Now in paperback, the intimate and highly revealing life story of the world’s longest-serving, most charismatic, and contro- versial head of state in modern times.
Numerous attempts have been made to get Fidel Castro to tell his own story. But it was only as he stepped down after five decades in power, that the Cuban leader finally decided to set out the detail of his life for the world to read. In these pages, he presents a compelling chronicle that spans the harshness of his school teachers; the early failures of the revolution; his comradeship with Che Guevara and their astonishing, against-all-odds victory over the dictator Batista; the Cuban perspective on the Bay of Pigs and the ensuing missile crisis; the active role of Cuba in African independence movements; his dealings with no fewer than ten successive American presidents, from Eisenhower to George W. Bush; and a number of thorny issues, including human rights, the treatment of homosexuals, and the use of the death penalty in Cuba. Along the way he shares intimacies about more personal matters: the benevolent strict- ness of his father, his success- ful attempt to give up cigars, his love of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, and his calculation that by not shaving he saves up to ten working days each year.
Drawing on more than one hundred hours of interviews, this spoken autobiography will stand as the definitive record of an extraordinary life lived in turbulent times.
"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.
Fidel Castro led Cuba from 1959 until February 2008.
Ignacio Ramonet is editor of le Monde Diplomatique, the founder of Media Watch Global, and a regular con- tributor to the Spanish daily El Pais. He lives in Spain.
The Childhood of a Leader
Childhood in Bira´n - Don Angel - The batey - Fidel's mother - Living in the teacher's house - Colegio de La Salle - Echoes of the war in Spain - The Jesuits of the Colegio de Dolores
Historical roots are important, and in that regard, I wanted to ask you: You were born into a relatively well-to-do family, you studied at religious schools for the wealthy, you later studied law. With that sort of upbringing, you could have been a conservative leader, couldn't you?
Perfectly well could have, because a man is not entirely the master of his own destiny. A man is also the child of circumstances, of difficulties, of struggle. Problems gradually sculpt him like a lathe sculpts a piece of metal. A man is not born a revolutionary, I'd venture to say.
So how did the revolutionary in you come forth?
I made myself into a revolutionary. I've reflected from time to time about the factors that had to do with that. Beginning with the fact of the place where I was born, way out in the country, on a large estate.
Could you describe the place where you were born?
I was born on a farm. Towards the north-centre of the former province of Oriente, not far from the Bay of Nipe, and near the sugar-cane central Marcane´. The farm was called Bira´n. It wasn't a town, or even a village - just a few isolated houses. My family's house was there, alongside the old Camino Real, as the dirt and mud path was called that ran from the capital of the municipality [sic] southward. The roads at that time were just big mud-tracks. People travelled on horseback or in oxcarts. There were no motorized vehicles yet, or even electric light. When I was little, we lit the house with wax candles and kerosene lamps.
Do you remember the house you were born in?
It was a house constructed in Spanish architecture, or rather Galician. I should point out that my father was a Spaniard, a Galician, from the village of La´ncara, in the province of Lugo, the son of poor campesinos. And in Galicia, the custom was to shelter the animals underneath the house. My house was inspired by that architecture in Galicia, because it was built on wooden piles, like stilts. These piles were over six feet tall, which was the usual way of building houses in Galicia. I remember that when I was three or four years old, the cows slept underneath the house. They'd be brought in at nightfall, and they'd sleep under the house. And they'd be milked there, tied to some of the piles. Under the house there was also, just like in Galicia, a little pen with pigs and fowl - at various times there'd be chickens, ducks, guinea hens, turkeys and even a few geese.
I've been visiting Bira´n. And I've seen that house where you were born, which is, as you say, a very original sort of structure.
It was a wooden house. The piles were made of a very hard wood, caguaira´n, and then laid on top of those piles was the floor. The house, I imagine, was originally square. Later on, an addition was made to it: at one corner a kind of office was built. Then it was expanded to make a bathroom area, a pantry for foodstuffs, a dining room and a kitchen. Then on top of the original square area of the house there was a second floor, smaller, which we called the 'mirador'. And it was there that I was born, on 13 August 1926, at two o'clock in the morning, as the story goes.
In those surroundings, from the time I was a very young boy I lived among the sights and the work of the country - the trees, the sugar cane, the birds, the insects...
What's remarkable about Bira´n is that one feels, almost palpably, the strong entrepreneurial character of your father, don Angel.
He was a man of great will, great determination. He taught himself to read and write, with great effort. Without question he was a very active man - he moved around a lot, he was a go-get-'em kind of person, and he had a natural talent for organization.
Under what circumstances did your father come to Cuba?
My father was the son of campesinos; they were extremely poor. When I visited Galicia in 1992, I went to La´ncara, the town he'd lived in, and I saw the house he'd been born in. It's a tiny little house, about thirty feet long by about eighteen to twenty feet wide. Made of fieldstone, which is a material that's very abundant in that area [and that's] used traditionally by Galician campesinos to build their houses. In that little rustic house lived the whole family, and I suppose the animals did, too. The bedroom and kitchen were in one room. There was no land, not a square yard. Families farmed isolated plots scattered over the countryside.
When he was very young, sixteen or seventeen years old, my father was recruited in Spain for military duty, but he was over twenty when he came to Cuba for the second War of Independence, which began in 1895. No one knows exactly how he came, under what conditions. After I was old enough to do so, I never talked about those things with my father. He would - from time to time, at a dinner, with a group of friends, that sort of thing - he would tell stories. But my older sister, Angelita, and Ramo´ n, the second oldest - they're both still alive - they might know something, because they talked to him more than I did. And then later, when I went to Havana to school and became involved in revolutionary activities, organized the attack on Moncada, was in jail, and later in the Granma expedition, my younger brothers and sisters, like Rau´ l, who's four years and some months younger than me, and then two girls, Emma and Juana, who stayed there at home, talked with my father quite a bit, and by then he probably talked more about those things, though I wasn't there to hear him.
Through them I've learned about some things, and the theory is that my father was one of those poor boys from Galicia that some rich man gave money to so he'd go into military service as a replacement for him. And it's apparently quite true that my father was one of those campesinos, one of the ones recruited that way. You know what those wars were like.
Recruitment was by lottery, and the wealthy could pay the poor to do their military service, or go to war, in their place.
Well, it must have been as you say; there were many cases in which a rich man would be ordered to perform his military service or go off to war and he'd come up with a certain amount of money and give it to a man who didn't have any, who lived very badly, on a little piece of land or doing some sort of labour in the country.
My father was sent here as a Spanish soldier, and he was stationed in the great tract of cleared land between Ju´ caro and Moro´ n. And among other things, it turned out that the huge clearing in the woods where the garrison had been constructed was used by [Cuban rebel] invaders from Oriente, under the command of Maceo and Ma´ximo Go´mez, shortly after the death of MartÕ´.
The enormous clearing where the garrison had been built had to be crossed at all costs - a difficult operation. It was on a fortified line that ran north-south, in the narrowest part of the centre of the island, quite a few kilometres long, it might be almost 100 kilometres, over sixty miles, from Moro´n in the north to Ju´caro, a port city on the south coast. I know that my father was stationed along that line, but I don't think he was still there when Maceo came through. The Cubans travelled through there constantly, or farther to the north, they went into a place called Turiguano´, a kind of island joined to Moro´n by a very swampy area. There, on that road, was my father, stationed there. That's what I know; my brothers and sisters may know more.
You don't remember any conversations with your father about this?
I once heard him talk about some of this, when I was going off to the working-men's camps in Pinares de MayarÕ´, because I liked to be anywhere but at home. Home represented authority, and that got my dander up, and the rebel spirit in me began to emerge.
So as a youngster you were a rebel?
I had several reasons for being one. Faced with a certain Spanish authoritarianism, and even more so the particular Spaniard giving the orders...so it was authority, respect in general...I didn't like authority, because at that time there was also a lot of corporal punishment, a slap on the head or a belt taken to you - we always ran that risk, although we gradually learned to defend ourselves against it.
Your father was authoritarian?
He had a little temper. He couldn't have done what he did, build himself up - so young, first during the war, far from his family and his country, and later from nothing, without a cent, without family, the first in his family to read and write, by his own efforts and no one else's - [couldn't have built] a latifundio, [accumulated] wealth, without a strong character. Like most Galician immigrants, he was modest and hard-working, with a spirit of humility. And yet [he had] great character and determination. But he was never unfair. He never said no to anyone who came to him for help. [He was] always ready to listen, ready to lend a hand when other people were in difficulty. He himself had been in need when he was a boy and growing up. I know he was orphaned at a very early age - eleven; he lost his mother. His father remarried and, well, his childhood was one of suffering and turbulence. But he had the noble virtues of the Galician emigrant: kindness, hospitality, generosity.
There are many stories of his generosity. Even kindness. A man with a good heart who always helped his friends, labourers, people who were having a hard time. Sometimes he'd complain, he'd grumble, but he never let anyone leave without an answer to his problem. ...
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