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.

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