Fidel Castro the Womanizer: a Less Known Aspect of El Comandante
When journalist Ann Louise Bardach asked Castro how many children he had during an interview with Vanity Fair in 1993, he smiled and answered "almost a tribe".
During the research for Without Fidel, her new book chronicling the lives of Castro and his brother, Raul, to be published by Scribner, she discovered how true that observation was.
Castro, now 83, was a dashing young man whose good looks and rebel swagger clearly leant him a strong sexual allure during the years before and after the 1959 revolution. Indeed, media reports describe female fans swooning after he arrived triumphantly in Havana and during early trips to the US.
He had one child, Fidelito (Little Fidel), with his first wife Myrta Diaz-Balart in 1949 and five boys between 1962 and 1974 with Dalia Soto del Valle, a little-seen companion whom he is said to have secretly married in 1980. Remarkably, she was first shown on Cuban television in 2003 - "so forbidden" was Castro's personal domain, Ms Bardach observes.
But there have been many more paramours and several other children along the way - most notably from the time when the 29-year-year old rebel leader celebrated his release from prison in 1955 for a failed uprising.
For three Castro offspring were born to three women during 1956. Most famously, there was Natalia Revuelta, an aristocratic beauty who became a fierce defender of his revolution - she bore him a daughter, Alina Fernandez.
Ms Bardach, an investigative journalist and a member of the Cuba Study Group at the Brookings Institution think-tank, had previously reported the existence of another illegitimate 1956 child, Panchita Pupo. She was not even known to his other offspring and her mother remains unidentified.
And in this book, she reveals the identity of the mother of Jorge Angel, the third Castro child of 1956 - Maria Laborde, an admirer who Castro met just after was he freed.
She also discloses another apparent addition to the brood - a son known as Ciro, the early 1960s product of another brief fling. He was previously unknown outside the family inner circle, but a close relative of Celia Sanchez, Castro's closest confidante and yet another rumoured lover, revealed his existence to the author.
Ciro, named after a revolutionary martyr and whose mother's name is still secret, is said to have "movie star looks", with green eyes and dark complexion. He went into sports medicine after studying physical education at college, married a minor party official and lives in a Havana suburb where nobody knows his provenance.
And if claims made earlier this year by a Cuban intelligence defector that he sired another son in 1970 are true, that would take the count to 11 children by seven women - and counting.
Castro's first name is derived from the Latin for "faithful", but while he has remained true to his politics, the same cannot be said of the women in his life. His offspring have however largely adhered to their father's instructions not to flaunt their privileged backgrounds and are rarely seen in public, His first son, Fidelito, has received the highest prominence. But when he mishandled the country's nuclear power programme, his father ordered his dismissal. "He was fired for incompetence," Castro said. "We don't have a monarchy here."
Many Cubans would, however, disagree with the last point - and with good reason. After the crippling intestinal disease of diverticulitis nearly killed him in 2006, Fidel's brother Raul was anointed to replace him. The younger Castro was confirmed as president last year in a handover which appeared almost feudal.
Ms Bardach predicts that the most likely member of the family's next generation to emerge as a future leader is Raul's son, Alejandro, 43, a colonel and rising star in the powerful interior ministry The book also discloses the explosive inside story of how Raul Castro purged two close lieutenants of his older brother. Carlos Lage, the economics czar, and Felipe Perez Roque, the foreign minister, had both been considered possible future leaders, but were ousted after a year-long surveillance operation.
In classic old communist style, the two men were forced to write mea culpas for political sins which are still unclear. Raul, the veteran defence minister, has moved allies from the armed forces into virtually all areas of government and the economy - apparently inspired by the commercial success of the People's Liberation Army in China.
And Ms Bardach reveals that Fidel Castro's pride and obstinacy almost proved fatal when he rejected the recommended surgery in 2006 - a colostomy. Castro insisted on a much riskier operation as he did not want to suffer the perceived indignity of living with an attached bag.
The bolder procedure failed and Castro was nearly killed by a peritonitis infection as a result. After a life-saving colostomy was finally performed, Ms Bardach reports that Castro was distraught. "Fidel was crying," a source present in the hospital told her. "He cried several times that day. He was devastated."
From her contacts within the Cuban medical system, she also learns that Castro was fed intravenously for five months after the surgery and lost 45 pounds. A Spanish doctor brought in to treat him feared he was "starving to death" and gradually restored solid foods to a highly restrictive diet.
In his occasional photo shoots with visiting left-wing Latin American proteges, Castro has abandoned his old uniform of olive fatigues.
Instead, he opts for garish track suits because they hide the hated colostomy bag - emblematic of his transformation from hirsute heart-throb to frail octogenarian.