Friday, September 26, 2008

Fidel's happily not-so-famous "other brother" is almost 84

Fidel Castro's older brother is Ramon, who for decades has worked in the countryside, content to be out of the national spotlight.
In less than three weeks, on Oct. 14, 1924, Ramon will celebrate his 84th birthday. He is older than Fidel, whose official birth date is Aug. 13, 1926 (although some biographers are convinced Fidel was actually born in 1927 and claimed to be a year older to get in to Belen prep school when he was a teen-ager).
Sarasota Herald-Tribune staff writer Michael Braga profiled the oldest Castro brother in 2004.
From the story:
With his white beard shaved at the chin, dressed in an old cowboy hat gray from cigar smoke, a short-sleeve check shirt, black slacks and black shoes, Ramon Castro resembles an Amish farmer.
"I'm just a guajiro," he says, a word that translates roughly into "hillbilly."
Ramon's good-natured humility and aura of spirituality cause people to gravitate toward him. Those who recognize him realize he's a national treasure, someone who has fought for the principles of the Cuban Revolution without getting his hands dirty.
"He's very clean," said his sister, Juanita Castro, who lives and works in Miami and has been a persistent critic of her more famous brother, Fidel. "Ramon is a wonderful man."
Not long after that story came out, Naples businessman John Parke Wright IV was kind enough to invite me to lunch with Ramon and a few others. Ramon was celebrating his 80th birthday. Wright played the harmonica. Ramon sang, told stories and snuffed out the candle on his cake with a clap of his hands.


Manuel A.Tellechea said...

So Ramón Castro has "worked for decades in the countryside?" You appear to be suggesting that he is a common laborer, a "hillbilly," "an Amish farmer." In fact, he has continued to reside at the old family plantation, which is the only property of its size in Cuba that was not confiscated by the Revolution. In effect, Ramón Castro was allowed to continue his life as if his brother's revolution had never happened. Would that all Cubans had been as lucky!

Are you planning future paeans to other members of the Castro family?

alongthemalecon said...

I'm just trying to live up to your expectations, Sir Manuel, and I see I've failed again. I'm so disappointed.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Fortunately, what I have to teach you have to learn. My knowledge will not be exhausted before yours is supplied.

alongthemalecon said...

Thank you, holy one. You are a source of inspiration.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

I should be satisfied to be simply a source of instruction and improvement for you.

alongthemalecon said...

Jokes aside, I am intrigued by Maria Antonia Pujol's huge ranch mentioned in the Herald-Tribune story. I find it interesting that the socialist government did not confiscate the 1,500-acre ranch after the revolution. I wonder if there is any other property quite like it in Cuba.
more on Maria Antonia Pujol ranch here

I am sure you are right that Ramon Castro has not led the same kind of life as the ordinary Cuban farmer. I don't have any illusions about that. The Herald-Tribune story mentions that he lives in a one-story home in Miramar. You say he has continued to reside at the old family plantation. Is that correct?

I visited Biran once several years ago and it was set up as a museum. I'll dig out the pictures and post them one day if I can find them. I didn't pick up any indication then that Ramon Castro or any of the Castros were living there.

One of the houses at the Biran compound - the house where Fidel Castro lived as a boy - had a bullet hole in the ceiling of one of the rooms. I can't recall the exact story now, but it went something like this - One of the Castro boys - Fidel, I think - accidently fired his .22-caliber rifle. (I know what some people may be thinking - wow, too bad Fidel didn't shoot himself in the head. History would have been different).
Anyway, while in Biran, I found out that the bullet hole wasn't the original. The old wooden house had been destroyed in a fire and, I recall, the ancestral home and the bullet hole were recreated.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

The "ancestral home" was built by Angel Castro, Fidel's father, a first-generation immigrant to Cuba. It was a big wooden house constructed on stilts. Below the house was the pig sty. Castro lived with his mother and siblings in a cabin on the family estate. Angel, his wife and legitimate children lived in the big house.

The house has been largely renovated to reflect the new "dignity" of the Castro clan. A 600-page book was recently published recounting the idealized story of the house and its occupants.

The story goes that the bullet hole that you saw in a wall was the result of a shot that Fidel fired at his father when he was twelve.

It will be interesting to know if the house sustained any damage in the hurricane, as Birán was said to have been badly affected (both local bridges were knocked down).

No doubt all available resources have been utilized to rebuild the Castro manse/museum while millions of Cubans are homeless.

Pity that it will not exist very much longer. Return to Cuba in a few years and you may be able to pick up an old plank as a keepsake; maybe even a splinter from the Granma too.

Ramón still lives on the old plantation but does not presently occupy the old Castro house.

In 1959 he got into a public squabble with Fidel over the family estate and wrote a letter denouncing his younger brother's appropriation of it after their mother's death, which was published in a local newspaper (at the time Castro had not yet closed all of Cuba's 56 independent dailies).

The brothers eventually reconciled when Fidel "gave" Ramón the old family plantation. Juanita Castro, who was angry with Fidel for the same reasons, left the country.

It has since been rumored that she has visited Cuba and her ailing brother.

alongthemalecon said...

That's really interesting. Thanks for sharing those comments. Fidel must have been quite a child to be shooting at his father, Angel.
No doubt you've read "After Fidel." It contains some fascinating stories about the Castro family.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

The child is the father of the man.