Juanita Castro, a sister of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro who broke with him over his brutal crackdown on dissent in the early 1960s, going on to collaborate with the Central Intelligence Agency before fleeing the island nation in 1964, never to speak to her brother again, died on Monday in Miami. She was 90.
Maria Antonieta Collins, a journalist who helped Ms. Castro write a memoir, published in 2009, that revealed her clandestine activities for the first time, confirmed the death on Instagram.
Ms. Castro wrote that the C.I.A., which she was instructed to call “the company” to deflect suspicions, communicated with her in Havana by shortwave radio, playing the “Fascination Waltz” each day at 7 p.m. followed by a coded message. If there was no message that day, her espionage contacts would broadcast the overture from “Madama Butterfly.”
Ms. Castro — who was six years younger than Fidel and two years younger than her brother Raúl, who eventually succeeded the ailing Fidel in power — originally supported the uprising that toppled the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. She raised money for the insurgency in the United States and, after its triumph, helped build hospitals and schools.
But she grew disillusioned with Fidel’s move to rule Cuba as a one-party Communist state. “He betrayed the Cuban revolution, which was democratic and as Cuban as palm trees, as he himself used to say,” Ms. Castro said in an interview with Reuters in 2009, when her memoir, “Fidel and Raúl, My Brothers: The Secret History,” was published.
The work she did for the C.I.A. from 1961 to 1964 while operating under the code name “Donna,” she wrote, involved helping anti-Castro dissidents and C.I.A. agents avoid exposure and capture, including finding safe houses. She said she helped many people escape the island.
“The betrayal wasn’t mine. It was Fidel’s,” she said.
According to Ms. Castro, she told her original C.I.A. recruiter that she would collaborate on one condition: that she not be asked to help with any violent plot against her brothers. It was shortly after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles, which the C.I.A. had organized. The agency was busily hatching plots to assassinate Castro, sometimes with Mafia help.
Ms. Castro was already privately aiding dissidents, she wrote, when the wife of the Brazilian ambassador in Havana, Virginia Leitão da Cunha, approached her about working with the C.I.A. “Don’t be afraid, Juanita, these people are first class,” Ms. Castro recalled the ambassador’s wife saying.
A meeting was set up in June 1961 in Mexico City between Ms. Castro and a C.I.A. operative she identified as Tony Sforza, who was based in Cuba under the cover of being a professional gambler named Frank Stevens. “He spoke Spanish perfectly,’’ she wrote.
In their initial conversation, Ms. Castro lamented the direction Cuba had taken under her brother. Her first mission was to smuggle money, messages and documents back to Havana packaged in cans of food. She said she refused to accept any money for herself.
In Cuba, she would collect coded messages left by clandestine operatives that were buried at the base of highway signs. Once, while picking up a message with two female university students, family friends she had brought in as collaborators, her car broke down. While standing by the road, they happened to be passed by Fidel Castro and his motorcade. He gave them a ride into town and towed their car. “We arrived at the destination, we said goodbye to Fidel and thanked him for the service,’’ she wrote.
Ms. Castro’s older brothers were aware that she was associating with anti-communist Cubans, though not that she was associating with the C.I.A. Fidel Castro warned her to say away from “worms,” as he called dissidents. Her activities included sending medicine and food to political prisoners and trying to save convicted prisoners from the firing squad, she later said.
As long as their mother, Lina Ruz González, remained alive, Juanita Castro believed Fidel would not harm her. But after their mother died of a heart attack in 1963, Ms. Castro wrote, “everything was becoming more dangerously complicated.”
She went into exile the next year, fleeing first to Mexico.
“I cannot longer remain indifferent to what is happening in my country,” she said in a statement to the press on arriving in Mexico. “My brothers Fidel and Raúl have made it an enormous prison surrounded by water. The people are nailed to a cross of torment imposed by international Communism.”
The next year she moved to South Florida, where she opened a pharmacy in Little Havana in 1973 and lived quietly for decades. She was never fully embraced by anti-Castro activists in Miami, she once said, because they were suspicious of her family name. She sold the drugstore to the CVS chain in 2006 and retired.
Juana de la Caridad Cástro Ruz was born on May 6, 1933, in Birán, a village in eastern Cuba. Her father, Ángel Castro y Argiz, was a farmer and businessman. Her mother was originally employed as a domestic in the household. The couple had seven children together: Angelita, Ramon, Fidel, Raúl, Juanita, Enma and Agustina.
Ms. Castro’s survivors include her brother Raúl and her sister Enma.
When Fidel Castro grew ill in 2006 before handing power to Raúl, and again when he died in 2016, thousands of Cuban exiles and their descendants took to Miami’s streets in spontaneous celebrations. But Ms. Castro was disheartened. Even though she had not spoken to her brother in more than five decades, she felt the tug of family bonds and said it was disrespectful to rejoice at anyone’s sickness or death.
“It’s not necessary to do what the Cuban people have done here in the streets of Miami,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 2016. “That’s not Christian. It’s not humane.”