By Steven Chase | The Globe and Mail
Miami radio host only discovered at age 10 that she was dictator’s child by a socialite
MIAMI—When Alina Fernandez first met Fidel Castro, he gave her a little guerrilla doll version of himself, complete with olive-green fatigues, facial hair and a military cap.
Only a toddler at the time, she instantly hated the toy and tried to rip off its tiny beard.
It was 1959 and Ms. Fernandez didn’t yet know that the newly installed Cuban dictator was her biological father, or that she was the love child of his tryst with a married Havana socialite.
Decades after that inauspicious meeting, Ms. Fernandez, now 47, has grown into a woman who’s anything but a replica of her Communist papa.
She’s turned into an unrelenting critic of his 44-year-old regime, first as a dissident daughter in Havana in the early 1990s, then as an outspoken defector in 1993 and recently as a talk show host at one of Miami’s Cuban exile radio stations.
It’s a lonely campaign. She has not spoken to her father in about 20 years and no longer talks with her mother, Natalia Revuelta, who once sold jewels to buy Mr. Castro weapons and remains a die-hard supporter of the revolution.
“One of the Cuban tragedies is that ideology breaks you apart so I don’t want to have any more political discussions with my mother. I have had enough of that,” Ms. Fernandez said in an interview at the modest bungalow where she lives with her 25-year-old daughter in Miami’s Little Havana.
She is soft-spoken, with a voice that carries a hint of sadness. A book she wrote several years back about her life as Mr. Castro’s illegitimate daughter details a battle with anorexia nervosa, psychosomatic illness and a “nervous condition.”
“I am not the kind of joyful person,” she says. “But I am fine.”
Ms. Fernandez fled Cuba in 1993, disguising herself with a wig and heavy makeup and using a faked passport to board a commercial flight to Spain. Disillusioned by “Castroism” and tired of being spied on by Cuban authorities, she wanted to be free of a country she describes as caught in a time warp.
“You are stuck in 1959: the same political speeches, the same military uniforms, the same slogans, the same fears.”
Ten years after she quit her native land, she has found a niche for herself in Miami, the heart of the Cuban diaspora. Half of the 1.2 million Cubans in the United States live in Miami-Dade County and Ms. Fernandez, who settled in the city in 2001, has secured a place as a minor star in the pantheon of Cuban exiles.
Dario Moreno, an associate professor of political science at Florida International University who follows Cuban-American politics, says she wields “celebrity status rather than real political influence.” “She’s viewed as someone who is a good spokesman because of the symbolic value that even [Mr. Castro’s] daughter rejects the revolution. And in that sense she . . . [is] fodder for the exile view of how horrible the revolution is.”
Her radio show reflects her dislike for telling people what they should think. Simply Alina, which runs five nights a week, and reaches listeners in Cuba despite Havana’s attempts to jam U.S. radio signals, is a variety show, not a political broadcast. A recent show dealt with the health effects of stress.
But the subject of Mr. Castro’s regime, never far from the minds of WQBA’s Latin-American audience, pops up frequently. Ms. Fernandez regularly dials up Castro critics in Cuba and puts them on air.
She does more than talk. Ms. Fernandez recently returned from a trip to six European countries where she tried to drum up more vigorous opposition to this year’s mass jailing of Cuban dissidents.
This spring, in the harshest crackdown in years, the regime jailed 75 dissidents with sentences ranging from 12 to 27 years—and executed three more Cubans who’d tried to hijack a ship to escape the island.
“I have to do whatever I can to break the wall of ignorance regarding my country,” she says. “There has been a lot of propaganda and nobody has known the truth until the last few years.”
A former model in Cuba, Ms. Fernandez has high cheekbones and strong, almost aristocratic, features. To the casual observer, it appears she has inherited her father’s eyes.
Her passionate opposition to Mr. Castro’s regime is matched by a surprising lack of feeling toward her biological father. She wants nothing more to do with Mr. Castro, declaring he “means nothing” to her. She regards her famous heritage as “something I cannot avoid” and doesn’t try to make contact with Mr. Castro because “he won’t listen to anybody.”
Their relationship was never stable. She only learned at 10 that Mr. Castro was her father and his attention waxed and waned during the next decade and a half as he alternately lavished gifts on her and ignored her, from afar.
“He will never be the type of father who will read you bedtime stories.”