Was female revolutionary, Celia Sanchez, Castro’s lover?
Summary of story from BBC News, December 11, 2011
Few doubt that the female revolutionary Celia Sanchez played a key part in the life of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, but just how intimate the two of them really were is a debate still going on, 30 years after her death.
Sanchez was at the heart of the Cuban revolution for over two decades and after meeting Castro in 1957, she became his indispensable aide.
There has been speculation they were lovers. But neither Sanchez when she was alive, nor Castro, ever addressed the rumours. Outside Cuba, little has been written about the role Sanchez played until her death in 1980.
Celia Sanchez Manduley was born in 1920. She grew up in the sugar town of Media Luna, in the tropical east of Cuba, known as Oriente.
When Fulgencio Batista took power in Cuba for the second time following a coup in 1952, Sanchez – like millions of Cubans – was outraged. She was convinced it would take violence to overthrow his dictatorship, and began to organise resistance.
In July 1953, Castro made his first attempt to topple Batista, and attacked the Moncada barracks in Santiago. Sanchez joined Castro’s July 26th Movement.
When he returned from exile in Mexico, she organised the transport of supplies up to his rebels in the Sierra Maestra, recruited volunteers, and was one of the main points of contact.
By 1957, in Batista’s Cuba, Sanchez was the country’s most-wanted woman. When it became too dangerous for her to remain on the plains, she joined Castro up in the Sierra Maestra.
Former guerrilla fighter Brigadier-General Tete Puebla was 15 when she met Sanchez in the Sierra Maestra.
“The first battle where Celia took part was Uvero in May 1957. It was really tough. This was a time when Batista’s guards dominated much of the Sierra. They bombed and killed many peasants.
“She was in control of some of those areas where sometimes 40 or 50 people died. Sometimes the guards burned all the houses in a village, so people had nowhere to live. And along with all her other responsibilities, Celia took care of those families too.”
She was in charge of numerous revolutionary projects. From overseeing the “re-education” of the families of anti-Castro insurgents, to founding parks and ensuring Cubans had ice-cream, Celia was the go-to woman.
The Fidel-Celia story is yet one more example of how Cuba’s revolutionary history remains contested territory between loyalists on the island, and anti-Castro exiles in the US.
According to the historian Tiffany Sippial from Auburn University in Alabama, the absence of testimony from either protagonist allows both sides to construct their own stories.
“In Cuba, it allows everyone to emphasise that Fidel Castro and Celia Sanchez were solely focused on the revolutionary project.
“In Miami, playing up a sexual relationship between them is a way of breaking down the sanctity of their political commitment.”
But what is not disputed by either side is the significance of that relationship and the unassailable position of Celia Sanchez at the epicentre of power in Cuba.