Speaking at a UCLA Leadership Conference, Alina Fernandez, daughter of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro shared her memories of growing up in a Cuba that was closed off from the world and what she thinks of life there today.
Though she was just a young child when Fidel Castro took power in 1959, Alina was aware of the radical changes in her country. Alina’s mother who was married to a doctor and had two young girls, began corresponding with Fidel Castro when he was imprisoned between 1953-1955. Letters sent from Fidel to Alina’s mother and his own wife were switched causing his wife to find out about his affair. Laughing, Alina remarked, “See men can cheat even if they are in jail.”
Once Fidel Castro took power in 1959, Alina saw her sister and the man she had believed was her father flee the country. She was told by her mother that her dad and sister were “worms” which was what traitors to Cuba were referred to at that time. Suddenly the the man she would see in her home each night was now the only thing that played on the televisions across Cuba. As a child, Alina particularly remembers the fact that she could no longer watch American cartoons on television as there was soon just a continuous stream of speeches from Fidel Castro or “If we were lucky, Russian silent cartoons.”
Outside her home, Cuba was changing drastically as well: private enterprise closed, private property was invaded, churches were forced to close, the nationalization of agriculture led to food shortages and rationing, and there was no freedom of press or speech. The initial joy and excitement that Alina has initially seen after the change of power quickly faded and soon there were executions of the military playing out on TV.
Alina remarked, “Everything was so messed up around me. Even Christmas became something bad because it was capitalistic.” Not knowing what to make of the situation, she grew up supporting Castro along with her mother because that was all she knew, “Only my grandma called him the devil, so I was confused.”
In 1993, at age 37, Alina finally escaped Cuba by using a fake passport. She now lives in Miami and has told her story in detail in her memoir: Castro’s Daughter: An Exile’s Memoir of Cuba.
To get her take on Cuba’s current situation, I asked Alina what she thought about Pope Francis’ recent meeting with her father. Watch the video to see her response.