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The Galician cousin of Fidel Castro: “It had to happen some day”

Manuela Argiz is one of the few surviving Spanish relatives of the former Cuban leader left in the northwestern region of Galicia

A convoy of cars, headed by the Socialist mayor, Darío Piñeiro, drove through the center of the town of Láncara (Lugo) toward the old people’s home on Saturday. The mission was to inform Manuela Argiz that her second cousin Fidel had died in Cuba. Aged 103, Argiz took the news calmly. “It’s a shame, but it had to happen sometime,” those who were present reported her as saying when she was given the news.

Manuela Argiz, a second cousin of Fidel Castro, pictured on Saturday in Láncara (Galicia).
Manuela Argiz, a second cousin of Fidel Castro, pictured on Saturday in Láncara (Galicia).

Her and Victoria, a first cousin of Castro’s, but whose memory has been lost to illness, are the closest relatives to Fidel left in this Galician municipality of 2,700 inhabitants. It was here, in 1875, that his father, Ángel Castro Argiz, was born. He was a farmer from Láncara, who emigrated to Cuba at the age of 17 and managed to make his fortune on the Caribbean island. Manuela, who often speaks of her family connection with the communist icon with the other residents of the home, explains that she did not have much contact with him, but recalls that her father “spoke well” of his parents. She did bond with Álex, one of the Castro’s children, who visited Láncara and whom she saw break down in tears of emotion when he met her.

The news of Fidel’s death did not alter the autumnal peace of San Pedro, the village where the house in which the patriarch of the Castro family still stands. It’s a far cry from the summer’s day in 1992 when the comandante was received in Láncara with cheers – his one and only visit. He was accompanied by the regional premier of the time, Manuel Fraga, who spent 48 hours with the Cuban leader in Galicia, to a soundtrack of bagpipes, and a menu of octopus. Castro made a visit to the modest home in which his father had been brought up, and which today is in ruins.

There has been little institutional interest in converting Fidel’s father’s house into a museum

Carlos López Sierra, a resident of San Pedro, had prepared a room that day in which Fidel could spend the night. In the end, the then-leader did not stay, but the room was, from that moment on, known as the Habitación del Comandante, and is still rented out with that moniker, as part of the rural hotel that the building has now become.

“Deep down everyone in Láncara is proud that Fidel’s father is from here,” explains López. Both Castro and his brother, Raúl, are adopted sons of the village. And the family residence is still a tourist attraction, despite being in ruins.

The local cultural association has been working on a project for some time now to convert Fidel’s father’s house into a museum, but Manuel Fernández, who lives near the property, has not seen any institutional interest in refurbishing it. López, who, like Fernández, is part of the cultural association, explains that the delay is down to the Castro family, which owns the property, and is yet to grant permission for the project. On Sunday a floral tribute was due to be left at the door of the rundown building.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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