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Castro Addicted to Power More Than Communism, Recalls Ambassador Who Fled

WASHINGTON – They were a respected couple with memberships at the yacht club and country club in Havana. They had a house, two children and a third on the way. The husband, Alberto Piedra, who was working on his doctorate, had a job lined up in Fidel Castro’s Ministry of Commerce. It seemed they were set for a beautiful life in Cuba. But Alberto knew they had to escape.

Piedra believes that if Castro were living in Germany during World War II, he would have been a Nazi. His allegiance was not to communism, but to power. The power to send enemies to the firing squad. The power to control.

Castro, who died in November 2016 at age 90, seized control through three major offices: the ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs and Education. Within three months of overthrowing Fulgencio Batista, Castro had nationalized the education system, ordering the government to ignore degrees from a private institution in Havana as it clashed with his agenda.

Piedra did not want his children matriculating through a system of brainwashing. In a communist regime, he said, the youth’s loyalty is not to parents but to the state. He disagreed with the direction of Cuba, and feared the possibility that his children would one day turn him over to the regime.

“What is the greatest gift God has given man?” the 91-year-old Piedra asked Thursday while speaking at the Institute of World Politics. “Freedom. We can use that freedom for good, but we can also use it for evil. It depends on our will. We can decide. … Government should be at the service of man, not the other way around.”

When Piedra was asked to serve in the Ministry of Commerce, he sought the opinion of a priest, who told him to accept the position as it would allow him to make a difference in Cuba.

“You’re wrong,” Piedra told the priest. “They’re using me.”

Piedra believed the regime would use him as a puppet in international negotiations, pointing to him as evidence that Cuba was not entirely made up of radical communists. Piedra also knew that turning down the offer would be dangerous, that if he denied the regime and walked away it would arouse suspicion.

“How do you abandon a communist regime without being accused of plotting a counter-revolution?” Piedra asked. “In a communist regime, you have to be very careful about such things.”

Piedra would serve three months as director general of exports and imports at the Ministry of Commerce, but he eventually made his escape. He approached Castro’s brother Raúl in an attempt to convince the regime that he would be more useful to Cuba if he finished his doctorate at Georgetown University in D.C. Piedra suspects that Raúl knew exactly what was happening, but he gave Piedra his blessing.