International News

Fidel Castro Is a Drug-Smuggling "Godfather," His Ex-Bodyguard Claims

As the Cocaine Cowboys era exploded into a yeyo-fueled crime wave of excess in South Florida and across the nation in the 1980s, Fidel Castro quietly helped Cuban smugglers get the drugs from Colombia to American shores. Why?  

"For him, drug trafficking was, above all, a weapon of revolutionary struggle more than a means of making money," writes Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, a former Castro bodyguard. "It served his revolutionary objectives in the sense that it corrupted and destabilized American society... Icing on the cake: It was a means of bringing in cash to finance subversion."

Sanchez's assertion that Fidel is a "godfather" of the drug trade is among the more eye-opening claims in The Double Life of Fidel Castro, a new book by Sanchez that was excerpted in the New York Post over the weekend. 

Sanchez says he spent 17 years as a "top bodyguard" for Castro who fell out of favor and eventually escaped to the U.S. in 2008. He first published his memoirs in France in collaboration with a reporter at L'Express magazine. At the time, the book made headlines for its claims that Fidel — despite his proletarian image — lives a life of grand luxury, including yachts and a stocked private Caribbean island.

Sanchez's first English-language excerpt concentrates on the drug trade. He claims he witnessed Fidel's role in the trafficking firsthand in 1988, when he overheard the Cuban strongman personally arranging a quiet visit back to Cuba for a top drug smuggler. 

"I realized that the man for whom I had long sacrificed my life, the Líder whom I worshipped like a god and who counted more in my eyes than my own family was caught up in cocaine trafficking to such an extent that he was directing illegal operations like a real godfather," Sanchez writes.

The ex-bodyguard also claims Fidel ordered the execution of a revolutionary general named Arnaldo Ochoa to cover his own ties in the mid-'80s to cocaine and marijuana smuggling though a "convertible currency" department in the government. That decision, Sanchez writes, so disturbed Raúl Castro that the younger brother became a drunk. 

"[He] was dead drunk so often that the ministers and the generals could not have failed to miss it," Sanchez writes of Raúl.

Sanchez was thrown in prison in 1994 after falling out with Castro and finally made it to Mexico in 2008 after as many as ten failed attempts to defect. 
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink