Mirta Díaz-Balart, wife of Fidel Castro before Cuban revolution, dies at 95 (2024)

Mirta Díaz-Balart, a member of prominent Cuban family who was married to Fidel Castro during his rise as a guerrilla leader, and who later was forced to leave their son behind when she fled after Castro’s communist forces seized control, died in Madrid at age 95.

The death was announced July 6 by her grandson, Fidel Alejandro Castro Smirnov, in a social media post, but no other details were given.

Ms. Díaz-Balart, whose seven-year marriage with Castro ended in 1955, was a symbol of Castro’s complicated history: a man of relative privilege who married into a wealthy and well-connected clan that he turned against.

Her family occupied a political dynasty that was closely connected to Fulgencio Batista, the strongman president who was overthrown by Castro’s rebels in January 1959. She then was among the matriarchs of the Cuban diaspora — concentrated in South Florida — that included nephews elected to Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and former congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.)


Ms. Díaz-Balart had remarried by the time Castro’s insurgents took control. She and her new family fled the country but had to leave behind the son she had with Castro, Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, known as Fidelito.

After Castro’s death in 2016, she told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo that she had visited Havana several times to see her son. “But I have never seen or spoken to Fidel again,” she added. She called their marriage “something distant” from their youth.

“But also as a very beautiful period of my youth,” she said. “I always wished him good things.”

Their son, a nuclear scientist, took his own life in 2018 after a struggle with depression, Cuba’s state media reported.

Mirta Francisca de la Caridad Díaz-Balart y Gutiérrez was born Sept. 30, 1928, in Banes, Cuba, where her father served as mayor. Banes was also the birthplace of Batista in 1901.


While studying philosophy and literature at the University of Havana, she met Castro. He was studying law and came from a family that owned a 2,000-acre plantation in eastern Cuba. The couple was married in 1948 and went to the United States on an extended honeymoon. A wedding photo shows a clean-shaven Castro next to Ms. Díaz-Balart in a white gown and holding a bouquet.

In New York, they stayed at a brownstone on West 82nd Street near Central Park while Castro browsed bookshops (astonished to find works by Marx and Soviet writers) and Ms. Díaz-Balart indulged in shopping sprees. In Miami, they spent several weeks at a Miami Beach hotel. Their son was born in 1949.

Castro received his law degree in 1950 and set up a legal practice in Havana. The couple had political ambitions. He ran for a seat in the Cuban legislature with the populist Ortodoxo Party. But the campaign was halted in March 1952 when Batista staged a coup and retook the presidency he first held in the 1940s. (The post-coup parliament included Ms. Díaz-Balart’s brother, Rafael, who served until 1956.)


Castro became an archfoe of the Bastista regime — as well as Batista’s allies such as Ms. Díaz-Balart’s family. She was caught in the middle.

In July 1953, Castro led a failed attempt to take over the army’s Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Castro was among those arrested but was spared execution after appeals for leniency by an archbishop with ties to his family. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and released two years later under an amnesty declared by Batista.

Ms. Díaz-Balart became a curiosity in the eyes of the Cuban public. By birth she was squarely in the Batista camp; by marriage she was with the insurgents. She was among the few people allowed to visit Castro in prison on what is now called the Isla de la Juventud, or Isle of Youth.

After Castro left prison, he went into self-exile in Mexico City, where he led an anti-Batista faction known as the 26th of July Movement, commemorating the date of the Moncada assault.


Ms. Díaz-Balart stayed in Cuba to seek a divorce. According to her accounts, the marriage ended because of Castro’s affair with a married Havana socialite, Natalia Revuelta Clews, known as Naty. Castro and Revuelta had a daughter, Alina Fernández, who fled Cuba for the United States in 1993 and became an opponent of Castro’s government.

The 2019 book, “Young Castro” by journalist Jonathan M. Hansen, presented Castro’s version of the strains in their marriage. Hansen described Castro of becoming enraged when he heard a radio report in prison that this wife had been dismissed from a no-show job in the Batista government. “Castro couldn’t imagine Mirta ever taking a job in the government of his sworn enemy,” wrote Hansen, “no matter how strapped she was for cash.”

After the divorce, Ms. Díaz-Balart and her son spent time in the United States before returning to Cuba. She once sent her son to Mexico to visit Castro, but he did not allow the boy to return. She hired a team to snatch her son and bring him back to Cuba.


She soon married Emilio Núñez Portuondo, a lawyer and son of a Cuban diplomat. Castro, meanwhile, was building a guerrilla militia from mountain hideouts in Cuba after returning in December 1956 with more than 80 followers aboard the “Granma,” a vessel whose name was later adopted by the Communist Party newspaper in Cuba.

Shortly after Castro took power, Ms. Díaz-Balart and her husband fled the country. Castro demanded his son Fidelito remain in Cuba.

For decades, Cuba’s state-controlled media rarely mentioned Ms. Díaz-Balart and she avoided public attention, fearing she could be targeted by anti-Castro factions. She was in frequent contact with her son, however. In 2008, she made a rare appearance in Cuban media. She joined her son at an event at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana that was covered by Cuban journalists.


Her husband died in 2006. Ms. Díaz-Balart’s brother, Waldo Díaz-Balart, is a Madrid-based artist. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available. Her extended family includes nephew José Díaz-Balart, a newscaster on the broadcast network Telemundo and MSNBC.

A onetime Castro confidant, John T. Skelly, once described sitting with Ms. Díaz-Balart at her home in Havana in January 1959 to watch television coverage of Castro’s triumphant entrance into the capital.

He told a Miami Herald reporter in 2015 that he recalled Ms. Díaz-Balart’s comments to him that day, first recounted in the book “Cuba Confidential” (2002) by Ann Louise Bardach: “She said, ‘If he’s as good a leader as he was a father and husband, poor Cuba.’”

Mirta Díaz-Balart, wife of Fidel Castro before Cuban revolution, dies at 95 (2024)
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