Thursday, April 24, 2008

Alina Fernández at Blue Met, Canadian Foundation

April 24th, 2008

Viva Alina!
Richard Burnett

Fernández, with dad
photo: Courtesy Blue Metropolis Festival

Fidel Castro's exiled daughter Alina Fernández proves she's the real revolutionary

Alina Fernández Revuelta remembers the day she escaped Cuba in 1993 with false papers, disguised as a Spanish tourist returning to Madrid. Her heart beating faster as she walked through customs in Havana, Fernández, then 37, was saddened to leave her mother behind.

But Fernández was desperate to escape the clutches of her father, Fidel Castro, and Cuba's consuming, paranoid political elite.

"If you belong to his entourage, you have a heavy weight to carry," Fernández, now 52, told Hour last week from her home in Miami. "There's always eyes upon you, his personal security team is always watching you, because he is always afraid that you will become a threat to him. It's like being around some king. You can never relax."

After years being a public dissident in Cuba, Fernández escaped to Spain, as would her own daughter, days later.

Fernández survived that ordeal to reveal the dynamics of Castro's inner circle, first in her controversial 1997 best-selling autobiography Castro's Daughter: An Exile's Memoir of Cuba, then as the talk-show host of Simplemente Alina (Simply Alina), which airs on the Spanish-language Cuban-American radio station WQBA in her adopted hometown of Miami, a city with some 700,000 people of Cuban heritage.

"Yesterday," Fernández told Hour last week, "a Cuban rap singer tried to escape [Cuba] with his mother [on a boat]. She was deported back to Cuba because she didn't arrive with 'dry feet' - the American 'dry feet, wet feet' policy, where if you make it to land, you cannot be sent back, but if you're rescued in the water, you're sent back. The mother was sent back but the son disappeared. There are stories like this every month. So when you live here [in Miami], you live among victims."


Cuba's future still seemed bright when Fernández watched black-and-white TV newsreel footage of her father coming down Cuba's Sierra Maestra mountains, where Castro and other rebels had fled to prepare for the revolution to depose Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

By the time the revolution came, in January 1959, Fernández was three years old. Her mother, Natalie Revuelta, had met Castro years earlier. But Revuelta was married to a doctor, Orlando Fernández, who escaped to America in 1964. It was then that Castro began to visit Revuelta at home at night, and Alina - named after Castro's mother Lina - would finally learn at the age of 10 that the man all Cubans to this day call "Fidel" was her real father.

"I remember him being shy, timid and tender at the same time," Fernández says, not to mention she can still smell Castro's cigars. "But," she laughs, the effect is "nothing like Pavlov!"

In Havana, Fernández became a model and public relations director for a Cuban fashion company. But her relationship with her father was rocky: Alina would marry four times. ("He liked husband no. 2 because was an Angolan war hero.")

Yet while Castro treated his illegitimate daughter with either utter adoration or painful neglect, his influence as an authority figure in her life never diminished. As Fernández grew older, she grew to despise the repression of her father's regime and in her 20s herself became a public dissident, renouncing her position as one of Cuba's elite and, ultimately, her relationship with her father.

"I've been trying to publish a book since I was in Cuba. A couple of ghostwriters were arrested [by Cuban authorities]. So my book became an obsession. I wrote it after I escaped Cuba. I wanted to give a picture of what it was like to grow up in Cuba from my generation's point of view."

Fernández has not spoken to her father since she left Cuba and has never gotten word of what he thinks of her book Castro's Daughter. "The only reaction I heard was that [Gabriel] García Márquez read it and said it was a very well-written book. So this is good enough!"

About her mother, who refuses to leave Havana, Fernández says, "My mom read my book in two nights, laughing and half-crying. We still [keep in touch]. We write to each other."

Fernández also remembers her Uncle Raúl, Fidel Castro's brother, who took over as Cuba's head of state on Feb. 24.

"He was always good to the family, whereas Fidel was indifferent. Raúl was always a good family person and was always helpful. But he's no democrat. He was the head of the army, one of the most repressive institutions in Cuba."

Fernández also recalls Raúl's daughter, her cousin Mariela Castro, today head of Cuba's National Centre for Sex Education.

Mariela Castro is currently championing proposed legislation that would be the most liberal gay and transsexual civil rights law in Latin America, including legalizing same-sex unions.

"She's sensitive and courageous, helping those who have historically been persecuted in Cuba. At the beginning of the revolution, many writers and artists were accused of being homosexuals and were sent to UMAP camps [Unidades Militares para la Ayuda de Producción, or Military Units to Aid Production, established in 1965 to eliminate alleged "bourgeois" and "counterrevolutionary" values in Cuba]. I respect [Mariela] because she could have done anything else."

As for her father's old comrade, Che Guevara, Fernández can't stand the sight of Che T-shirts. "I've been fighting one legend all my life, I don't need two."

Back in America, Fernández will only say she'd like to see a Democrat back in the Oval Office ("Don't ask me who - I'm going to get in trouble!") and disputes there is a genuine American embargo on her homeland ("America already does $1.5-billion of trade with Cuba each year - there is no real embargo").

Fernández has inked a U.S. movie deal to retell her life story, and she remains popular on the lecture circuit. At separate French- and Spanish-language events at Blue Metropolis next week, Fernández will discuss the history of Cuba, before and during Castro's regime, as well as her thoughts on the future of Cuba.

But this being Montreal, she says of Quebecers who enjoy vacationing in Cuba, "Who am I to decide where free people should decide freely where they want to go?

Does she not care whether these tourism dollars go into the pockets of Castro and his cronies?

"Sure, this is not helping the people, it's only helping the government, but I must defend one's freedom to do what they choose. That's one of the reasons I wrote my book, so people know where they are going, and who they are supporting when they [vacation] down there. If everybody was good and conscientious, this would be a fairy-tale world. It's not that way."

Blue Metropolis with Alina Fernández Revuelta
Face à Face: Alina Fernández (in French)
At Delta Hotel Centre-Ville (777 University), May 3 at 2 p.m.
El Legado de Castro (in Spanish)

At Delta Hotel Centre-Ville, May 4 at noon

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