Bare­foot and brave: Cas­tro's ranch life

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

No­body in Fidel Cas­tro's vil­lage ex­pected the boy who liked to walk bare­foot and jump in the river to leave the com­forts of his fam­ily's ranch to launch a revo­lu­tion. The late Cuban leader and his brother, Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro, were born in Bi­ran, a town nes­tled amid rolling hills and sug­ar­cane plan­ta­tions on the east­ern end of the Caribbean is­land. His 77-year-old half-brother, Martin Cas­tro Batista, who still lives in the vil­lage, re­mem­bers how Fidel kept quiet at home about his am­bi­tious plans. "He spoke lit­tle out of fear that the old man would find out," Cas­tro Batista said as he sat on a rock­ing chair in his home. Martin and Fidel are the sons of Span­ish im­mi­grant and wealthy landowner An­gel Cas­tro, but they have dif­fer­ent moth­ers. Fidel's mother, Lina Ruz, was a Cuban peas­ant who had seven chil­dren.

A ru­ral road with a sim­ple sign read­ing "his­toric site" leads to the fam­ily's prop­erty, which is now a mu­seum. Fidel Cas­tro was born there on Au­gust 13, 1926. "We have more than 100 tourists per day at the mo­ment, when nor­mally we have 15 to 20, sometimes 50," said An­to­nio Lopez Her­rera, 65, the site's of­fi­cial guide. "It has surged since Fidel's death" on Fri­day at age 90, Lopez said. Fidel Cas­tro vis­i­bly had a priv­i­leged child­hood. An­gel Cas­tro, who was a sol­dier when he ar­rived in Cuba, built a house with a red roof and yel­low walls on a vast green space dot­ted with palm trees. Around the prop­erty, he built a school, a cinema, a gro­cery store, a bar and a post of­fice. There's even a dentist's of­fice and a cock­fight­ing arena. "We never needed to leave," Lopez re­called.

Lopez gets emo­tional as he shows Fidel's small bed, where he slept for the first three months of his epic life. "He took time to fall asleep" and needed to be rocked, the guide said. "He was a very happy, very re­bel­lious child," Lopez said. "He liked to be any­where but home." Cas­tro would jump in the river, ride horses and climb moun­tains. "He was an au­da­cious, brave child," Lopez said. Cas­tro walked around bare­foot, hang­ing out with the ranch's 80 Haitian work­ers un­til his mother had to fetch him. He left Bi­ran at age six to at­tend school in the sea­side south­east­ern city of San­ti­ago de Cuba, where his ashes will be laid to rest on Sun­day af­ter they are taken on a four-day cer­e­mo­nial jour­ney across the is­land.

Napoleon the hunt­ing dog

But Cas­tro al­ways re­turned home for va­ca­tion. "He would hunt small birds with his dog, Napoleon," Lopez said, show­ing a photo of a teenage Fidel Cas­tro pos­ing with his ri­fle and pet. His half-brother, Martin, re­mem­bers that Cas­tro "al­ways walked around with weapons. He liked to hunt and he would fire in the air." Paco Ro­driguez, 91, knew the Cas­tro broth­ers when he was a child. The sib­lings af­fec­tion­ately called him Paquito. "We played to­gether. We went to school to­gether. We trained to box. We played ball," Ro­driguez said with a nos­tal­gic gaze. While dis­si­dents in Cuba called Cas­tro a dic­ta­tor who jailed op­po­nents, find­ing a crit­i­cal voice in Bi­ran about the "max­i­mum leader" is im­pos­si­ble. "He was this place's prodi­gal son," Lopez said. "Here, even the rocks love Fidel." When Cas­tro na­tion­al­ized prop­er­ties af­ter the 1959 revo­lu­tion, he im­me­di­ately ap­plied the law on the fam­ily ranch, build­ing hous­ing for lo­cals on the land. While his par­ents built a com­fort­able house for him next to theirs, Cas­tro never wanted to live there.

'A rich man'

Cas­tro said he was af­fected by the poverty around his vil­lage. "All the friends with whom I played in Bi­ran, with whom I went up and down, ev­ery­where, are the poor­est peo­ple," Cas­tro once told Span­ish jour­nal­ist Ig­na­cio Ra­monet. "What prob­a­bly most in­flu­enced me was that, where I was born, I lived with the most humble peo­ple," Cas­tro said. Lopez said Cas­tro "could have lived here peace­fully" but in­stead he aban­doned ev­ery­thing for the Sierra Maes­tra, the moun­tains in which Cas­tro's guer­ril­las hid while fight­ing the army of US-backed dic­ta­tor Batista. "He had ev­ery­thing. He was a rich man," Paco Ro­driguez said. But his con­tacts with the Haitian work­ers made him "see that there are in­jus­tices," so Cas­tro packed up "and went for it."—

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