Juanita Castro, who turned against her brother Fidel, has died at 90

Juanita Castro, sister of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro who broke with him over his brutal crackdown on dissidents in the early 1960s, continuing to work with the Central Intelligence Agency before fleeing the island nation in 1964, never to speak to his brother. , died Monday in Miami. She was 90 years old.

Maria Antonieta Collins, a journalist who helped Ms. Castro write a memoir, published in 2009, which revealed her secret activities for the first time, confirmed the death on Instagram.

Ms. Castro wrote that the CIA, which she was instructed to call “the company” to allay suspicion, communicated with her in Havana by shortwave radio, playing “Fascination Waltz” every day at 7 p.m., followed by a coded message. If there hadn’t been a message that day, her spy contacts would have broadcast the overture from “Madama Butterfly.”

Mrs. Castro — who was six years younger than Fidel and two years younger than her brother Raul, who eventually succeeded the ailing Fidel in power — initially supported the uprising that ousted Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. She collected the money for the rebellion in the United States and, after its triumph, helped build hospitals and schools.

But she became disillusioned with Fidel’s move to rule Cuba as a one-party communist state. “He betrayed the Cuban revolution, which was as democratic and Cuban as palm trees, as he himself said,” Ms. Castro said in Reuters interview In 2009, when her memoirs “Fidel and Raul, My Brothers: The Secret History” were published.

The work she did for the CIA from 1961 to 1964 while operating under the code name “Donna,” she wrote, involved helping anti-Castro dissidents and CIA agents avoid detection and arrest, including finding safe houses. She said she helped many people escape the island.

“The betrayal was not mine. It was Fidel’s,” she said.

According to Ms. Castro, she told her original CIA recruit that she would cooperate on one condition: that she not be asked to assist in any violent plot against her brothers. It was shortly after the disastrous CIA-orchestrated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuban exiles. The agency was busy conspires to kill Castrosometimes with the help of the mob.

Mrs. Castro was already privately helping dissidents, she wrote, when the wife of the Brazilian ambassador in Havana, Virginia Leitão da Cunha, approached her about working with the CIA. “Don’t be afraid, Juanita, these people are first class,” Mrs. Castro she remembered the words of the ambassador’s wife.

A meeting took place in June 1961 in Mexico City between Mrs. Castro and a CIA operative whom she identified as Tony Sforza, who lived in Cuba under the guise of a professional gambler named Frank Stevens. “He spoke perfect Spanish,” she wrote.

In their first conversation, Mrs. Castro lamented the direction Cuba had taken under her brother. Her first mission was to smuggle money, messages and documents back to Havana packed in food cans. She said she refused to accept any money for herself.

In Cuba, she would collect coded messages left by secret operatives buried under highway signs. Once, while picking up a message with two female students, family friends whom she had brought along as collaborators, her car broke down. While they were standing on the side of the road, Fidel Castro and his motorcade happened to pass them by. He drove them to town and towed their car. “We arrived at our destination, we said goodbye to Fidel and thanked him for his service,” she wrote.

Mrs. Castro’s older brothers were aware that she was associating with anti-communist Cubans, but not that she was associating with the CIA. Fidel Castro warned her to stay away from “worms,” ​​as he called dissidents. Her activities included sending medicine and food to political prisoners and attempting to rescue condemned prisoners from a firing squad, she later said.

As long as their mother, Lina Ruz Gonzalez, remained alive, Juanita Castro believed that Fidel would not harm her. But after their mother died of a heart attack in 1963, Ms. Castro wrote, “everything became dangerously complicated.”

The following year she went into exile, fleeing first to Mexico.

“I can no longer remain indifferent to what is happening in my country,” she said in a statement to reporters after arriving in Mexico. “My brothers Fidel and Raul made it a huge prison surrounded by water. The people are nailed to the cross of torment imposed by international communism.”

The following year, she moved to South Florida, where in 1973 she opened a pharmacy in Little Havana and lived peacefully for decades. Anti-Castro activists in Miami never fully embraced her, she once said, because they were suspicious of her family name. She sold the drugstore to the CVS chain in 2006 and retired.

Juana de la Caridad Cástro Ruz was born on May 6, 1933 in Birán, a village in eastern Cuba. Her father, Ángel Castro y Argiz, was a farmer and businessman. Her mother was originally employed as a housewife in the household. The couple had seven children: Angelita, Ramon, Fidel, Raúl, Juanita, Enma and Agustina.

Mrs. Castro’s survivors include her brother, Raul, and her sister, Enma.

When Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006 before handing power to Raúl, and again when he died in 2016, thousands of Cuban exiles and their descendants took to the streets of Miami in spontaneous celebration. But Mrs. Castro was discouraged. Although she hadn’t spoken to her brother in more than five decades, she felt a strain on family ties and said it was disrespectful to rejoice at someone’s illness or death.

“It’s not necessary to do what the Cuban people did here on the streets of Miami,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 2016. “It’s not Christian. It is not humane.”

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