'The Secret Fidel Castro'
Geoff Metcalf interviews Cuban defector, analyst of communist dictator

Posted: February 24, 2002
1:00 a.m. Eastern

Editor's note: Once an officer in the Cuban army under Fidel Castro, Servando Gonzalez defected to the United States in 1981. His experiences in Cuba, including involvement in the Bay of Pigs operation and the Cuban missile crisis, give him unique insight into the person of Fidel Castro. Gonzalez, who calls the communist dictator "crazy" and "irrational," used his insight to write "The Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol." The book examines the many facets of Castro's personality, the most prominent of which is his public persona, or, as Gonzalez calls it, Castro's symbolic self. In an interview with Geoff Metcalf, Gonzalez discusses his analysis of Castro.

By Geoff Metcalf
Q: This book is not a history of the Cuban revolution or even a biography of Fidel Castro. Instead, it has been written following the intelligence services guidelines for a comprehensive personality profile -- the kind of document we keep on all foreign leaders. It focuses on certain aspects of Castro's actions and personality that have either been ignored, misunderstood, misrepresented or no one knew about.

A: Did you read the book?

Q: Yes, I read the book.

A: I work pretty isolated, so you are one of the few people I know who has read the book. So what is your opinion of the book?

Q: I found it fascinating, but it also raised several questions I want to get to. First off, I want you quickly to explain to our readers who have not yet read the book what your background is. You were an officer in the Cuban army, right?

A: Yes. I was an officer in the Cuban army. Following the Soviet guidelines, I was what is called a "political officer."

Q: You were the propagandist.

A: Yes, sort of. Then I was in Cuba participating on the other side in the Bay of Pigs operation -- not in the actual battle. I was sent to a little place where we were expecting some air attacks or something like that.

Q: Explain for our readers about your participation in the Bay of Pigs. Whose side were you on?

A: I was in Castro's army. Then I was an officer during the Cuban missile crisis and then in anti-guerrilla operations in the Escambray Mountains in the central part of Cuba.

Q: When did you bail? When did you leave Cuba?

A: In 1981.

Q: What prompted your exodus?

A: The idea came a long time ago. I was in Czechoslovakia in 1968, when the Soviets invaded. In fact, I left Prague at 12 noon, and that same night at midnight, the Spetnatz landed in Prague airport. That was the beginning of the Soviet invasion. Then, back in Cuba, I expected Castro was going to condemn the invasion. At the time, I was pretty displeased with what was going on in Cuba, but still you never know. But then Castro just justified the invasion, and that's probably the beginning of my exile. In Cuba and in many communist countries, there is an expression we called "the inner exile." That's when, on the inside, you break with the system.

Q: You are probably the third defector of sorts I have interviewed recently, and they all say the same thing. The defection is really not an event but much more of a process.

A: It is a process, yes. Then it took a long time. During the Mariel boatlift, I tried to leave with my family, because I had traveled a lot, but you have to leave hostages at home.

Q: That's the leverage.

A: Yes. So I tried to leave during the Mariel boatlift, but it was totally impossible. I had worked many years in foreign places, so I knew a lot of inner tricks, and then I developed my own plan. Finally, we escaped and landed up in Switzerland and lived for a year in Zurich before coming to the United States.

Q: I thought it was very interesting the way you structured the book. Please explain for our readers what you did and how you developed the book, because it really isn't a biography of Castro.

A: I began writing this book about five years ago -- a lot of work. I never intended to write a history of the Cuban revolution or a biography. In fact, in this book, I am using a new methodology I have devised myself. I call it "historical tradecraft." Tradecraft is the method and technique of espionage. I'm using these technologies to study the current historical events. Basically, an intelligence analyst and a historian, they are the same. They are scholars, and they study for some purpose. But the methodologies are totally different. When you use the methodologies of the intelligence analyst to study historical events, the picture you get is totally, totally different.

Q: Everyone has seen Castro on TV. We know he is long-winded and gives long, long speeches. He used to smoke the ubiquitous cigar -- the public Fidel Castro most readers have been exposed to in some form. But you break down a number of variants: the charisma, the great pulverizer, the manifest destiny. I need to ask you a few specific, salient questions. Does Castro really still believe his revolution is good for Cuba?

A: That is a very interesting question. Frankly, I don't know. I cannot provide an answer, because probably the question is wrong. I don't think Castro ever wanted any good for Cuba. I believe that the systematic destruction of Cuba is not by mistake but by design.

Q: Servando, it's been going on a long time. It can't take 45 years to break Cuba.

A: Yes, and Cuba has been totally destroyed. In 1959, Cuba was the second country in development in the Americas, just second to the United States and second to Venezuela, because of the oil. Now Cuba is below Haiti.

Q: I like cigars, and unfortunately, after the revolution most all the experts in the cigar industry bailed and took off for Honduras, Costa Rica, Jamaica or wherever. And because the people who had been cultivating and maintaining the black crescent went away, Cuban cigar quality suffered.

I have to ask you about something that doesn't fit. Castro has been very Draconian in his apparent assaults on homosexuals in Cuba.

A: Uh-huh.

Q: He has virtual concentration camps for people infected with HIV and AIDS. I didn't realize until reading your book that Castro's brother Raoul is gay, and there's a whole cadre of homosexuals. I was reminded by Joseph Farah that the Nazis were like that, too. What is this apparent hypocrisy on the part of Castro in accommodating a gay lifestyle for some but not for the real blatant effeminate homosexuals?

A: That's a very touchy subject that I just mentioned very tangentially in the book, but you are right. It is exactly like in Nazi Germany. For some reason that is strange to explain, some homosexuals hate homosexuals. Probably one of the most anti-homosexual governments in the Americas is Castro's Cuba. Before Castro, nothing like that happened. In fact, we had a president of Cuba, Ramon Grau San Martin -- he was a homosexual.

Q: What's the deal with Castro's brother Raoul? Is he openly homosexual?

A: No. He is not openly gay, but there are more than rumors that he is gay. I have no doubt about that. Also, one of the closest friends of Castro for many years since his days at the University of Havana, Alfredo Guevara -- no relation to Che Guevara ...

Q: You mention him several times in the book.

A: Yes -- he's gay. It's a very complex phenomenon.

Q: Let's talk about the charisma of Fidel Castro. Even his detractors will acknowledge that he is a dynamic personality.

A: I don't think you can explain these strange uncanny abilities by charisma alone. It's more than that. It is something that has no rational explanation. Hitler had the same faculties, as did Charlie Manson. ... You cannot define what is their power. When he went to the Soviet Union -- Castro does not speak Russian -- the phenomenon was exactly the same. How can you explain that? I have no idea. But he has some power.

Q: I often say, "I'd rather be lucky than good." And you suggest in the first part of your book that Castro has had more than his share of good luck.

A: Yeah, absolutely. And that also defies rational explanation. I'm not talking about the CIA attempts to assassinate him, because I'm not fully convinced about that. I don't buy that. I don't buy that the CIA has tried to kill Castro so many times. Aside from that, there is proof that he has some uncanny ability to know things in advance or to survive very dangerous situations. And there is no rational explanation for that. The same was true with Hitler. When they tried to kill him, they put the bomb next to him ...

Q: Yeah, and somebody moved the briefcase.

A: ... and he survived. How do you explain that? They tried to kill Hitler, what, more than 12, 14 times? And every time, the bomb didn't explode, something happened -- just sheer luck.

Q: Fairly recently, I spoke with Ken Alibek, the Soviet defector who is the bioweapons expert.

A: I mention him in my book.

Q: I also recently spoke with Khidir Hamza, who was a defector from Iraq. He ran their nuclear-weapons program. Ever since the missile crisis, people tend to forget about Cuba as a potential threat for nuclear, biological or chemical weapons threats. But you write that Castro really has a focus on nuclear Armageddon and that he has a sort of erotic dream about nuclear missiles.

A: Absolutely. That's absolutely right. The problem is that some people, like Colin Powell, only think about capabilities. But it is not only the capabilities but also the willingness to use your weapons. That's what is really important. And Castro has a willingness to destroy America. This has always been his dream ever since he was probably 12 years old.

Q: Let me ask you this, since you were there on the bad guys' side during the Cuban missile crisis as we were watching it on TV: How big a blow was that to Castro? How cruel a reality check?

A: It was a big blow. I was a student at the University of Havana. While I was in the army I was a student. A few days after the crisis I was at the university, and he used to go there quite frequently and late at night. I was at the library, it was after 12 midnight, and he just came and began talking about Kennedy and Khrushchev. He said the most terrible things about it. He was most upset.

Q: The big question is if that had not been revealed, and if Castro did have the capacity, 90 miles off our shore -- nuclear missiles -- would he have actually used them?

A: Absolutely! But there is another thing. In fact, I have a long paper on the Internet called "A missile is a missile is a missile." I don't believe there were any nuclear warheads in Cuba at any time. And I'm not convinced that the missiles were real missiles.

Q: Come on!

A: No, no, absolutely. Because Nikita Khrushchev, he was not crazy. He was not crazy. He knew that better than most, because the Soviet Union had been following Castro very closely and they knew who he was and his willingness to use the weapons. So Nikita Khrushchev was not going to put that kind of weapon close to his hands.

Q: Servando, hold on, slow down. Are you in absolute denial? You saw what was going on up close. Would Castro have even precipitated the potential such as he did if those weren't real missiles?

A: No. The problem is that Cuba had no access to the missile base. The only ones who had access were Castro, his brother Raoul and Che Guevara. At the time, they didn't know what a nuclear missile was. They had no idea.

Q: What is going to happen to Cuba after Castro eventually dies?

A: When Castro dies, nothing will happen to the Cuban revolution, because I don't believe it was a true revolution. The Cubans will wake up like from a bad dream, and Cuba will be back to normalcy, whatever that means. ... In Cuba, the power is like a pyramid, but it has no second level. It is empty. There are a lot of people fighting amongst themselves in the third level. In the top, there is Fidel Castro. There are no seconds, but there are a lot of thirds.

Q: What about his brother Raoul? We keep hearing about Raoul.

A: Raoul is in the third level. Every time somebody like a Che Guevara -- or lately, this Gen. Ochoa -- every time someone goes to the second level, his life is shortened dramatically.

Q: Didn't Fidel's parents live very long lives?

A: Yes. He's first generation Cuban, and they lived a long life. But in Cuba, the government never reaches a point of institutionalism. The power is just Castro. He's a ...

Q: He's a dictator!

A: No, he's more than that. He's a king! He's a king, and there is no methodology to replace him. The system will crumble without him.

Let me qualify about the missiles. I don't say there were no missiles in Cuba. What I really say is that the presence of the missiles on Cuban soil was never proved. Someday, we may have the proof, but not yet. The thing is the fight between human intelligence and technical intelligence. According to Kennedy, the proof was the satellite photos. But photography is not a missile. If you give photographs of missiles to your army, you are in bad shape. You have to give the army a real missile. So what we saw were the missiles. But nobody was there in the field to check the missiles, to touch them, to smell them, to weigh them and check the radiation from nuclear warheads. In fact, in the declassified papers, never, never, never have I seen anything about the radiation. You see the photographs of the planes flying very low over the Russian ships with the missiles over Cuba. What about radiation? No. At the time, the Americans had the technical means to check radiation, but there's nothing about that. Why didn't Kennedy inspect the missiles out of Cuba? Do you have an answer for that?

Q: No, I don't. But I'm sorry, it still sounds as if you are in denial. I can't conceive of Khrushchev getting to that point. I mean, things were so close and so tenuous that the Soviet Union had their prestige on the line and were compelled because of what happened to back down and eat crow. It was a real ugly geopolitical scene.

A: It's a very complicated story. I'm writing a book about that. But this really was not the Soviet Union -- it was Khrushchev and a small group. The people who really managed the whole event were no more than Khrushchev and five or six very close people.

Q: OK, we'll wait for the next book, because I don't want to get wrapped around the missile-crisis axle. I want to ask you about Castro's manifest destiny.

A: The main motivation of this guy's life has been destroying the United States.

Q: OK. Why?

A: There are several theories. He's a very weird personality. And probably, this letter he wrote to President Roosevelt when Castro was 12 years old ...

Q: You include it in the appendix at the back of your book.

A: Yes. He was going to school in Santiago, Cuba, and he wrote this letter asking for money. And unfortunately, Roosevelt didn't send him the money, and he was humiliated. And with this guy, anything that smells of humiliation for him is ...

Q: Servando, are you suggesting that the foundation of Fidel Castro's unbridled antipathy for America is, what he perceived at the age of 12, an affront by the president of the United States?

A: Yes.

Q: Come on!

A: No, really. And I mention it in my book. We are dealing with a very irrational person. You cannot judge this guy using rational means. He is a very irrational personality. Listen, in Cuba there was some anti-American sentiment -- not in the Cuban people, but in some sections of the intelligencia and some other areas. But it was small, and it was not really anti-American. It was anti-American government, because of the integration in the war, because of some things in Cuba. But this guy is totally paranoid against America.

Q: You talk about self-provocation as a foreign-policy tool. Frankly, it is a technique that others have either copied or practiced. Yassar Arafat does the same kind of stuff.

A: All governments do that. Hitler did it with the Reichstag fire. But Castro has been a master at this kind of thing. The title of the book is "Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol," because Castro has been a symbol, in America, of the American left and all these America-haters we have here. They see Castro as a symbol of anti-Americanism. On the other hand, I mention that Castro is probably the most pro-American leader in the history of Cuba. This is a love/hate relationship. In relations to America, Castro doesn't act like a politician -- it's more like a scorned lover.

Q: Now that's interesting. By the way, I have probably interviewed no less than 50 people about the Kennedy assassination, and you have a few quotes in your book suggesting Castro was not in any way complicit in that event and in some ways expressed surprise and disappointment it happened.

A: I'm totally convinced that he had an important part as instigator or polymer in the Kennedy assassination. He just used the techniques of plausible deniability.

Q: You quote Fidel as saying, "We have never believed in carrying out this type of activity of assassination of adversaries." When asked if that included even during the early stages of the revolution, he said, "Never. And our revolutionary background proves it." Was that bullfeathers?

A: Absolutely. In fact, in that chapter I included that not only did Castro have the motive, ability, opportunity and means but also the inclination.

Q: But did he have the experience?

A: He has tried to kill more than 12 presidents, some of them successful. Like Somoza. The hit to kill Somoza was signed in Cuba by Castro. He has the inclination to commit these kinds of crimes. When he was 21 and a student at the University of Havana he was part of a group of students that visited Grau San Martin, who was the president. They went to the palace, and on the second floor of the palace on the balcony he talked to another student and suggested they kill the old president. "I have the formula to take power at once and get rid of this old son of a b---- once and for all. Let's pick him up and throw him off the balcony. Once the president is dead, we'll proclaim the triumph of the student revolution and talk to the people on the radio." He's crazy. That guy is totally crazy.

Q: You also mention other significant traits, notwithstanding the fact he may be nuts, but he has a photographic memory and a number of other uncommon abilities. Such as?

A: He has what is called an eidetic photographic memory. It has nothing to do with people who memorize. He just reads something, and it's like a Xerox machine. When he was a student at the University of Havana, he boasted that he was reading a book and he could tear out the pages and put them in the trash can, and then he could recite from memory the whole book. That is amazing. And he uses that to fool people that he is very knowledgeable of certain areas, like he did with the Soviet who was the one who first came to Cuba [and reported] that Castro was a Marxist. Castro was telling him about Marx, Lenin, Engle. The night before, he just read a few books about Marxism. It is an incredible ability. By the way, Hitler had the same ability.

Q: Apparently, Kennedy did as well.

A: People who memorize using mnemonic technique are different. This is just a born ability.

Q: You say that Castro has a split personality. What do you mean, because frankly, I see multiple personalities after reading the book.

A: Yes. He has a split personality. He is charming, and he is disgusting. He is a nice guy and a horrible guy. He's cruel and ...

Q: Is he a racist?

A: Absolutely! There is enough proof of that in his government. Cuba now has a 60 percent black population. In his Communist Party Central Committee, there are less than six black people. Eighty-five percent of the inmates in Cuban jails are black. Look at photographs of the army, and probably 90 percent of the soldiers are black. But the officers are 95 percent white. He is a racist. He denigrated Batista, who was the president and who was black, because he was black. Yes, Castro is a racist. There is no doubt about that.

Q: What is Fidel's true ideology?

A: Oh, he is not a Marxist. He is not a communist. If I had to pigeon hole Castro, it is hard.

Q: I want to know his real ideology.

A: I would say that he is a renegade Jesuit with fascist inclinations. That is my definition of Castro's ideology.

Q: That whole Elian Gonzalez thing -- how important was that to Castro? Or was it just an ego stroke for him to demonstrate, "See! I defeated the United States"?

A: There were a lot of weird explanations that Castro believes in the Cuban religion of Santeria and that he believed the child has some special powers. But it was a total victory for him. He knows how to change a failure into victory. He's very good at that kind of thing.

Sun Tzu, who wrote 500 years before Christ, wrote, "All warfare is based on deception." And in the field of intelligence and espionage, things are seldom what they seem. This is proved in the life of Fidel Castro. Most of what has been written about him is not the truth. We need to dig and search for all these nuggets of truth.