Review

Fidel Castro: My Life – A Spoken Autobiography

Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet

This
remarkable book is called a "spoken autobiography" --- it is
presented entirely in the form of interviews between Ignacio
Ramonet, a distinguished journalist (editor-in-chief of Le
Monde diplomatique
), and the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Since
Castro is not only a highly controversial political figure but a
rigidly demanding person, the interview format probably held out
the only real possibility of creating a complete picture of his
long life and career.

The book comes with two significant caveats. First, Castro had full
rights to change and augment the completed manuscript, and did so
after its completion and publication in Spain in 2006. According to
Ramonet, Castro's editing allowed him to "complete a phrase here
and there, change oral expression into a more written
style…which once more demonstrates his almost maniacal
obsession with perfection." Ramonet states that "this version of
the book, has, then, been totally revised, amended and completed
personally by Fidel Castro."

Caveat the second: Ramonet states, "It never crossed my mind that
we should speak about Castro's private life." Thus we have a spoken
autobiography not entirely spoken and not including what many would
consider essential autobiographical material.

If one knew nothing about Castro, a virtual impossibility, one
could easily be convinced by the story he tells about his heroic
deeds and the history of his revolution and subsequent leadership
of the small island country of Cuba. A nation that, led by the
young Fidel, swept its former dictator, Batista, into the dustbin
of world affairs and its people into the light of literacy and
permanent welfare, Cuba sits on the ocean of international life
like a dimly glowing pearl. To the United States it is a gem whose
destiny it has been unable to control, making it a constant source
of irritation, a fact in which Castro glories, envisioning himself
as David to America's Goliath, locked in a struggle that has not
abated since the day he took over the reins of power in his
strategically-placed fiefdom.

In this lengthy, highly detailed memoir, Castro presents a
justification for each one of his actions, rarely admitting that
he, personally, made a mistake. He easily deflects what are
certainly meant as hard questions on the part of Ramonet.
Throughout the book he tends to speak as "we," but it is never
clear who the other members of that plurality might be. Perhaps it
is the "royal we." He doesn't speak of his parliament or his
cabinet, his committees or any plenary governing body to whom he is
answerable.

Castro bitterly recalls every perceived injustice against his
country, as one would expect, but is not, in this context, held
accountable for Cuba's misdeeds. He rails against the Adjustment
Act, through which the United States allows entry to anyone coming
from Cuba on the basis that he or she is a political exile, which
Castro considers, perhaps fairly, "an incentive to crime." He cites
the fact that nearly every country in the world, except the United
States and Israel, has voted in the United Nations to end the
long-standing blockade against Cuba set up when it became obvious
that Castro, turned away in an attempt to parlay with President
Eisenhower, was going to deal directly and exclusively with the
Soviets.

Castro contends that the U.S. drove him towards socialism and that
the blockade serves to artificially impoverish his otherwise
prosperous people. He believes that Latin American and African
nations would rush to the defense of Cuba if need be, because Cuba
has aided them in warfare and infrastructure, especially in the
medical sphere. But he counts the possibility of war against Cuba
as highly unlikely, as unlikely as the counter-revolution that
would be the only way of removing Cuba's "irrevocable"
socialism.

Castro’s point of view is analytical at all times, rarely
allowing emotion to seep through. He is paternalistically proud of
the fact that his people are basically clothed, educated and fed,
recalling the pitiful state of poverty and illiteracy of the
majority during the shameful procession of other dictatorships
before his. He states baldly that Cubans leave his country when
they are able at great, indeed, ultimate risk "because they want a
car." In the empire of Goliath, there are cars worth dying for. The
book reveals Castro as a prodigious mind, a man capable of global
thinking with a remarkable particularization of detail. He has met
with other eminent players on the world stage (Saddam Hussein, Hugo
Chavez) and had dealings with 10 U.S. presidents.

Clearly, the questions asked of him are ones he has had many years
to contemplate in what is often described as his austere daily
routine in an atmosphere of rigid security: "precautions have been
taken" to prevent another assassination attempt, the most recent
one having been perpetrated in 2003 by a relative living in the
United States. He is willing to say that "every day, I think, I'm
less conceited, less pretentious, less self-satisfied…I have
not one iota of regret about what we've done in our country and the
way we've organized our society."

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on January 21, 2011

Fidel Castro: My Life – A Spoken Autobiography
Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2008
  • Genres: Autobiography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1416553282
  • ISBN-13: 9781416553281