Juanita Castro, younger sister of Cuban leaders Fidel and Raúl Castro, died on Monday (4), aged 90, in a Miami hospital. The news was released in a statement by Mexican journalist María Antonieta Collins, co-author of her memoirs.
“This is the news that I never wanted to give, but that, as your spokesperson for the last three decades of your life, I have to tell you. Today, at the age of 90, Juanita Castro passed away, an exceptional woman, a tireless fighter for because of the Cuba he loved so much,” Collins announced on his Instagram account.
The text asks for privacy, saying “there will be no interviews and, in accordance with his wishes, his funeral will be private. We ask for your prayers for the eternal rest of his soul.”
Juanita Castro was the fifth of the seven Castro brothers, daughter of the marriage of Lina Ruz González and Ángel Castro Argiz.
A fervent opponent of the socialist system, she left the country in 1964 after having collaborated with the CIA in several operations aimed at overthrowing the revolutionary government. After a brief stay in Mexico, she settled in Miami, where she continued her activities as an opponent of the Cuban system.
Juanita’s family name acquired extraordinary international relevance in 1953. That year, a group of young people led by her brother Fidel carried out armed action against the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Known as the assault on the Moncada barracks, the attempt to overthrow Batista failed and the military dictatorship unleashed a bloody repression, ordering the execution, without trial, of the combatants who had been captured.
However, both Fidel and Raúl Castro – who had also participated in the action – managed to survive and, a few days later, were arrested. Immediately, the figure of these young people, especially Fidel Castro, became very popular on the island. After twenty-two months in prison, as a result of the great campaigns for the release of political prisoners that spread throughout the island, Fidel Castro and his companions were released during a general amnesty in May 1955.
Juanita Castro was one of the people who went looking for her brothers outside the prison. Fidel and Raul Castro went into exile in Mexico, where they organized the movement against the Batista regime. During exile, in those early years, Juanita was a collaborator in her brothers’ political activity.
However, political differences emerged after Batista’s dismissal in 1959. With the triumph of the revolution, an agrarian reform was imposed to distribute land among Cuba’s poor peasants, one of the most impoverished sectors of the island. It is estimated that, before the revolution, 80% of cultivable land belonged to foreign economic groups.
The measure promoted by the revolutionary government also affected the Castro family, which owned more land than the agrarian reform law allowed. Fidel and Raúl insisted on including the family plantation in their agrarian reform program. His brother Ramón Castro Ruz, who managed the property, and Juanita opposed the measure, which they considered “authoritarian”. From that moment on, both Ramón and Juanita began to participate in groups opposing the revolution.
In June 1961, Juanita Castro began establishing links with the CIA. The rapprochement occurred two months after the battle of Playa Girón, where around 1,500 exiles and mercenaries, sponsored by the US government, tried to invade the country to overthrow the revolutionary government.
Under the pseudonym “Donna”, Juanita began working with Tony Sforza, a CIA agent who had been in Cuba since 1959. The path taken by Sforza would make him a bloody character in the history of Latin America. According to journalist David Corn, years later, in 1970, Sforza traveled to Chile to work with General Roberto Viaux to overthrow Salvador Allende.
According to Juanita herself in her memoirs, she agreed to collaborate with the agency under two conditions: the first is that she would not accept any economic retribution for herself; and that she would not participate in any murders. A version that she maintained until the last interviews she gave, although until now there is no proof other than her word.
Her years as “Donna” coincide with those of “Operation Mongosta”. An initial operation created to affect the Cuban economy. In a period of around 14 months, 716 sabotage attacks against economic objectives were recorded. The plan, designed by Edward Lansdale, aimed to affect the economy to generate a revolt that would facilitate the overthrow of the Cuban government.
In between daily tasks during these years, “Donna” provided insider information – which she had access to through family circles and because of her surname – via shortwave radio. Additionally, she provided logistical assistance to counterrevolutionary groups, many of which were engaged in violent and terrorist actions, such as bombings in public places.
In 1964, after joining the opposition group Cuban Catholic Action, her brother Raúl Castro showed her a Cuban intelligence file that contained some of his conspiratorial activities. Juanita immediately decided to leave the island and, after a brief stay in Mexico, settled in Miami, where she lived for the rest of her life.
His political activity against the Cuban system continued in the following decades. In 2009, together with Mexican journalist María Antonieta Collins, he published a memoir called Fidel y Raúl, mis hermanos, la historia secreta (Fidel and Raúl, my brothers, the secret story). Despite the media promise of its title, the book did not achieve wide circulation among the public nor did it attract the attention of circles that oppose the Cuban system.
This was the only book with political content published by María Antonieta Collins, who wrote several self-help books, such as Cómo lidiar con los Ex (How to deal with exes?) and Quero quiero, caso puedo y caso me da la gana (Because I want , because I can and because I want to).
“I suffered more than the rest of the exiled population, because nowhere in the Strait of Florida gives me respite, and there are few who understand the paradox of my life,” said Juanita Castro in her memoir. “For those in Cuba, I am a defector because I left and denounced the regime. For many in Miami, I am persona ‘non grata’ because I am the sister of Fidel and Raúl,” she explained.
For the past few years, Juanita has lived in her home in the residential neighborhood of Coral Gables in South Florida.
Editing: Thalita Pires