Natalia Revuelta was a Cuban socialite who became a paramour of the young revolutionary Fidel Castro, a liaison that produced a daughter who decades later defected to the US and denounced her father as a tyrant. For decades she was the subject of fascination at home and beyond.
She was, Castro’s biographer Georgie Anne Geyer wrote in Guerrilla Prince, “one of the most exquisitely beautiful women in Cuba and a woman with an abnormally sensuous appetite for revolution and adventure.”
She made Castro’s acquaintance in the early 1950s when she was the wife of a prominent and prosperous physician, Orlando Fernandez Ferrer, and when Castro was married to Mirta Diaz-Balart, the mother of his son Fidel, nicknamed Fidelito. Revuelta had worked at the US Embassy in Cuba and at Standard Oil but was unsatisfied by the routines of high society.
“I didn’t have a horrible life, but I felt that the country did,” she recalled to Vanity Fair magazine in 2011. “Everybody stole, from the president down. The ministers became rich. Even their secretaries became rich. The police were killers, only they wore uniforms. Every day you heard of people being tortured, their bodies thrown on the roads or into the sea so the sharks would take care of them... So that’s why I started helping the rebels.”
She became involved with the reform-oriented Ortodoxo Party, whose members included Castro. According to one account, she first met him at a party meeting. According to another, Castro spotted her at a demonstration and asked a mutual acquaintance to introduce them. “We didn’t have much of a chance at a regular relationship,” she told the Toronto Star in 1997. “You must understand, they were times of great danger and intrigue.”
On 10 March 1952, the former Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista staged a coup d’etat that returned him to power, an event that galvanised Castro’s revolutionary ambitions as well as Revuelta’s interest in aiding them. She offered her home for clandestine meetings, on the condition that Castro personally received a sets of keys.
“We didn’t have any arms, but my husband gave him some money from his pocket, and I hocked some things, my gold bracelets, a pair of sapphire and diamond earrings my mother had given me,” she said. “Fidel and his group started meeting in our home, using it as a safe house. They didn’t drink. They spoke low. They trusted me completely, and I them.”
On 26 July 1953 Castro led the ill-fated raid of the Moncada Barracks that would lead to his imprisonment. “My dearest Naty” or “my incomparable Naty,” he began love letters written during his incarceration. “You’re audacious and I like that. I am on fire. Write to me, for I cannot be without your letters. I love you very much.”
The correspondence, either mistakenly or intentionally mailed to his wife, was said to have contributed to the dissolution of Castro’s marriage. After he left prison in 1955 he and Revuelta reunited and conceived a daughter, Alina. Although Castro was said to have occasionally visited the girl, he did not recognise her as his child, and she took the surname of her mother’s husband.
Castro overthrew Batista in 1959 and remained in power until 2008, when he named his brother Raul his successor. Alina Fernandez Revuelta pulled off her defection in 1993 with a Spanish passport and a wig to disguise her identity. When she arrived in the US, a journalist asked whether she wished to convey a message to her father. “I’ve never spoken of Mr Castro as my father,” she replied.
Natalia Revuelta Clews was born in 1925 in Havana. She attended a Catholic girls’ school in Pennsylvania and Marjorie Webster College in Washington. She told Vanity Fair that she frequented the renowned Tropicana club in Cuba, where occasionally an announcer would call out to her, “Naty Revuelta, telefono.”
“It would be, ‘Hello. This is Errol Flynn,’ or ‘This is Edward G Robinson,’” she recalled. “One day, a friend called me over to the bar where he and Ernest Hemingway were having a drink and playing dice. My friend said, ‘Naty, Mr Hemingway wants to meet you.’ I said, ‘How do you do?’ Hemingway said, ‘I wanted to meet you because you remind me of my cats.’ And I said, ‘Well, why?’ He said, ‘Your eyes, your eyes.’ A compliment.”
After Castro took power, Revuelta held various government jobs but did not remain his frequent consort. But Castro’s letters to her offered rare insights into the personal life of the usually secretive Cuban leader. “There are lasting things in life, despite the miseries,” he wrote from prison. “There are eternal things – such impressions that I have of you, so unforgettable that I will take them with me to my grave.”
Natalia Revuelta Clews, Cuban government official: born Havana 6 December 1925; married 1947 Orlando Fernandez Ferrer (marriage dissolved; one daughter); one daughter with Fidel Castro; died Havana 27 February 2015.
© The Washington Post