An Excerpt From Fidel Castro: My Life (A Spoken Autobiography)
"I congratulate you on your speech. It was an 'I came, I saw, I conquered' message of dignity and ethics," Fidel Castro wrote to Hugo Chávez on December 3, only hours after he had conceded the narrow defeat of his referendum to amend Venezuela's Constitution (and before Chávez undiplomatically denounced the outcome as a "victoria de mierda" for his opposition). As Castro reaches the twilight of his lengthy career as the Caesar of Latin American revolution, he is clearly invested in Chávez's effort to assume that mantle in the near future. "We discovered an educated, intelligent man, very progressive, an authentic Bolivarian," as Castro recalls their first meeting in the mid-1990s. "His adversaries have tried to get him by both force and economics. But he has faced all the oligarchy's, all of imperialism's assaults."
Indeed, in Castro's recounting, Cuba played a key role in Chávez's most dire challenge: the April 2002 coup attempt, which the Bush Administration at least tacitly supported. At a critical moment, when Chávez planned to fight to the finish against the superior military forces of the coup plotters, Castro urged him not to "sacrifice yourself" as Salvador Allende had in Chile, but to buy time for his supporters to rally. After Chávez surrendered, Castro then worked to mobilize mass opposition to the newly installed government and passed the message to the general leading the coup that there would be "a river of blood in Venezuela if this goes on." As the world well knows, after Chávez was held prisoner for two days, popular protests and his loyal military officers restored him to his democratically elected post as president. The rest is a dramatic history that continues to unfold.
Castro tells this previously untold story of his behind-the-scenes actions during the coup attempt–published here in English for the first time–in Fidel Castro: My Life. The book is based on a lengthy series of interviews conducted by Le Monde diplomatique editor Ignacio Ramonet and originally published in Spain. The revised and updated (by Castro personally) English edition hits bookstores this month. "Few men have known the glory of entering the pages of both history and legend while they are still alive," Ramonet writes in the introduction. "Fidel is one of them." Sidelined from power for health reasons as his Cuban revolution begins its fiftieth year, this "spoken autobiography" is likely to be among Castro's final contributions to the histories he created and the legends he fostered. –Peter Kornbluh