Posted on Mon, May. 29, 2006
Guerrilla’s death still shrouded in mystery
More than 40 years later, the seldom-discussed death of Nilsa Espín
Guillois, the sister of Raúl Castro’s wife, remains a well-kept secret.
BY PABLO ALFONSO
El Nuevo Herald
Behind the name of the youngest daughter of Cuban Defense Minister Raúl
Castro lies one of the most mysterious incidents — and one of the
best-guarded secrets — in the history of the Cuban revolution.
The daughter, Nilsa Castro Espín, now just over 30, is named after her
aunt, Nilsa Espín Guillois — the sister of Raúl Castro’s wife, Vilma Espín.
The few unconfirmed accounts that have circulated since Nilsa Espín
Guillois’ death sometime in 1965 maintain that she shot herself in the
head in Raúl’s office, either with a pistol or a submachine gun.
According to those accounts, Nilsa and her husband, Rafael Rivero, an
army captain who worked at the National Institute for Agrarian Reform in
Pinar del Río province, had made a suicide pact. Rivero is said to have
died one day earlier or the same day at a military base in Pinar del Río.
”There was talk of a suicide pact they had made years earlier,” Carlos
Franqui, author of several books on the Cuban revolution, told El Nuevo
Herald. He described the pair as “very independent spirits [who] had
fallen into disfavor because of their Maoist leanings.”
One account has Rivero dying in an incident while training in a camp for
foreign guerrillas backed by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, brother of Raúl.
Franqui said one of the accounts he has heard was that when Raúl
summoned Nilsa to his office to tell her about Rivero’s death, she took
a submachine gun in the room and killed herself.
”That’s a version I don’t believe. On the other hand, an official
explanation was never given,” Franqui said.
Four decades after the events, Dariel Alarcón Ramírez, the Cuban
guerrilla better known as ”Benigno” who accompanied Ernesto ”Che”
Guevara in Bolivia, later defected and now lives in Paris, has told El
Nuevo Herald that he knows something about the case.
Nilsa died in a confused incident in an office in Raúl’s private Havana
home, Alarcón said.
SECOND IN COMMAND
”At the time, I was second in command of the Escort and Security
Battalion” for Raúl Castro, Alarcón said, ”and that day I was on guard
duty” at the home. Alarcón said he did not witness what happened but
was told about it by one of the guards inside the house, a man whose
name he recalled only as Idalberto.
Alarcón said Idalberto told him that Nilsa burst into Raúl’s office
looking very upset. The bodyguards then heard an agitated dispute that
rose alarmingly in tone. When the bodyguards opened the door, they saw
Nilsa holding a Stechkin, a Russian full-automatic fire pistol.
”Shots were fired, and she died. The official explanation — very
secret — was that she committed suicide,” Alarcón said, adding that it
was unclear who fired the fatal shots. “Later I learned that her
husband, Rafael Rivero, had died the day before in Pinar del Río,
apparently a suicide, and she went to ask Raúl for an explanation.
Nobody spoke about it anymore.”
The Cuban media never reported the deaths of Nilsa and her husband. And
with the exception of Franqui, it seems that none of the authors who
have written about the Cuban revolution have made any reference to the case.
At the time, Nilsa and Rivero were far from unknown.
Both began their revolutionary activities in 1952 as students at the
Institute of Secondary Education in Santiago de Cuba and remained active
when they attended the University of Oriente in the late 1950s.
”Nilsa and Rivero had their own little group early on and began to raid
police stations to seize dynamite, rifles and such,” Vilma Espín — who
has been head of the Cuban Federation of Women since shortly after the
1959 victory of the Castro revolution — told Franqui in 1960, when he
was writing Diary of the Revolution.
The Espín family was part of Santiago de Cuba’s upper class. Vilma and
Nilsa’s father, José, was an executive at the Bacardi rum distillery.
Vilma graduated as a chemical engineer from the Massachusetts Institute