Castro sheds 'inner tears' at father's home

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FOLLOWING the instinct of every father's son, Fidel Castro yesterday returned to his roots. The Cuban leader visited the one-room barn where his father was born, in this village in Galicia, north-western Spain, and did what most father's sons do: he wept. Not openly, however. When you are one of the world's last Communist strongmen, with the international media zooming in on any potential teardrop, it is hardly the moment to project a 'New Man' image.

But weep he did, 'in his own way', according to those closest to him. 'The best tears are those shed inside. Fidel shed many of those today. They may not have run down his face, but to us they were evident when he stood on the spot where his father was born,' said his first cousin, 69-year-old Estela Lopez, who lives in a nearby village. 'He said he thought of his father and wished he could be alone with his thoughts. But protocol meant he had to retain a valiant face.'

The Cuban leader's father, Angel Castro y Argiz, was born to a peasant family in the tiny village of Lancara towards the turn of the century. According to villagers, not even Fidel himself knew his father's birth date until the Lancara village priest produced a crumpled, handwritten birth certificate during yesterday's visit.

Fidel's subsequent family history is the stuff of psychiatrists' dreams. His father first went to Cuba as a soldier, in the Spanish army's last vain attempt to crush the independence movement sweeping Cuba.

He came home with a new eye for the business and other possibilities that the Caribbean island offered.

Returning to Cuba to seek his fortune, he married a local woman, had two children by her and, without offending local mores, five more by the family cook, Lina Ruz Gonzalez. Fidel was the second of the latter brood.

The Cuban leader, ostensibly here for an Ibero-American summit in Madrid last week, had been in Spain only once before - a stopover of a few hours. He left reporters in no doubt that the visit to his father's birthplace was the real reason he was here. 'I didn't come for Olympics or exhibitions,' he said.

A crack in the traditional tough facade? The camera motor-drives whirred, but his eyes remained dry as he accepted a scroll declaring him an 'adopted son' of the municipality of Lancara.

His host in Galicia, Manuel Fraga, prime minister of the province, briefly let his emotions get the better of him, sniffing back tears and halting his speech while aides patted him on the back. After eloquent praise for President Castro's 'sincere desire to further the cause of all of America', Mr Fraga managed to squeeze in a diplomatic message: 'Nor do we have any doubt that in the service of your country you will know how to take every step that the reality of the times and of world opinion demand.'

'El comandante' did not bat an eyelid. 'I remember my father's permanent love for Galicia,' he said. 'How often he used to talk of coming back here, to see his home, after he settled in Cuba. But the years passed and he never did. I could not receive a greater honour than to be declared an adopted son of Lancara.'

The Cuban leader was given a latchkey for the now-empty granite barn, still without electricity, where his father was born.

(Photograph omitted)