Dismantling One of Fidel’s Houses and Saying Goodbye to His Bodyguards / Juan Juan Almeida

Fidel Castro getting into a car, surrounded by bodyguards.

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 February 2017 — They are dismembering the security apparatus at the bunker that for years served as a spiritual refuge for Fidel Castro: an apartment located on the third floor of 1007 11th Street in Havana’s Vedado district.

Little by little they are removing pictures, gifts and belongings along with some trash. The metal security chain, floodlights and even the guard post that prevented citizens from moving freely along the length of the block where the building is located have already been removed.

More than fifty bodyguards have been retired, leaving only a small temporary garrison of five men and one police officer, Colonel Nivaldo Pérez Guerra.

Strategically located in District 13, a downtown neighborhood near the Plaza of the Revolution, the building in question was one of the former Cuban leader’s three official residences. Though he had not visited the place for several decades, it remained his legal residence from 1976 until the day he died.

These actions are, it seems, an attempt to remove any evidence that media outlets and Cubans themselves, who have an excessive propensity for constructing legends and creating myths, might use to craft a heroic saga out of the daily habits and lifestyle of the late commander-in-chief.

“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. They are getting rid of anything with even a whiff of age. In the case of #11 (as the building is known), the country’s leaders have sent us a message: ’The options are total demolition or a complete remodeling of the place; if we leave it the way it is, it could awaken the interest of an avid array of gossip mongers; and, you guys, you are to be relocated,’” says one one disgruntled man, who for years belonged to the tight inner circle of security personnel guarding the late revolutionary leader.

“But they are not going to sack us,” he adds. “What they are doing is speeding up our retirement, which is not quite the same thing. At the same time that they are removing Fidel’s things from #11, they are sending us to Personal Security, over there in Jaimanitas, where they present retirement as compensation for a lifetime of loyal service. They are giving us a Chinese car that looks a new Geely model CK but which is actually a discontinued clunker, a used tourist rental car with a lot of miles on it.”

A disbanded and discontented elite military force can be a terribly bad omen for a society on fire.

One need only go to the parking area of the Hotel Melia Cohiba or Hotel Melia Havana and ask any of the former Cuban president’s various bodyguards where one might find a good botero (taxi driver).

They will tell you that a group of them, who are all now unemployed, are planning to regroup and apply for licenses to operate a privately owned cooperative offering security services to celebrities and fashionable artists visiting the country.

A good business, I would think. No one can deny that, when it comes to personal security, these men have plenty of experience.