on March 7, 2008
The First Section of this review is an introduction to Chapters 1 through 9 of Fidel Castro's spoken autobiography by Ignacio Ramonet. Following the First Section, the Second Section consists of four questions which Ignacio Ramonet asks Castro, and Fidel's answers to them. These questions and answers concern occurrences within Cuba after the triumph of the Revolutionary War on December 31, 1959, and prior to April 17, 1961.
The most impressive thing to me about the first nine chapters of Ramonet's book is how understandably Castro conveys the fact that the Cuban Revolutionary War eschewed terrorism (defined as executing captured, non-uniformed combatants or using random violence against civilians.) Fidel considered such terrorism immoral, but more to the point, he considered it immoral because unnecessary. Terrorism would have been highly counter-productive where the soil for revolution vis-à-vis the imperialistic United States was seeded more widely and far earlier than in Vietnam, for example -- where the Vietcong did employ terrorism in a war against an invasion by America essentially indistinguishable from its unprovoked attack on Iraq in 2003.
Similarly, Fidel invoked Che Guevarra's medical skills (and those of other revolutionary soldiers as the revolution gained momentum) to treat wounded Batista soldiers on the battlefield, once the non-fatally wounded revolutionary soldiers were evacuated or cared for. And not infrequently, these cared-for Batista forces, after returning to health, joined the revolutionary forces in the war against Batista.
Chapter 1 is an introduction by the book's author, and it should be read first and carefully by anyone largely ignorant of the facts regarding Cuba since 1953, which is to say by 99.9% of all living Americans. Chapters 2 through 4 concern Fidel's childhood and growing political awareness, before 1953. Then after a brief philosophical diversion in Chapter 5, The Backdrop of the Revolution, Chapters 6 through 9 mainly describe the revolutionary war in Cuba from July 26, 1953, to December 31, 1959. These four chapters are simply riveting, and no one can read them without astonishment at how close, twice, Fidel and his inner core of revolutionaries came to being wiped out. But finally and most important for non-Cubans interested in understanding the Cuban Revolution, Chapters 6 through 9 hammer home the fact that the revolutionary war was just that: A War. And as such, it was an exercise in military, to repeat military, genius and leadership on Fidel's part and on the part of his soldiers.
THE DEMONSTRATION EXECUTIONS. Q. When the war ended, you and your followers had promised to bring to trial and eventually put to death members of Batista's repressive forces, and you created `revolutionary tribunals' that carried out a purge that many observers characterized as excessive. Do you think that was a mistake? (p 220.)
A. I think the error (was) in ... allowing the proceedings to be attended by a great number of our countrymen....But I'd been in Venezuela (in 1952) ... and (I knew that) ... (w)hen Machado fell, (his) people were dragged through the streets; there were lynchings, houses were invaded and attacked, people sought vengeance, revenge....(W)e ... did not want to see ... personal vengeance (in 1960 in Cuba)....
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST HOMOSEXUALS. Q. One of (the) criticisms...against the Revolution was that...there ... were internment camps that homosexuals were sent to, locked up and repressed. What can you tell me about that subject? (p 222.)
A. There was no persecution of homosexuals, or internment camps for homosexuals .... (However) ... (o)bligatory military service was instituted... (Reviewer's note: with three exceptions: educational deferments, conscientious objectors, and homosexuals.) ... Homosexuals were not called up (because) ... machismo was ... very much present in our society, and ... rejection of the idea of homosexuals ... in the military (was widespread).
(We created) Military Units to Aid Production ... we tried to raise the morale of people ... sent to the camps, (to) present them with an opportunity to work, to help the country in those difficult times" ... (But) I can't deny that there were prejudices ... (that) homosexuals were most certainly the victims of discrimination ... Today a much more civilized, more educated population is gradually overcoming those prejudices.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE BLACK POPULATION. Q. Did you have to fight, too, against discrimination against the black population (p227)?
A. For us revolutionaries, fighting racial discrimination has been a sacred principle.
THE MIAMI CUBANS. Q. ... against Cuba, Washington was able to tap anti-revolutionary Cubans for help? (p256)
A. That's right. Listen, I'm going to tell you something: ... many of those who were involved in terrorist activities were not actually planning to ... bring ... down the Revolution....
(Many of the rich and privileged who left Cuba and abandoned their homes and ... everything - it's not that we expelled them and took their homes away - they said: "This will last four or five months, how long can a revolution last in this country?")
But the counter-revolutionaries also had the conviction ... that their despicable cause would win out in the end ... (because their fight was joined with that of the United States) ... They expected the United States to step in and bring the Revolution down.
(This review will be continued)
on January 4, 2008
Just arrived by mail, just translated and available, I am reading the preface of Fidel's autobiography by co-author/interviewer, Ignacio Ramonet. The preface is titled "A Hundred Hours with Fidel."
You know how some movies can allow you to talk at low moments to yourself or a companion, or some TV shows can, too. Yet, other movies demand your attention to the extent the world must be silent to savor every word, every observation.
Baldwin does this for me. James Baldwin is to me, I see now, what Jose Marti is to Fidel, the embodiment of a spiritual value, transcending political dogma, left or right.
Opening this book, I had to shut off the radio and the world and let my savory honey-sweetened espresso get cold ...
Fidel's selection of Ramonet, a Spanish journalist and editor or Le Monde, is reportedly smart and political. He wanted someone who had heaped both praise and criticism on Fidel and Cuba, someone on the outsde who wouldn't be easily accused of being a Cuban agent.
Ramonet is beginning this autobiography/interview [over 700 pages] with his first meeting Fidel and the unrecorded long hours they spent in Cuba and on foreign official visits. The book was completed a few months before Fidel's "sudden" illness, as if Fidel knew ...
What can I say? You get an inspiring picture/impression of the man writer Alice Walker calls A PRIEST.
"What I discovered during this time was a private, almost shy Fidel, a polite, affable man who pays attention to each person he talks to and speaks without affectation, yet with the manners and gestures of a somewhat old-fashioned courtesy that has earned him the titel of the last Spanish gentleman. He is always attentive to others, aware of them as persons - and he never raised his voice. I never heard him give an order. But still wherever he is he exercises absolute authority - it is the force of his overwhelming personality ...
"He is a leader who lives, so far as I could see, modestly, austerely, in almost spartan conditions: there is no luxury; his furniture is sober; his food is frugal, healthy, macrobiotic. His are the habits of a soldier-monk ...
"He sleeps about four hours a night, and sometimes one or two more during the day, when he has a chance. His workday, all seven days a weekm usuallu ends at five or six in the morning, as the sun is rising ..."
Hopefully, to promote the book, the author[s] may consent to have this preface printed alone as an article/essay in itself. It stands alone beautifully.
A passerby, who felt he had the right, saw me with the book, freshly unboxed sitting at the beach, and asked me how could I buy THAT and put money in a dictator's hands. I no longer pity Americans or their country, which is going to a fate worse than Hell. I quoted Fidel to this passerby "What's wrong with being a dictator? The US has many friends who are dictators."
on February 8, 2008
This inspiring book is the result of conversations held in 2003-05. It is an autobiography à deux, `an oral summing-up of Fidel Castro's life by Fidel himself'.
Chapters cover his childhood and youth, his meeting Che Guevara, the 1959 Cuban revolution, the failed US attack at the Bay of Pigs, the 47-year US blockade, the incessant media attacks on Cuba, the US state's terrorist attacks on Cuba which have killed 3,500 people, the October 1962 crisis, Che's death, the collapse of the Soviet Union, globalisation, Cuba's relations with Spain, France and Latin America, and Cuba today.
Fidel is rightly proud of Cuba's magnificent achievements in education and health. Cuba's primary school children are first in the world in languages and maths. Cuba is first in the world in teachers per person and has the smallest class sizes. Cuba is educating thousands of people from Africa, Asia and Latin America, without charging a cent. Cuba provides government-sponsored scholarships to nearly 30,000 students from 121 countries currently enrolled in Cuba's universities, some 23,000 of whom are being trained as doctors.
Cuba is first in the world in doctors per person and is the largest educator of doctors in the world, ten times more than the USA. Cuba sends thousands of doctors to Africa, with its 30 million AIDS patients, while the whole EU cannot send even a hundred doctors there, instead stealing Africa's doctors and nurses. 37,000 Cuban health workers, including 18,000 doctors, are providing services in 79 countries. Since 2004, Cuba's Operation Miracle has restored sight to 1,000,000 patients from 32 countries.
Fidel has much to contribute to the debate on globalisation. He points out that the total debt owed by the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America is $2.5 trillion, and that they get $53 billion a year aid, while paying interest of $350 billion a year. He notes that 500 monopolies control 80% of the world's economy, profiting from poverty-level wages.
Fidel points out that capitalism undermines all reforms and that one can't build socialism by capitalist methods. He attaches great importance to ethics, ideas, knowledge, values, and culture. As José Marti, another of Cuba's heroes, said, "Being cultured is the only way to be free."
on November 28, 2011
Fidel Castro sets the record straight - removing the patent falsehoods perpetuated by the US government and the Cuban "exile" community in Miami.
He tells the truth about events we in the US never hear about - US financed terrorist attacks, assassination attempts, biological warfare and, lets not forget, a cruel economic blockade that is odd - considering how the US kowtows to China(a country that has slaughtered MILLIONS). You'll have a very different view of the phony "war on terror" when you learn of what the US government has done to Cuba over the past five decades.
Forget the lies of those with a vested interest in having a Cuba that is nothing more than a playground for the wealthy elite of the US.
Compared to the books written by US politicians(which are generally never more than campaign publicity), this book is breathtakingly frank. If you want to know the quality of a politician, see how often they admit to their mistakes - or take the blame when something goes wrong. US politicians rarely do(they generally blame everyone BUT themselves), but Fidel Castro does.
This book sets the record straight - which is something we direly need in an era of US Imperialism and Nazi-style propaganda.
on February 15, 2008
Since Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba I've been curious to learn the nature of the man. I've never seen or heard anything about him but propaganda. Read a bio 35 years ago that made him out to be a bufoon, which I now know was propaganda. Knew it before now, because had he been as shallow as the biographer made him out to be, he could not have lasted this long. Hearing his life, this being a spoken biography, from his own words, I've come to respect the man as much as I respect someone like Nelson Mandela. Ignatio Ramonet, the 'interviewer' who directs Fidel's talking with questions and comments, does not let him get away with dancing his way around a question. A few times Fidel was apparently uncomfortable with the question and it seemed to me like he was wanting to get around it, but Ramonet kept at him every time to address it. Fidel is up front about his own errors in decision making. Most importantly, I have found in him a man with firm ethical foundation and a love for the Cuban people that guides his own life and decisions. I admire his ongoing ability to stand up to what he calls 'the empire,' the American government. With less than 50 pages to go, I've come to admire the man, Fidel Castro, as one of the great men of the 20th century, up there with Nelson Mandela, who I hold to be the most important man of the 20th century. When Time magazine gave it to Einstein, I took it for a copout.
To bring him back to human perspective, he, like Mandela, is a man whose hand I'd like to shake. As for the book itself, I pick it up every free moment, can't stop reading in it, and regret that I'm getting so close to the end. Will pass it on to a friend as soon as I'm finished with it, a friend who has the same curiosity about Fidel that I had. I've come to this attitude toward Fidel Castro not because what he has to say about himself is self-serving, but because I've come to see the man that he is, who he is, and I appreciate the man himself. I actually stand in awe of him.
on May 11, 2009
When the book arrived I was eager to begin reading it, but instead I set it aside and I didn't start reading it until I made sure I was going to be able to dedicate the time for it since I am usually a busy person and this books merits a comprehensible amount of time to read.
As an avid reader of the history of the Cuban Revolution, I have been exposed to many different versions of the Cuban Revolution, its politics, economics, social culture, etc. I have also read dozens of books by Fidel Castro (usually collected speeches and interviews) so I knew what to expect from a book like this one.
I am used to reading what Fidel Castro has said in interviews and speeches and to the surprise of no one, Castro is an excellent story-teller, a magnificent speaker, well read and rounded, and he has his convictions and strong personality that goes with it. Those who are interested in reading this book should take Castro seriously. We should not read this book with any preconceived notions or political prejudice against him. These are his words and thought and this is the closest we will come at knowing how he thinks and what he believes.
Ignacio Ramonet, Ph.D., interviewed Castro for over 100 hours so there is plenty of valuable information. The conversation starts off with the life of Castro, so that in itself is a biography--or autobiography since Castro is the one telling it. From this the conversation moves to his early years as a university student radicalized by the political environment of the day. This is continued by his life as a political candidate, his failed attacks to the Moncada Garrison, and his role in the Cuban Revolution. The rest is his role as Prime Minister and then President of Cuba and the Cuban society in general.
This book is worth your time (if you have it) because it will be helpful in having a balanced view of the Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro is getting ZERO dollars from this book. He is NOT getting any royalties, therefore it is important to listen to what this leader has to say. There are dozens of books out there by Cuban "exiles" that deserve attention and are worth reading, but unfortunately they are lost or mixed in with the hundreds more of anti-Castro propaganda that is easily mistaken by innocent readers as a piece of fine scholarly or researched work.
on July 23, 2011
I bought this book, in the Kindle store, just as I was boarding a plane heading to Havana for the first time in my life, a couple of weeks ago. I think this is a relevant historic document if you are interested in the island, Imperialism and Latin America. For me, the most valuable passages were related to Fidel's narration of historic events. Did care much for the passages in which he defends the Cuban Revolution, not because I judge it, but simply because I found it rather propagandistic. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn a bit more Cuba and its history after its independence from Spain and the U.S. I also recommend visiting Cuba.
on August 22, 2011
My Life gives a rare glimpse at Cuba by the man who created the government they have today. Fidel's life in words is amazingly recounted. He is a living legend and getting to read about his exploits is very exciting and surreal. You gain a greater respect for Fidel and Cuba in reading this book. It is a must read book!
on January 29, 2011
`My life' is Castro's autobiography as told in interview form with Ignacio Ramonet and it makes for fascinating reading. You get a question and answer format the whole way through, which actually makes for excellent flow and speedy reading. It is easy to read just one more question, and another and another.... You obviously get Castro's unique take on many aspects of his own and Cuban life and although at times he comes across as particularly angry and firey, generally you get a balanced take on his life events. He seems willing to acknowledge mistakes he's made, as well as inevitably highlighting his successes. It is interesting to get his side of the story on issues such as `Bay of Pigs', `The Cuban Missile Crisis' and the `Special Period' and you slowly realise that the propaganda fed to us in western countries may not be as true as we are led to believe. I read `The Cuban Reader' (an excellent book and highly recommended by the way) at the same time as this book and it made for a more rounded look at the overall picture. For example it is interesting to read Castro's take on homosexual persecution and then read an article in the aforementioned book that shows a similar or opposing view. It enabled me to read this book with a more critical eye and get more out of it. There are two colour photo sections in this book that show Castro at various stages in his life, from pre revolutionary up to aged world statesman. This book shows just how intelligent and charming Castro is, as well as leaving you impressed at his grasp on world history and current affairs. This is an extremely readable book and is immensely insightful and is worth looking at for all those interested in Cuba and Cuban life. As long as you are aware of the bias any autobiography engenders and are prepared to look a little deeper, this has so much to offer it would be remiss to not read it at some point.
Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
on July 20, 2010
This is a unique book that illuminates the point of view of a very intriguing man who has managed to survive decades in power despite repeated attempts to over throw him by the United States. One can always find fault in any book and this one is not perfect. However, the book does give very interesting views on various aspects of Cuban life, the Castro government, and the relationship between the United States and Cuba. Castro challenges many of his critics' claims and shows an erudite knowledge of history and contemporary world affairs.
This is a great book for anyone wanting to learn more about Cuba, Castro, or how U.S. policies are viewed from the other side of the debate. Castro argues that the United States tries to undermine Cuba's government, therefore, forcing the government to restrict certain freedoms in order to survive. It is fascinating to read Castro's opinions and get the perspective of the man who lived through the events. Castro does, however, admit to mistakes he has made and how his views have changed over time.
One downside is that the book was done with the help of a historian who could refresh Castro's mind on some events. It only detracts from the book if the reader feels that Castro's memory and perspective might have been influenced, however, I think it is minimal if at all. In any case, the book is an interesting study of history and memory by a very controversial leader.