batista dictatorship, to extend well beyond his and Raul's lifetimes. As far back as 1970 Fidel had promised his prime (only) confidant, Celia Sanchez, that if Raul out- lived him that Raul would succeed him as Cuba's leader. He ran that past Celia Sanchez because hers was the only concurrence he ever sought or needed (till the revolutionary heroine died of cancer on Jan. 11-1980). She concurred with his decision regarding Raul and thus he lived up to it after his illness. But beyond himself and Raul, by the first decade of the 21st century Fidel had decided two trusted, much younger aides -- Felipe Perez Roque and Carlos Lage -- would be co-leaders in post-Castro Cuba. But his own intelligence service supplied him with an audio tape in which Lage said, "In the future Cuba must align itself more and more with the United States." Roque replied, "Without question, like an ant recognizing the footsteps of an elephant." Fidel took three days to confirm the authenticity of the voices, then fired Roque and Lage. In 2007, still recovering from his almost-fatal illness and with Raul in the leadership role, Fidel had Josefina Vidal over at his house for dinner. At the dinner table, where they were joined only by his wife Dalia and their son Alexander, Fidel surprised Josefina. He asked her if she would allow him "to support her" as the leader of Cuba following him and, of course, Raul. The usually very strong and stoic Josefina paused a rather long time, bowing her head. When she looked back across the table at him, tears streamed unabashedly down her cheeks. She knew his "support" would have made it happen, regardless of what Raul or anyone else thought. But she began to shake her head slowly, side to side. "No," she said. "Please understand. I will devote all of my life to defending Cuba, and I consider Cuba to be you and the revolution. I cherish that role and I don't want distractions. Please understand." Fidel nodded his understanding and nothing further was mentioned on that topic...for four more years. In March of 2011, at Varadero when Fidel had remarkably recovered much of his strength but knew that later in the year Raul would turn 80 (in June) and he would turn 85 (in August), he again asked Josefina Vidal the same question he had asked her at dinner in 2007. Alexander (Dalia wanted Alexander with Fidel at all times, if possible) nervously and sympathetically watched the emotion well up in Josefina's face again because again she felt compelled to say "no" to the last person in the world she ever wanted to disappoint.
Josefina Vidal has the title of Minister of North American Affairs in the Cuban government. The United States, which includes the anti-Castro bastions of Miami and Union City (NJ), is a part of North America. Josefina Vidal, for years now (since she headed the Cuban Interests Section in Washington), has been the Cuban most in charge of monitoring and then deciding what to do about threats to Revolutionary Cuba. She considers the dissidents on the island to be very few in number (so, by the way, does the U. S. State Department) and she says, "Dissidents don't concern me at all, unless I have strong evidence they are being paid or supported by a foreign power. Then I am concerned...very much." Asked (by a reporter from the Jamaica Observer) what is her other greatest concern, she said, without hesitating, "The people in Miami are very good at devising what I call peripherals. By that I mean they devise schemes trying to provoke us to do something that they can damn us for, then rush to the media and to the politicians to demand more money or more attacks on this island, and such. I try to monitor such schemes 24/7."
Josefina Vidal is entering her 50s now. Fidel Castro considers her the most important person in Cuba. He told Alexander, "They can't out-smart her and they won't out-fight her. She reminds me of..." He didn't finish that thought, but Alexander knew the word he couldn't finish the sentence with was "...Celia." To the insiders who have known Fidel Castro the best, all agree that the one person he has worshipped during his long lifetime is Celia Sanchez, the guerrilla fighter and incomparable recruiter that Fidel, Che, Raul, Camilo, etc., joined in the Sierra Maestra after their harrowing journey from Mexico to begin the war that defeated Batista. The best Cuban historian, Pedro Alvarez Tabio, wrote: "If Batista had killed Celia Sanchez anytime between 1953 and 1957, there would have been no viable Cuban revolution, and no revolution for Fidel and Che to join." Roberto Salas, an intimate of both Fidel and Celia, wrote in his U. S. - published book "A Pictorial History of the Cuban Revolution": "Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones. When she died of cancer in 1980 we all knew no one could ever replace her." The best America biography of Fidel Castro is by Georgie Anne Geyer and in it Geyer clearly states that Celia Sanchez "over-ruled" Fidel whereever and whenever she chose to do so. (Celia, for example, devised a cable to Moscow requesting nuclear missiles and sent it off without telling Fidel; when she told him over coffee at her 11th Street apartment -- where they usually spent their nights -- he was furious but, as always, ended up supporting her even when he strongly disagreed with her). Read Geyer's pages 356-357 regarding her depiction of Fidel's reaction to Celia's death and you'll comprehend what she, and she alone, meant to him. When I was in Cuba in 2004 researching my biography of Celia Sanchez I had the privilege of seeing a copy of that cable and was allowed to both photograph it and translate it to English. Upon my return to the U. S. Marta Rojas, the now 82-year-old famed author/revolutionary, told me in 2005 in an e-mail: "Since Celia died of cancer in 1980 Fidel has ruled Cuba only as he precisely believes Celia would want him to rule it." I believe Marta Rojas, with the possible exception of Fidel Castro, knows more about the Cuban Revolution than any person alive.
So now, in the twilight of his life, it seems Fidel Castro has indeed discovered someone who reminds him of Celia Sanchez. Her name is Josefina Vidal, Cuba's Minister of North American Affairs. That's significant to current events and important to history, I believe, because even the legacy that the mortal Fidel leaves behind will dominate Cuba for the foreseeable future. On June 7, 2011 one of Fidel's biggest fans, China's Vice President Xi Jinping, personally asked to see Fidel so he could pointedly tell him, "You are the greatest defender of national sovereignty." That gesture was important, too, because Xi Jinping will soon be China's new president. On his three-day trip to Cuba (the first week of June, 2011), Xi Jinping, to honor Fidel, signed ten strong economic pacts with Fidel's brother Raul. Xi Jinping, as China's future president, may well be Cuba's best friend and Xi Jinping already has said that now second-place China will soon replace first-place Venezuela as Cuba's leading "trade partner." But be that as it may, Cubans on the island, not foreigners, will predicate the power of Fidel's legacy and the majority of Cubans on the island agree with Xi Jinping regarding Fidel Castro and "national sovereignty." That, and a little bad luck for the CIA, is why he and his revolution have lasted so incredibly long. But to me (I'n no big admirer of Fidel but I could easily say the same thing about Batista), the most fascinating thing about his undeniably fascinating life is his relationship with Celia Sanchez. And that's why, having learned his remarkable feelings about Josefina Vidal, I am wondering if, each day since January 11, 1980, he has tried to find another Celia Sanchez...and perhaps succeeded.
Dalia Soto del Valle
Since 1980 Fidel Castro has been married to Dalia Soto del Valle. As with all other major aspects of his life since 1953, that, too, was orchestrated by Celia Sanchez, the one person he has idolized over the course of his long life, starting when he joined her anti-Batista revolution in the hills, valleys, and swamps of the Sierra Maestra mountains in the closing days of 1956. After the triumph of the revolution in January of 1959 Celia, with the total concurrence and full support of Fidel, was the prime decision-maker in Revolutionary Cuba. Dalia, a beautiful redhead, was a school-teacher in the south-central colonial city of Trinidad when Celia, her best friend, also asked her to take a position with the Sugar Workers' Union. In that capacity Celia introduced Dalia to Fidel, who was instantly and eternally smitten with her beauty and personality (and her red hair; he loved redheads). But from 1957, when they shared the famed La Plata cabin during the height of the guerrilla warfare in the Sierra, till she died of cancer on January 11, 1980, Fidel not only shared leadership of Cuba with Celia but he also was constantly with her day and night, often at her 11th Street Apartment in Havana even with its questionable security. On January 5th, 1980 -- six days before she died -- Celia exacted a promise from Fidel for him to marry her dear friend Dalia. Fidel, of course, quickly kept that promise. Dalia bore him five very loyal sons -- Angel, Antonio, Alex, Alejandro, and Alexis (Angel was the name of Fidel's father and Alejandro was Fidel's primary code name during the Sierra fighting). Perhaps fittingly, of all his eight sons (yes, eight), Alejandro evolved as Fidel's favorite. Dalia for all these years has been a very loving and devoted wife to Fidel and a cherished mother to their five sons. Extremely modest and unpretentious (like Celia), Dalia shops in regular stores, attends baseball games, cuts the grass in her yard, etc., and very few Cubans know who she is other than being a regular Cuban. But there is no doubt that Celia Sanchez, her best friend from long ago, would be very proud of Dalia's relationship with Fidel these past thirty-one years.
A lot of myths and rumors about Fidel Castro are merely self-serving lies and distortions but one myth/rumor that is neither a lie or a distortion is the fact he indeed loved redheads. In the early years of Revolutionary Cuba the top redheads in Hollywood seemed to crave getting bedded by him and at least three of the most famous succeeded, including Maureen O'Hara (shown above). We know that to be true after deep and delicate research related to Celia Sanchez. Georgie Ann Geyer, Fidel's best American biographer, noted that Celia "over-ruled" Fidel whenever she chose, which was often, and that they were almost always together, day and night, but sometimes (according to Geyer) Celia had to "shoo" Hollywood redheads out of Fidel's beds. Also, the CIA admitted to "18" assassination attempts against Fidel; one of the 18, according to declassified CIA data, called for a highly paid young redhead to seduce and poison Fidel in Havana on a night Celia was on the other end of the island, in Santiago de Cuba, on Cuban business (opening a library). But, alas! The young redhead reported back to the CIA that she just couldn't bring herself to administer the poison and she said, "Anyway, even though he got what he wanted he unnerved me by never taking his boots off!" (Cuban insiders insist, although I've been unable to confirm it, that Fidel, after he learned the young redhead's mission, wrote the CIA a note that thanked them "for sending me a young redhead that was very kind throughout the night, especially for not poisoning me." Even Peter Kornbluh, at the U. S. Archives, has attempted to get a declassified copy of that note from CIA files, which have released countless other Fidel notes (many to Celia) and even a famous one he wrote as a boy to President Roosevelt). Maureen, Rita, Rhonda...it is a known fact that in the first decade of Revolutionary Cuba Fidel had the best redheads Hollywood could offer, even including his pal Errol Flynn's teenage girlfriend Beverly Aadland who had just starred in the movie South Pacific, one of Celia's favorites. (Once she learned of that tryst, Celia admitted she "trashed" her personal "copy roll" of the South Pacific film). So it's a bit ironic that Celia, as she was dying of cancer, insisted that Fidel, after she died, marry her dear friend, the reheaded Dalia. But, you know what? From 1980 till the present day, according to a key insider, "There has never been a single rocky moment between Fidel and Dalia...and the union produced five loving sons." As Cuban insider Roberto Salas said in his book, "Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones." Pairing Fidel with Dalia just before she died was Celia's last "big" one. "Little" ones back in the day included trashing her copy of South Pacific.
Errol Flynn and Beverly Aadland in "Cuban Rebel Girls"
You are probably wondering what the above photo has to do with Celia Sanchez or the Cuban Revolution, the prime topics of this forum. Well, the answer is...a lot. It shows the 50-year-old Errol Flynn, then past his days as the top money-maker in Hollywood, starring in a 1960 movie he produced and shot in Cuba entitled Cuban Rebel Girls. It reflected Flynn's, and Hollywood's, fascination with the Cuban Revolution, specifically in this case Flynn's fetish for young women, including the young female guerrilla fighters that played such significant roles in the revolutionary war against the Batista dictatorship. So, in Cuban Rebel Girls Flynn himself played the Fidel Castro-type hero and, guess what?, his teenage girlfriend Beverly Aadland, shown above tending to the leg injury of the Fidel-like character, played the Celia Sanchez-type rebel heroine. No kidding. And, yes, we're talking about the same Beverly Aadland that Flynn generously made available to Fidel, as historians such as Georgie Anne Geyer have amply mentioned and as Celia Sanchez confirmed as the reason she "trashed" her copy of the movie South Pacific after she learned Beverly Aadland was one of the stars. Beverly Aadland's billing in the rebel movie was actually "Beverly Fisher" for some reason, perhaps to appease Celia whose permission was needed to shoot the film in Revolutionary Cuba.
Errol Flynn fancied himself as Fidel Castro and Beverly Aadland as Celia Sanchez.
The above historic photo resonated strongly with historians such as Georgia Ann Geyer and with the Hollywood superstar Errol Flynn, who wrote the script for Cuban Rebel Girls. In her seminal biography of Fidel, Geyer pointed out that Celia Sanchez, beginning in 1957 when Fidel first joined her in the Sierra Maestra after his almost two years in a Batista prison and then his almost two years in the U. S. and Mexico before returning to fight Batista, she meticulously cared for Fidel right up until her fatal bout with cancer in 1980. The above photo was taken in 1957 at a Sierra Maestra campsite right after their guerrilla unit was recovering from a hit-and-run attack on a much larger Batista unit, a raid that netted the rebels some needed supplies that included three nice jeeps. Fidel was slightly injured in the right thigh. That's Celia moving toward him on her knees to administer water, aspirin, and a bandage -- just as Geyer depicted in her bio and perhaps the inspiration for Errol Flynn to write the scene in which the rebel girl, Beverly, cared for the injured Fidel-like character in Cuban Rebel Girls. Terrance Cannon, one of the best authors on the Cuban Revolution, asked Celia, "Is it true what I hear that you began pampering Fidel the first day you met him in the Sierra Maestra?" Her reply, perhaps displaying both irritation with the question and her penchant for the truth, was: "No, not exactly. I didn't start pampering him -- changing his diapers and such -- until a few days later after I'd gotten to know him and after I'd decided he was the man I wanted to be the next leader of Cuba." Cannon, who confessed he was taken aback by the reply and by Celia "as a whole," then asked her, "Can I quote you on that?" She laughed and said, "Sure, as long as you misspell my name and describe me as a heavy-set blond!" (Celia at the time had coal-black hair and weighed 99 pounds).