In This Review

Fidel Castro: My Life; A Spoken Autobiography
Fidel Castro: My Life; A Spoken Autobiography
By Ignacio Ramonet and Fidel Castro
Scribner, 2008, 738 pp

Prior to his prolonged illness, Castro sat for over a hundred hours with the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique to compose this oral history. The obsequious Ramonet allows Castro to "make his argument to the world," recording many dubious assertions without challenge and even permitting the interviewee to edit the manuscript and infuse it with excerpts from his speeches. The overall result is a missed opportunity. Much of the material, particularly Castro's polemics against his enemies and denunciations of the cruelties of capitalism, is familiar and stale. Occasionally, however, amid the commentaries on the famous personalities and momentous events that have filled Castro's 80-plus years, there are glittering nuggets. Of greatest contemporary import, Castro recounts his telephone conversations with Hugo Chávez during the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela: the supreme political strategist coached the beleaguered Chávez on the ultimately successful "surrender but not resign" gambit. Castro also offers generally favorable assessments of Presidents Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton (but not of George W. Bush). When Ramonet asks whether the United States might drift into an authoritarian regime, Castro opines -- Americans will be relieved to learn -- that U.S. "institutions, traditions . . . and political values would make that virtually impossible."