Sergio del Valle Jimenez: Aide to Castro

Sergio del Valle Jimnez, doctor, soldier and politician: born 15 April 1927; died Havana 15 November 2007

Sergio del Valle Jimnez was Fidel Castro's trusted military aide during the tense 1962 Soviet missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. At the time, he was Chief of Staff of the Cuban armed forces, making him the island's military number three, after Fidel, the armed forces' Commander-in-Chief, and his younger brother Ral, the Defence Minister.

Up until his death, del Valle continued to write articles for the Cuban state media on the missile crisis, revealing aspects of a story known largely to the world only from the US perspective. He never revealed to what extent he influenced the Cuban leader, however. It was Ral Castro who was seen as the driving force behind the deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuban soil and the most reluctant to see them dismantled.

Fidel Castro had certainly taken del Valle's advice on earlier occasions. In a rare admission of fault, the Cuban leader said that, had he followed the advice of his Chief of Staff during the 1961 Bay of Pigs attack, Ch Guevara and other units would not have lost so many men.

At dawn on 15 April 1961, del Valle and Fidel Castro stood together in their command post on the southern Almendares peninsula, firing their Soviet-made rifles in symbolic defiance as B26 aircraft bombed and strafed Cuban airfields. The planes were painted with the FAR insignia of the Cuban Revolutionary Air Force but Castro and del Valle knew they were being flown by anti-Castro Cuban exiles, the first wave of a would-be invasion.

Castro's still-fledgling armed forces repelled the attack, but only after an uneasy JFK reneged on his promise to provide full US air support to destroy the Cuban airfields. The would-be invasion force were wiped out or jailed, JFK was embarrassed in the eyes of the world, Castro's popularity was boosted, he courted the Soviets and for the first time declared a Marxist-Leninist regime, only 90 miles from Miami. The seeds of the following year's missile crisis were sown.

Sergio del Valle was born in 1927. He studied medicine and, in 1957, joined the Castro brothers and Ch Guevara in the Sierra Maestra mountains as they sought to overthrow the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. After Castro's forces marched into Havana in January 1959, del Valle was named Comandante, the highest echelon of the revolutionary leadership, and later promoted to General.

He served as a parliamentary deputy from 1976 and was later elected by parliament as a member of the Council of State. He was appointed Interior Minister in 1968. In 1979, he switched to the Ministry of Public Health, where he served until 1986.

Phil Davison