Few people know as many explosive geopolitical secrets as Fidel Castro –
but don't expect to find them in his memoirs
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 29 July 2010 16.00 BST
At the end of the 1980s, when the Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega had
emerged as an international figure, he cast around for someone to
ghost-write his autobiography.
One of his aides casually asked me if I might be interested. I told him
no – not because Ortega didn't have a fascinating life story, but
because he was certainly not going to tell it honestly in a book.
Ortega never produced an autobiography, but now, according to reports
from Havana, Fidel Castro is about to publish a memoir. It is no more
likely to be candid than Ortega's would have been. Few living figures
could contribute as much as Castro to our understanding of the second
half of the 20th century. Don't expect him to do it, though.
Castro has lived almost his entire life as a clandestine revolutionary.
To such figures, truth is always malleable, always subservient to
Whatever Castro's goal now, it is certainly not confronting difficult
and complex truths or reflecting deeply on the course of his life.
Castro's career has been about myth-making; there is no reason to
believe his memoir will be any different.
Presumably Castro will describe his revolutionary war in the 1950s as
intense and full of heroics, as no doubt it was. Some historians,
however, marvel at how little fighting Castro's men actually had to do
and how easily the old dictatorship collapsed. Nor are we likely to find
new insights into Castro's relationship with his brother, Raúl; with
their highly popular comrade Camilo Cienfuegos, who died in a plane
crash that Castro described as an accident but that some Cubans suspect
was a political assassination; or with Che Guevara, who by many accounts
broke with him over his decision to lead Cuba into the Soviet bloc.
Castro cannot be reasonably expected to renounce his beliefs or
implicate himself in killings or atrocities. Nonetheless it would be
fascinating to learn whether he still believes it was necessary to
execute hundreds of his countrymen without trial in the first weeks
after his victory in 1959; whether he wishes the Soviet Union had taken
his advice and launched a nuclear first strike against the United
States; and whether he regrets the repression and mass imprisonment of
gay people, other "lifestyle dissidents", and intellectuals who
supported his cause but broke with him after his first years in power.
Was Castro sincere when, during his guerrilla war, he swore that he was
not a Communist? If so, when did he change, and why? Looking back, does
he believe he might have chosen a better course?
Although Castro is built on a larger-than-life scale, he has never been
known as reflective or self-aware. His ideology has evidently not
changed in half a century. For much of that time he was widely said to
hold more direct personal control over his people than any leader in the
world. How did that feel? Was it necessary? Don't buy Castro's memoir
expecting insightful reflection on questions like these.
Revolutionaries who come to power by force of arms usually have great
crimes in their background. Leaders who survive campaigns by great
powers to destroy them do not survive because they observe the niceties
of law. Subversives who shape world events by covert action and violence
work in shadows and detest the light of day.
Few people in the world know as many explosive geopolitical secrets as
Castro. Within him he is carrying a blockbuster best-seller. He is
unlikely ever to write it. Like the disciplined militant he is, he will
take his trove of secrets to the grave.