You would have to be a confirmed conspiracy theorist to imagine that the revelation that Fidel Castro's sister, Juanita, worked for the CIA in the 1960s was timed to coincide with this week's UN vote on the continuing US embargo of Cuba. But what would the relationship between the US and Cuba be without a good conspiracy theory?
Juanita Castro has not made any secret of her opposition to her brothers, Fidel and Raúl, since she defected on a trip to Mexico back in 1964. Her book, Fidel and Raúl, My Brothers: The Secret History, is just the latest in a long line of denunciations of the Cuban government by exiles, mainly based in Miami. The fact that she is now saying that she was not just a dissident sibling but, for a period while still living in Cuba, a CIA informer, prompts one immediate question: with someone so close to the heart of the government, how on earth were the CIA so inept in all their efforts to destabilise Castro?
The many bizarre assassination attempts sponsored or organised by the CIA have already been the subject of their own book and television documentary, 638 Ways to Kill Castro. But Juanita Castro says in her book that she stipulated she could not be involved in violent attacks on her brothers nor in the receipt of money. So what did the CIA gain from her?
Juanita was born in Birán, near Mayarí, in what is now known as Holguín Province. She was the fourth child of Ángel Castro y Argiz and Lina Ruz González, and has three brothers — Ramón, Fidel, and Raúl — and three sisters — Angelita, Enma, and Agustina. The family also has two half siblings, Lida and Pedro Emilio, who were raised by Ángel Castro's first wife Maria Luisa Argota.
Juanita, like all the Castro siblings, was active in the Cuban revolution, buying weapons for the 26th of July movement during their campaign against Fulgencio Batista. In 1958 Juanita traveled to the U.S. to raise funds.
After the revolution Juanita felt betrayed by the growing influence of Cuban communists over the Cuban government.
Fidel and Raúl's government policies clashed with family interests, which included their brother Ramón. When the two revolutionaries insisted on imposing "agrarian reform" on some of the family estates, Ramón, who had worked hard maintaining the property, angrily exploded: "Raúl is a dirty little Communist. Some day I am going to kill him."
In this climate, she started collaborating with the CIA. In 1964 she left Cuba, staying with her sister Enma, who had left Cuba earlier when she married a Mexican, in Mexico City before emigrating to the United States. Upon her arrival in Mexico she called a press conference and announced that she had defected from Cuba. "I cannot longer remain indifferent to what is happening in my country," she said. "My brothers Fidel and Raúl have made it an enormous prison surrounded by water. The people are nailed to a cross of torment imposed by international Communism."
Juanita Castro in the immediate post-revolutionary period was credited with helping at least 200 people leave Cuba, as part of her work with CIA. According to a 1964 article in Time magazine "after the mother Lina Ruz died, there was a violent episode when Fidel decided to expropriate the family land once and for all. Juanita started selling the cattle; Fidel flew into a rage, denounced her as a 'counterrevolutionary worm,' and rushed to the Oriente farm."
In 1998, Juanita filed a lawsuit in Spain against her niece Alina Fernández, her brother Fidel Castro's illegitimate daughter, for libel over some passages in Fernández's autobiography, Castro's Daughter: An Exile's Memoir of Cuba, that was published the same year. The Spanish court ordered Fernández and Plaza & Janes, the Barcelona Random House division that published the book, to pay $45,000 to Juanita. Juanita claimed the book defamed her family stating: "People who were eating off Fidel's plate yesterday come here and want money and power, so they say whatever they want, even if it's not true."
On October 25, 2009, Juanita Castro told Univision's WLTV-23 she initially supported her brother's 1959 overthrow of the Batista dictatorship but quickly became disillusioned. Her home became a sanctuary for anti-Communists before she fled the island in 1964. In the TV interview, Juanita Castro says she was approached by the CIA