CASTRO'S ANGRY SISTER
Although there is no love lost between the, one rather hopes she hasn't seen the drawing of him on the magazine's cover: Fidel Castro doesn't make a pretty camel. The grotesque beast is standing on Cuba. Blood is spattered about. Above it a headline bellows: "The Camel Whom Everyone Wants To See Dead."
In any other magazine rack, in any other pharmacy, one could inspect the cover of the Spanish-language Alerta without a prickling sensation creeping over one's scalp. This, though, is the Mini Price Pharmacy and the owner is Juanita Castro, younger sister of The Cuban dictator.
Miss Castro, who helped her brother seize power from Fulgencio Batista in 1958, is busy dispensing prescriptions and answering the telephone. She is as neatly and expensively turned out as her pharmacy, which appears to offer everything from gold chains and Spanish porcelain to Pampers and green beach balls.
"We suffered under the Batista dictatorship," she says. "The Cuban people wanted changes and Fidel promised wonderful changes: democracy, justice, progress, the same opportunity for everybody, and respect for human rights, but he betrayed everybody and established the worst tyranny that amybody can imagine."
Juanita Castro is talking in her dim back office, rather than in the brilliantly lit pharmacy. One imagines she is emphasizing a dividing line in her life, a line that she likes to maintain between her role as a successful businesswoman and that as Fidel Castro's sister.
Cuba is suffering from a trio of crises, says Miss Castro, adjusting her glasses: economic, social, and political. The communist regime, she insists, is incapable of restoring the island's economy, which she declares is in "a very, very bad" state. "The government," she says, "can't solve the economic problems. There is no incentive to work for a communist regime."
That Cuba does indeed face staggering economic and social problems was conceded last December by the Cuban dictator himself. "We are sailing in a sea of difficulties," he warned the National Assembly. "The shore is far away."
Even farm produce is rationed in Cuba, Miss Castro says. "What the farmers grow is sent to the Soviet Union and other countries. The Cuban people don't have a chance to have it." Indeed, many refugees arriving in Florida have said that it is difficult to buy a Cuban-grown orange in Havana.
Looking back to the tumultuous year her brother toppled Fulgencio Batista, Juanita Castro says, "The people didn't have anything then. They have nothing now. No freedom, no human rights. The jails are full of political prisoners and the repression is worse than ever. It is very sad."
Disillusioned with her brotherhs rule, she defected to Mexico in June 1964. "He told me one thing and did another," she recalls, explaining that while her brother spoke of bringing freedom to Cuba, he was actually making plans to suppress it. "I went to Mexico on one of my regular trips," she says. "Nobody knew of my intention and decision. It surprised Fidel."
In fact, she fled Cuba shortly after her brother launched a land distribution program and began exporpriating the family estate in Oriente Province. Fearing she would get no compensation, she began selling its cattle. Castro denounced her as a "gusano" (worm) and counterrevolutionary.
On arrival in Mexico, Miss Castro charged her brother with betraying the revolution and selling the country out to the Soviet Union. She declared her brother's secret police to be "comparable to the worst elements of Hitler's Gestapo," and declared: "The people of Cuba are nailed to a cross of torment imposed by international communism." Her opinion hasn't changed.
Miss Castrohs flight came as a considerable blow to the Cuban dictator, who angrily claimed her remarks had been written by the US Embassy in Mexico City.
"This incident to me personally is very bitter and and profoundly painful," he told reporters in Havana. "But I understand this is the price of being a revolutionary."
Does she regret having helped her brother seize power?
"I thought at that time it was best for my country," she replies. "Nobody knew of his plants at that time." Writing in Life magazine in 1964, Miss Castro puzzled: "How could Fidel, who had been given the best of everything, be a communist?" Before his revolutionary activities he was just a "spoiled son," she wrote.
Juanita Castro, who is still a Cuban citizen, has lived in Miami since moving to the United States in 1965. Her father, Angel Castro, fought in Cuba during the Spanish-American War of 1898 and later became a wealthy sugar planter on the island, owning some 20,000 acres and employing several hundred men. He married a 15-year-old peasant girl called Lina who bore him seven children.
Fidel Castro does not seem to have had a good relations with his father, whose own hatred of the US, fostered during Spain's humiliating defeat in Cuba, may have been transferred to the Cuban dictator.
Miss Castro is often asked what Fidel was like as a child.
"There was nothing extraordinary about him," she says. "But for me that is not important." What is important, she says, is what he is like now. "He is crazy for power," she insists. "and a puppet of the Soviet Union." Asked whether there is any validity to a rumor circulating among refugees arriving at Key West that her brother has become a drug addict, she retorts, "He's a power drug addict. He feels very frustrated. All the people are leaving the country. Nobody wants the regime he has imposed by force."
Miss Castro says that the average Cuban hates the Russian soldiers and technicians in the country and that many in government abhor them as well. "The russians are as cruel as the Spaniards," she claims, asserting that Soviet policy in the Caribbean is designed to isolate the United States and that "Fidel is very useful for the communists."
She is scatching about the appeal of Marxism. "The ambitious person who wants to be in power for life becomes a Marxist," shesays. "Marxism doesn't mean anything good for any country. The only system to support Cuban tyranny is Marxism-Leninism." One of the prime roles of Cuban schools, she notes, is to inculcate MArxism. "You don't have a chance to select what you study."
Referring to the nonaligned summit conference presided over by President Castro in Havana last year, she observers: "A tyrant can't be the president of this organizations. The third world doesn't exist while Fidel is presiding over it."
She says that a rising would be the best way to remove her brother from power and suggests that the Army might take a hand in it. "The Army is part of the Cuban people. The Army suffers like the rest. I'm sure they can't live under a communist regime for more than 20 years. The armed forces want democracy. They will fight for democracy."
Miss castro asserts that, according to her contacts in the Cuban Army, a rising in Cuba "could happen at any moment. The regime is completely decomposing," she says. "Perhaps it has started now. Fidel doesn't have any support and there is only a small minority in control of the government."
She does not believe that the United States has a responsibility to liberate Cuba. "The responsibility is ours," she says. "The Cuban people in exile and the Cubans in Cuba.We don't want the Marines to go to our country. It is our problem. We are adult enouth." The liberation war, she says, "must be fought by our people," observing that victory will require money and soldiers. "Force is the only way." she declares.
That Castro brought benefits to Cuba such as literacy and improved health, says Miss Castro, is a lie of communist propaganda. "What is good when everybody wants to leave the country?" she asks. "What is good in a communist regime?" And then, referring to the recent occupation of the Peruvian Embassy in Havanba, she adds: "Could you imagine what would hapen if they removed all the guards from all the embassies?"
Miss Castro vividly recalls Jan. 1, 1959, when her brother rode into the Cuban capital in triumph. "It was wonderful. I thought we would have a terrific government for our people: the same opportunity for all; no more persecution for political ideas -- a humanistic revolution. He had a chance that no government had had in our country since 1902, when liberation was won by the Cuban people."
Asked whether Che Guevara, the Argentine guerrilla expert and one of the chief architects of her brother's revolution, would still be supporting Castro had he lived, she replies that he probably would be. "There was no difference between them. He was the same kind of ambitious and cruel person as Fidel."
Soon after Fidel Castro rode into an ecstatic Havana in 1959, she says Guevara was consigning the regime's enemies to the firing squads -- the innocent with the guilty. The first trial was held in a carnival atmosphere in the Havana sports arena before a jeering crowd of 17,000. The defendant, one of Batista's officers, was sentenced to death. "Guevara was a very cruel person," she says. "He had no human feeling really. Power is what he wanted."
She says it was "a hard shock for me when Fidel started to do what he has done in Cuba." Beginning in 1960 she began separating herself from the regime. Though accused of working for the Central Intelligence Agency in the years before she left Cuba, she has denied knowingly working for the agency.
Although she says she would like to live in her own country, Miss Castro says she feels "well here. We can work. We are free. We can do something for our country." Recently she sold her house in Miami, donating the $65,000 she got for it to Cuban refugee relief. We can do something for our country." Recently she sold her house in Miami, donating the $65,000 she got for it to Cuban refugee relief.
"I don't care if I don't have a house now, I have the love of my people," she says. "I'll live with a friend. When you have a friend, you have more than a house."
Miss Castro has been running her pharmacy for the past time years and now has six assistants working for her. "I work very hard here," she says. Her public appearances are few.
In May 1977 she and other Cuban emigres gathered in New Orleans to protest the departure of the cruise ship Daphne for Havana when, they insisted, human rights continued to be denied the cuban people. She told reporters she had written to President Carter asking him, "Why, after your pronouncements concerning human rights, do you not vigorously advocate that these be respected in Cuba before even trying to renew relations of any kind with the communist government of Havana?" Last October, while her brother addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, she condemned him as a "tyrant" a few blocks away. Soon after she arrived in the US in 1965, she told the House Committee on Un-American Activities that communist leaders, including her brother, "wish nothing better than to be confronted by irresolute and timid adherents of democracy -- liberals and pacifists."
Does it make her unhappy when people criticize Fidel Castro? "No," she replies quickly. "I am the first person to criticize him. I am doing what my conscience dictates."
Nevertheless, she says she does find it "very hard" to do, "because it is my own brother." Then she adds proudly: "But my country is first before my blood tie."
Still, one is glad she hadn't seen the drawing of her brother as a camel. But, then, perhaps she saw to it that the magazine was displayed in the most prominent position on the rack.