Yesterday I was presented with an early Xmas gift from Nick Hodge – Fidel Castro’s “My Life”, a recently published volume of interviews conducted by Ignacio Ramonet, the long-time editor of the French magazine Le Monde Diplomatique, professor of communication at the University Denis Diderot in Paris and founder of Media Watch Global.

This has jumped to the very top of my reading list.

Ramonet spent one hundred hours interviewing Castro between 2003 and 2005. Castro then reviewed the entire manuscript in 2006. This, then, is the closest we will ever get to having Fidel Castro’s autobiography.

Ramonet says he wrote it because young people around the world know little of the truth about Castro. After 48 years of American negative propaganda against him and the Cuban Revolution, the perception of Castro is mostly negative. He is perceived as a brutal dictator, a relic from the Cold War. Ramonet, however, paints a very different picture of the man. He describes him as “shy, a polite, affable man who pays attention to each person he talks to and speaks without affectation, yet with the manners and gestures of a somewhat old-fashioned courtesy that has earned him the title of ‘the last Spanish gentleman’.” He is also “indefatigable” – in his eighties, he still sleeps on average 4 hours a night, working through until five or six am every day, with his entourage of young assistants asleep on their feet. He lives frugally, with no luxury spent on himself – no palaces for Fidel. He is a man with a never-ending series of Big Ideas.

Ramonet writes of Castro:

“Moved by humanitarian compassion and internationalist solidarity, he has a dream, which he has spoken about a thousand times, of bringing health and knowledge, medicines and education, to every corner of the planet.

As for Cuba itself, Ramonet writes:

“Although the face of Fidel is often in the press, on television and in the street, there is no official portrait, nor is there a statue or coin or avenue or building or monument dedicated to Fidel Castro or any other living leader of the Revolution.

Despite the unceasing harassment from abroad, this little country, clinging to its sovereignty, has achieved undeniably admirable results in the area of human development: the abolition of racism, the emancipation of women, the eradication of illiteracy, a drastic reduction in infant mortality rates, a higher level of general knowledge…. In questions of education, health, medical research and sports, Cuba has achieved results that nany developed nations would envy.

Despite the persistent attacks by the United States and the 600 assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, Cuba has never responded with violence. For forty-eight years, not a single act of violence encouraged or sponsored by Cuba has occurred in the United States.”

Cuba gets (and deserves) criticism from Amnesty International for some of its policies which deny it’s citizens civil freedoms, such as the freedom of association, freedom of opinion, freedom of movement, and the use of the death penalty. However there are no reported cases of torture in Cuba or ‘disappearances’, the murder of journalists or political assassinations or protest marchers beaten by police. There has NEVER been a popular uprising against the regime – in nearly fifty years. To understand why Cuba has some of those civil freedom restrictions, you have to understand the forces trying to destroy Cuba.

The Unites States government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in this decade alone trying to oust Castro, through NGO’s such as the “National Endowment for Democracy” (NED) and the “United States Agency for International Development” (USAID), which alone has delivered over $65 million to anti-Castro groups since 1996. According to Ramonet, hundreds of journalists around the world are paid to spread negative propaganda about Castro. Funding is provided by the USA to terrorist organisations hostile to the Cuban government such as Alpha 66 and to the now-perhaps-disbanded Omega 7.

Cuba has been under a devastating and evil economic embargo from the USA since 1960, severely crippling its economy, and yet Castro continues to defy their attempts to destroy the Revolution. He has survived relentless attacks on his person and his country by the most powerful economic and military superpower on the planet for 48 years while continuing to improve the living conditions of the 11 million citizens of Cuba.

The key to understanding Cuba and Castro is that you have to understand what life was like back before the Revolution when Cuba was governed by a series of corrupt and brutal regimes directly supported by the US government and US corporations. The quality of life for the citizens of Cuba was terrible. Castro changed all of that. He ousted Bastista’s corrupt regime and the US interests that backed it. He has significantly improved the living conditions of the Cuban people, all while fighting off the US government’s continued attempts on his life.

Please – read this book.