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Fidel Castro: My Life: A Spoken Autobiography, by Ignacio Ramonet (2008)

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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.

First Section.

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.

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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.

Second Section.

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.)

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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.

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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?")

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)

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