MIAMI — Fidel Castro once claimed that he lived a life of exemplary revolutionary frugality on a salary of merely $36 per month.
"Lies," said Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, 65, who served as a bodyguard for the former Cuban leader for 17 years and has published a book of memoirs portraying Castro as a sort of feudal lord who ran the island as a personal fiefdom.
Castro personally controlled about 20 luxury homes, a Caribbean island getaway with a pool in which dolphins swam, the 88-foot yacht Aquarama II and several fishing vessels whose catch was sold for dollars deposited in his accounts, according to Sanchez in his 325-page book.
"He always claims he lives frugally. Lies. He lives in a luxury that most Cubans can't even imagine," Sanchez told el Nuevo Herald in his first interview after the book, The Secret Life of Fidel Castro, was published Wednesday in France.
Sanchez said he lost Castro's trust after his brother escaped from Cuba in 1994. Forced out of the personal security details, he refused transfers and asked for retirement but was instead sent to prison for two years for insubordination. He spent the first three months in a scorching hot and mosquito-riddled isolation cell just 9 by 9 feet and dropped from 187 to 114 pounds.
After escaping aboard a go-fast boat to Mexico in 2008, he crossed the U.S. border and settled in Miami. A regular guest on South Florida's Spanish-language television programs, Sanchez has previously alleged Castro approved a drug-smuggling operation that led to the execution of Cuban army Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989, and commented on other Cuban secrets. Other defectors have confirmed Sanchez spent many years on Castro's Praetorian Guard, the last five in his innermost ring of bodyguards.
Sanchez has an inch-thick stack of photos of himself, in and out of the uniform of an Interior Ministry lieutenant colonel, and certificates of appreciation signed by Castro. His anecdotes cannot be confirmed.
After Forbes magazine included Castro in its 2006 list of 10 richest "Kings, Queens and Dictators," he declared that his salary was about 900 pesos per month, or $36.