Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, the eldest son of late Cuban leader Fidel Castro and the nephew of President Raul Castro, killed himself on Thursday, according to an announcement in Granma, Cuba’s official Communist Party news outlet. He was 68.
Castro Diaz-Balart, known as Fidelito or Little Fidel due to a striking resemblance to his father, was treated for months for “deep depression,” first in a hospital and more recently as an outpatient, Granma reported.
The younger Castro was a bookish, multilingual nuclear scientist who once studied in the Soviet Union. He was in charge of Cuba’s nuclear power program from 1980 to 1992. That work came to an end after his brainchild, the Moscow-backed Juragua Nuclear Power Plant, was scrapped before construction was completed, following the fall of the Soviet Union.
“At the time of his death he served as Scientific Advisor to the Council of State and Vice President of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba,” Granma said. “During his professional life, he was dedicated entirely to the sciences, and obtained important national and international recognition.”
Fidelito was born in 1949 during Castro’s brief marriage to Mirta Diaz-Balart, a decade before the Cuban revolution. Diaz Balart took her son and left the country following the couple’s 1954 divorce, and Castro Diaz-Balart became the focus of a bitter custody battle ending when his father brought him back to Cuba. He was a cousin of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, staunch anti-communist Florida politicians.
Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, however, “was not considered a heavyweight,” politically, said University of Texas Rio Grande Valley political science professor Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former Cuban government analyst. As a prominent young scientist Castro Diaz-Balart once had a promising career, but that changed when his work on Cuba’s nuclear reactor came to a halt.
“Due to a difficult hand given to him by the collapse of the Soviet Union and also some of his own management mistakes, he was removed by his own father,” Lopez-Levy said.
“He was never counted as a potential successor of his father or uncle because Cuba is not a dynastic regime,” Lopez-Levy said. His death “will not have any consequences for the timeline of the presidential succession this year” (Raul Castro plans to step down as president in April).
Castro Diaz-Balart was, Lopez-Levy said, nevertheless significant as a high-profile symbol of the still-important ties between the Cuban and Russian people — once married to a Soviet woman, speaking fluent Russian, he was one of the thousands of Cubans from his generation who still bind Cuba and Russia.
Castro Diaz-Balart had the highest profile among his father’s numerous children, even though it never fully bounced back after the end of his leadership of Cuba’s nuclear program.
“Among the last times he was seen in public are the funerals for the death of his father, in November 2016,” and at the welcoming of 2012 Nobel Prize winner and U.S. scientist Dr. Peter Agre, who served as honorary president of last year’s Biotechnology Havana conference, EFE reported.
Bolivian President Evo Morales was among the first to send his condolences, tweeting: “We regret the death of Fidel Castro Díaz Balart, son of the great leader of the Great Fatherland, Fidel Castro Ruz. Our condolences to the people of Cuba, especially his family.”