Very quietly, they reject Fidel Castro
Posted on Sat, Jun. 17, 2006
Very quietly, they reject Fidel Castro
Children of the Cuban regime’s ruling class who have emigrated to Spain
find they must keep a lid on any dissenting views so they can continue
to visit relatives on the island.
BY GUY HEDGECOE
Special to The Miami Herald
MADRID – They are the sons and daughters of Cuba’s ruling class, living
in Spain but keeping a low profile so that Fidel Castro’s government
will let them return home for visits.
They are known as quedaditos, which means ”those who stayed” but
implies the under-the-radar lives they lead to avoid the whiff of
dissidence that might stick to their decision to live outside the
”If you say something here, over there in Cuba they’ll find out and
you’ll never see your family again,” said a Cuban lawyer in her 30s who
lives in Madrid. ‘For example, if you put in the newspaper my name and
quote me saying, `Cuba is a load of crap,’ if that’s published, they’ll
say: ‘You said what? You’re never going back to Cuba again.’ ”
So the quedaditos try to live quiet lives and remain largely unknown
outside the close-knit group of Cubans in their same situation.
Some are critical of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Others just want to get
away from the island’s intense politics. Others want to do business,
without Cuba’s draconian controls. But for all, unlike Miami, living in
Spain does not immediately point to dissidence and the end of their
possibility of frequently visiting the island.
There’s Agustín Valdés, the son of the former Cuban interior minister
and notorious hard-liner Ramiro Valdés, who has lived in Madrid for the
past eight years, forging a career as a painter.
Javier Leal, the son of Eusebio Leal Spengler, who heads the Historian’s
Office of the City of Havana, runs a travel agency and an art gallery in
Emma Alvarez-Tabío, the daughter of Pedro Alvarez-Tabío, who heads
Cuba’s Office of Historic Affairs, is married to a Spanish diplomat and
works here as a consultant on investments in Cuba.
Enrique Alvarez Cambra, the son of Rodrigo Alvarez Cambra, a physician
who is a trusted member of Castro’s inner circle and performed surgery
on former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Enrique runs a medical clinic in
the northern city of Santander.
And Antonio Enrique Luzón, son of the former Cuban minister of transport
of the same name, is based in Madrid and runs an import-export business.
An El Nuevo Herald story in 2002 also reported the presence in Spain of
three grandchildren and a divorced daughter-in-law of Fidel Castro
himself, two grandsons of his older brother Ramón and one son of
revolutionary hero Juan Almeida.
Cubans have been flocking to Spain for decades in order to start new
lives. Some arrived as exiles from Castro’s system, some married
Spaniards, and some obtained Spanish passports based on their parents’
Spanish citizenship. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its
massive subsidies to Cuba, this new kind of migrant began to arrive, a
privileged group often connected to the very highest circles of the
Among persons they do not know or trust, they may defend Castro’s
government or remain quiet, according to fellow Cubans in Spain. But
among friends, they reveal varying levels of discontent.
”I don’t think anyone over here is in favor of the regime,” said the
Cuban lawyer, who asked for anonymity to avoid being identified and
perhaps punished by the Cuban authorities. But, she added, “a lot of us
don’t get caught up in political issues because of our families.”
After the Berlin Wall came down and Cuba’s economy all but collapsed,
the government there loosened its emigration policy, seeing the cash
remittances that its citizens abroad could send back to relatives as a
crucial source of income.
”The regime has been more flexible in this area since the economy ran
into problems,” said Carlos Cabrera, a former Havana journalist who
moved here in 1991. ‘What’s more, they wanted to depoliticize the
migration phenomenon, so they’re happy to call it `economic migration.’ ”
But many of the quedaditos could hardly be classed as economic migrants.
Many are professionals, the offspring of pro-Castro parents for whom the
revolution has provided relatively comfortable lives.
That’s because all Cubans living abroad who want to visit their homeland
must first obtain a Cuban government Permit for Residence Abroad, a
hard-to-get license that allows the possibility of returning often on
”You request the permit, and they either give it to you or they
don’t,” said Julián Mateos, a Spanish lawyer who represents Cubans in
Spain and Spanish firms in Cuba.
According to Mateos, up to 200,000 Cubans live in Spain, about 60,000 of
whom have obtained Spanish nationality. The Spanish government and the
Cuban Embassy in Madrid would not give figures or comment for this report.
Waldo Díaz-Balart, who left Cuba in 1959 and never returned, agrees that
the situation is extremely delicate for the quedaditos. Having lived
here for years, he knows Madrid’s Cuban exile community well and has
firsthand knowledge of Castro, who was once married to his sister Mirta.
Nephews Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart represent South Florida in Congress.
”It’s tremendously difficult for these people,” he said. “It’s very
tricky, this whole issue of going back and forth, because the regime’s
control stretches beyond its own borders.”
But other exiles criticize what they call “the velvet exiles.”
”From a political point of view, I think it’s obscene,” said Orlando
Fondevila, who fled Cuba in 1997 and works at the Madrid-based quarterly
magazine Revista Hispano Cubana. ‘They live over here, which supposedly
is the `evil’ side, the capitalist side, and at the same time they
[publicly] defend Cuba. It’s obscene. If they really think Cuba’s a
paradise, then they should live there.”
Still others say the quedaditos are making a political statement simply
by living outside Cuba.
”The very fact that they are here reflects a certain distance from the
regime,” said Pío Serrano, an exiled Cuban writer who runs a publishing
house in Madrid.
”Some people might well say that you have to be utterly against Castro
and nothing else will do, but you can’t say that everyone is in the same
situation,” Serrano said, noting that some quedaditos privately reveal
their dislike of the Castro regime.