Defender of Fidel
BY RONALD RADOSH
No dictator is a hero to his bodyguard.
The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Bodyguard to El Lider Maximo Hardcover – by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez
Juan Reinaldo Sánchez was drafted into the Cuban Army in 1967 and assigned to the Department of Personal Security, the branch dedicated to protecting Fidel Castro. Starting at the lowest rung, where he was assigned to the blocks where Cuba’s top revolutionary leaders worked, Sánchez quickly rose through the ranks because of his good performance and revolutionary attitude. As a result, he was selected to join an elite group, made up of two divisions of 1,500 handpicked troops, who protected Fidel Castro 24 hours a day. Sánchez certainly stood out: In 1976, he graduated from a new training school for elite security agents where he earned a black belt in karate and became Cuba’s top sniper and best pistol shooter, a status gained from national military competitions.
Eventually chosen to be Castro’s main security guard, Sánchez accompanied Castro everywhere he went, including trips to the Soviet Union, Central and South America, and Western European capitals. As such, he was in the unique position to observe Castro and his actual lifestyle, one 180 degrees from the “socialist” values he preached and supposedly lived. In fact, according to Sánchez, Castro lives like a typical Latin American caudillo: He “transformed and enlarged his father’s [large plantation] property to make Cuba into a single hacienda of eleven million people” in which, as lord and master, he would control the lives of his subjects, virtually the entire Cuban population of poor peasants and urban dwellers.
Fidel Castro has often told Cubans and the world press that he is an exemplary revolutionary leader who works day and night for the revolution and lives as simply as the poorest Cuban, taking only a meager official salary of $38 per month (in American dollars). Sánchez finds this myth “highly comic,” since, in reality, Castro was the CEO of what might be called Cuba Holdings, an entity with sums in the millions, all of it available for Castro’s personal use at a moment’s whim.
Sánchez details how Castro uses this wealth for his personal comfort, a state secret carefully hidden from the people he led until his recent official retirement. For the first time, Sánchez exposes the secret properties Castro owns, giving exact locations, using maps and Google satellite imagery. The leader who preaches the need to sacrifice for the revolution has, in addition to 20 homes throughout the island, a private island called Cayo Piedra, where he and his entourage would go each weekend in June and for the entire month of August. It was, writes Sánchez, a “millionaire’s paradise” where Castro kept his private yacht, Aquarama II, and had his own ecological underwater sanctuary.
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