Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro

The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro
Nation Books, 2007

Review by Ramona Wadi

"With the blood of my dead brothers, I write you  this letter, they are the only motive that inspires me." The opening line of a letter to former comrade Luis Conte Aguero portrays Fidel Castro at his most determined - a call for justice in the wake of the atrocities committed against the captured revolutionaries involved in the Moncada Barracks attack.

The prologue and epilogue to this publication stand in contrast to the content of this book, both written by critics of Fidel's rule. Luis Conte Aguero (to whom Fidel addresses a considerable amount of letters) was a staunch supporter of Fidel, assisting in spreading his revolutionary philosophy. Soon after the revolution, Conte Aguero's views on the future of Cuba differed from those of Fidel and he fled into exile on April 5, 1960. The content of this book however, is Fidel and the revolution - the precise strategic planning that served as the prologue to a revolutionary triumph.

The letters may be read as a narration of patience which evolved from extreme anger at the injustices under the Batista regime as well as from breaches of loyalty towards him - a grave issue with Fidel. The greatest betrayal was Fidel's discovery that his wife Mirta had been on government payroll during his spell in prison. Refusing to believe the story, he urged Mirta to press charges against such defamation, portraying the event as an attack on his honour. When the truth became clear, Mirta started divorce procedures and a custody battle for their son Fidelito ensued, with Fidel declaring to his sister, "If they think they can exhaust my patience and that I am going to concede, they are going to find that I am wrapped in Buddhist tranquility and am prepared to reenact the famous Hundred Years War - and win it!"

With the Moncada barracks attack thwarted, many revolutionaries were killed. Those who managed to escape were later rounded up and subjected to extreme torture - mutilation prior to being murdered by Batista's soldiers, whilst others were forced to dig their own graves. Haydee Santamaria, one of the revolutionaries, was presented with her brother's eyes, gouged out by Eulalio Gonzales. His advice to Melba Hernandez was to act logically and with a certain reserve, instructing patience in the face of possible irrational moments. "There will be enough time later to squash all the cockroaches together." Far from an act of vengeance, Fidel's certainty was the triumph of the revolution even in its initial stages - the evolution from anger to a rational determination which led him to defeat Batista.

Through his correspondence with Conte Aguero, Fidel starts implementing a resistance against Batista in the Cuban people. Eroding fear was necessary for the triumph of the revolution and, starting with those closest to him, Fidel gives instructions as to how they should proceed in accordance with revolutionary philosophy. "Put your sympathies in the service of truth and justice even more, without the fear of reaching sacrifice upon solid foundations." By contrasting honour against tyranny, Fidel captures the sentiment of the Cuban nation.

Quoting Jose Marti above all others, Fidel stresses "No martyr dies in vain, nor is any idea lost in the motion of the waves and the blowing of the winds. They move away or they come closer but the memory remains of having seen them."

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Life - Fidel Castro with Ignacio Ramonet

My Life - Fidel Castro
with Ignacio Ramonet

Penguin Group/Allen Lane, 2007

Review by Ramona Wadi

“I HAVE said all along that vengeance has no place in a revolutionary’s heart.” Fidel Castro.
An inspiring quote from the longest serving leader in political history. One of the most maligned intellectuals, certainly one whose relevance spans beyond his leadership; the Comandante, together with Ignacio Ramonet bequeath a wealth of philosophy, history and politics to the world.
The engaging discourse between Castro and Ramonet took place over meetings that spanned around a hundred hours. From his rebellious childhood to the heights of the Sierra Maestra and the triumphant entry into Havana after defeating the Batista regime, readers are engaged in a yearning to learn more about the politics of a revolution that sustained itself. Despite the assassination of Che Guevara, economic blockades that stand to this day and the over 600 attempts to assassinate the Cuban leader, Cuba is an example of determination and loyalty to ideology.
The photos of Fidel Castro throughout his life, from his childhood to recently, add interest to the already gripping text. One cannot escape the realisation that the revolution is a continuous process, from the black and white snapshots of the Sierra Maestra to the colour photographs of recent years.
It is a determined voice that speaks out – a brilliant memory that faced political upheaval, especially from the United States, which was determined to exterminate any government or individuals that exhibited traces of Communist ideology. A leader whose acquaintances hailed from many countries and diverse professions, Castro never ceases to stress the importance of learning from situations and from the contribution others.
An avid reader of Hemingway, whose book For Whom the Bell Tolls was the inspiration that “helped me conceive our own irregular war”, the Comandante expands on guerrilla tactics and the lives of the revolutionaries in the Sierra.
In the wake of a socialist movement sweeping many Latin American countries, Castro speaks about the destruction of Chile’s Salvador Allende under the brutal regime of Pinochet, and Hugo Chavez’s revolution in Venezuela. The book brings together an immense amount of information that might be considered inaccessible for those without a sufficient interest in Latin America to research events on their own.
It is Fidel’s voice that speaks – which provides a welcome change from the many articles penned by observers whose aim might have been to impose ridicule, or portray him as a vile leader who was planning to kidnap the nation’s children to be sent to the Soviet Union (pg237).  
Discussing the complex issue of social issues – the death penalty, homosexuality, drug trafficking, Castro’s opinions may be seen to challenge many acceptable norms however, it is this diverse opinion and the philosophy behind it, that creates a magnificent and relevant difference between the capitalist world’s observation and his.
Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the world, and a country whose humanitarian role in the world is considerable, with its rate of medical students growing every year and many doctors working in impoverished areas around the world. It is a source of pride to Fidel Castro – their ability to send doctors and not soldiers in war-ravaged countries, as once posted in Reflections of Fidel on the web.
Some might underestimate the value of the book – claiming it to be a one-sided version of events, and the technical terminology may be a stumbling block. However, Fidel’s lengthy and willing explanations do much to eliminate the difficulty of understanding how the world of politics works. It is also a welcome alternative that combats the many disparaging stories churned about him.
After Fidel, what? A poignant question to ponder, but Fidel Castro answers with clarity, taking into consideration the generations of Cubans who have lived under his rule and their intention to extend the revolution after his death, which he attributes to the importance given to education and culture.
Four years after its publication, MY LIFE remains a vital and relevant testimony of Fidel Castro. With power handed over to his brother Raul, Fidel continues to spread his ideology and thoughts through regular columns on Cuban media.
It is the legacy of a restless leader whose knowledge and experience surpass that of many other leaders – the leader whose own defence as a revolutionary stands as a testimony to history.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Freedom from the Known by J Krishnamurti

Freedom from the Known
by J Krishnamurti

Rider Books, 2010

Review by Ramona Wadi

"A confident man is a dead human being." Krishnamurti's philosophy is a departure from the conventional. Shattering the illusions of authority and subservience, the reader is enticed to meditate about an alternative concept of freedom.

The definition of our existence is characterised by the  burdens imposed on humanity by authority, and the values which humanity is expected to acquire. Humanity is conditioned to think, rationalise and split existence into categories, reducing the natural state of freedom to an illusion smothered under the necessities of alienation.

Knowledge itself may become another facet of authoritarian violence - the endless reverberations on the definition of poverty and wisdom are an acceptable rationale which multitudes fail to question. Humanity has fallen prey to its own perception of knowledge and freedom without delving further into epistemology. Access to knowledge that has been tarnished by authorities is tainted with violence and conditioned by the collection of memory. However, as Krishnamurti states, "Humility comes into being when there is a total ending of conceit."

Krishnamurti's words do not seek to impose, but rather promote an innovative approach to life, void of violence and rancour, embracing the humility that can only occur when people manage to perceive themselves without fear.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pick Your Battle by Douglas Lain

Pick Your Battle - Your Guide to Urban Foraging, Hollywood Movies, Late Capitalism and the Communist Alternative
by Douglas Lain

Review by Ramona Wadi

Pick Your Battle is profound, defining the self beyond the immediate realm of capitalism and the incarceration it creates. To search within the confines of capitalism makes one realise that the search is futile, that the word even loses its definition within the contemporary realm of language and its use.

A realm of thought, delving from within, becoming an immediate alternative reality, Lain presents philosophy as an accessible medium which one can live and interact with consciously. The aim is not to provide any conclusive answers, but to encourage thought and its exploration. Drawing on the works of well known philosophers, in particular Guy Debord, the author has the ability to encourage meditation, to draw the reader into observation and retaliate against a flimsy cocoon that is sheltering the individual from an alternative philosophy.

The alternative to the alienation smothering our capitalist clouded lives was always apparent, yet it serves an alienated society to distance an individual from an obvious alternative. Capitalism does not allow the individual to recognise his own entrapment in a system that creates commodities and transforms humanity into servitude. To quote Lain, "Power floats weightless and is always out of the line of sight." To delve beyond the illusion of power, we require a new consciousness that embraces its relevance to history.