Sunday, 4 December 2016

Face to Face with Castro-Fidel on Religion and Che Memoirs-Tribute to Fidel-3 books introduction

66. ‘Face to Face with Fidel Castro-A Conversation with Tomas Borge’, translated by Mary Todd, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1994, pages 183, Price Rupees 90/ ( App. 2 US $ )
   Originally published in Cuba in Spanish in 1992 and translated in English, published by Ocean Press in 1993; the book has conversations with Fidel Castro in fifteen chapters on different subjects, by former minister and only surviving founder member of Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSNL) of Nicaragua, which smashed Somoza regime and liberated Nicaragua in 1979, Tomas Borge, who remained minister in Government after revolution till 1990. In his brief introduction writer has described that how during the interview, they will talk whole night, up to dawn, the same habit with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The book has index and few pictures of revolutionaries at the end.
 First chapter of the book focuses upon History and Posterity. Writer describes Fidel as-wearing an olive green uniform-in good humour, hyperactive...
      Castro opines that history has never been impartial; this is his opinion from his massive study of history of the world. He also tells the author that out of 25 months long revolutionary struggle to win a war against Batista in Cuba, he had gone to see his mother just once on 24th December 1958, otherwise all the time he remained with his comrades and fellow army men. From 15 men’s regrouping Castro and Che Guevara could defeat 80 thousand strong army of Batista in just over two years time! Castro opines that absolutely objective history may be written ‘someday’. Castro admires Napoleon and Bolivar for their military skills.
The second chapter focuses upon ‘The New World Order and the assassination of the Soviet Union’. Castro believes that Soviet Union got dismantled because of internal reasons and not due to just US interests and CIA activities, though he suggests that developments in Poland were very much designed in US. He does not blame Gorbachev for the fall and he even finds Gorbachev to be thinking of ‘improving Socialism’ through Perestroika. Castro thinks that Gorbachev was going too fast to solve problems, which caused the fall. Castro thinks it was collective of people who were responsible for the fall and not just an individual. In 3rd chapter they discuss ‘Stalin’ and Castro underlines Stalin’s faults and mistakes mercilessly, but he praises his qualities as well, particularly his leadership during World War II and also in industrialising Soviet Union. But he found fault with Stalin’s distrust of people, his harsh measures, his agreement with Hitler earlier and not mobilising soviet people before the imminent German attack, his little war with Finland etc. In chapter four Castro describes ‘De-ideologization and Neo Liberalism’ as the ideology of neo imperialism. Here he eulogises Che Guevara for his prophetic vision and appreciates his caution not to use Eastern European or Soviet methods of building socialism. Che Guevara has criticised consumerism in Eastern Europe socialist countries, which he did not wish for Cuban society.
  ‘The 500th Anniversary’ refers to Columbus’s so called discovery of India on 12th October 1492, a day now marked by colonisation process by Spain of Latin America. Castro tries to explain it in historic contexts and even appreciates Spain’s colonisation rather than other European countries. The Spanish language bound latin American countries in a thread. In a conversation on ‘Democracy’ Castro asserts Cuba to be most democratic country of the world and certainly more democratic than USA as it has provided facilities of dignified living to all-from children to old age people-medical, health, freedom from  prostitution, crime etc. In @Cuba and the United States’ conversation if focused upon John F Kennedy’s assassination, which is being kept as state secret for one hundred years. In chapter ‘Latin America’ they discuss internal problems of Latin American countries of the region. In chapter on ‘Survival and Development’ they discuss how Cuba is building social welfare sector-child care centres, schools etc. In chapter on ‘Advances in Medicine’ is the proud part of Cuba, about which even its enemies acknowledge its achievements. In chapter ‘Human Rights in Cuba’ they discuss the rights granted to Cuban citizens vis a vis capitalist countries human rights confining to vote cast in elections. In an interesting discussion on ‘Loyalty to Principles’, Castro hates most’ treason and disloyalty’ and likes most ‘Loyalty and firmness of principles’. ‘Of Books and Reading’ is fascinating account of Castro’s reading habits, a voracious reader had read almost all the classics of world literature, biographies and history books. His favourites fiction writers include Cervantes the most and Marquez after. His favourite poets are Pablo Neruda and Nicolas Gullien. His readings include all of Dostoevsky, 10 volumes of Roman Rolland’s ‘Jean Christophe’, Shakespeare, ‘Les Miserable’s’, all books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Greek early philosophers-Herodotus, Plutarch, Titus, Xenophon etc. ‘Don Quixote’ is all time favourite, read many times. He likes revolutionary songs, but does not sing even in bathroom! He likes Chilean singer Victor Jara, killed by Pinchote fascists. Castro reads 5-6 books at a time and not just one. In 14th chapter Castro tells Tomas-‘Struggling for Utopia means, in part, building it’, which they are doing in Cuba. He emphasises that one must never stop dreaming. Yesterday’s dreams become today’s realities! Castro tells that’ My mind is adapted to being 30, but I am not 30, but 65’. He speaks against the ‘cult of personality’ and banned any official portrait of any one. Fidel Castro has no official portrait in any Cuban office, and he never wanted to be promoted beyond ‘Commander’, which he remained, even when titles of General etc. were created. He tells that he never got ‘promoted’ and he never felt the sense of power! But Castro admits that power can corrupt. Last chapter is ‘kernel of Corn’, a local phrase by which Tomas Borge thanks Fidel Castro for the interview/conversations!
  Interesting and useful book!

67. Fidel and the Religion-Conversations with Frei Betto, People’s Publishing House, Delhi, 1st ed. 1987, pages 276, price Rupees 100/
       These are Fidel Castro’s conversations with Brazilian Dominican Friar, practising Catholic who believes in socialism. Cuban culture minister Armando Hart has introduced this conversation. In ‘Paths to a Meeting’, Frei Betto has narrated the background of these conversations, which he planned in 1979 as a book to be called-‘Faith in Socialism’. Success of Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua with faithful Christians participating in it, where Frei was invited as advisor, encouraged him to work on this book. Lot many priests like Father Miguel D Escoto, foreign minister were part of the revolutionary government, whose ideal was Cuba. He first met Fidel castro at the house of Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramirez in July 1980. Fidel encouraged him to freely discuss Bible and Christian ideas with him, without getting ‘irritate’ as Frei apprehended and told him that ‘ at no time the Cuban revolution has been inspired by anti religious feelings’. Castro has addressed Chilean clergy in 1971 during Allende period and in Jamaica also he addressed Protestant audience in 1977. In Nicaragua there was unity between Christians and Marxists during revolutionary struggle.  Frei visited Cuba 12 times from 1981 to 1985 and had 23 hours recorded interview from 23rd May to 26th May in four days, an average of almost six hours a day of conversation. He wrote this note immediately after the conclusion of the interview on 29th May 1985.
     Book has two parts. Ist part titled as ‘Chronicle of a Vist’ includes Castro talking to many people during the visit of Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid and with some other guests, like with a group of Brazilians, meeting Brazilian journalist Joelmir Beting. Fidel has the courtesy of even personally driving down Beting and Bretto to their hotel one night at the conclusion of their meeting. The first part has seven chapters and is spread into 45 pages. It comes out from this part that Fidel is good cook and later in comparison with Che Guevara, in second part of the book, his comments-‘I am a better cook (than Che). I am not going to say that I am a better revolutionary, but I am definitely a better cook than Che was.’ (Page 268) Fidel informs that they have one lakh independent farmers in Cuba, holding private land, but other farmers joining cooperatives have much better life conditions. Castro also emphaises upon manual labour and students going for it one month per year. University of Havana was founded in 1728; Marta Harnecker is Chilean Marxist living in Cuba.
   Part II is the major part of the book, spread in 4 chapters and 220 pages. Every chapter is account of one night’s interview, most of the interviews were conducted in evening or rather late evening and some continued past midnight. On the first day, 23rd May 1985, at the beginning of interview frei informs that perhaps for the first time head of a socialist state has granted an exclusive interview on the topic of religion. Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) of Nicaragua did issued a document on religion in 1980. In the first part of interview Castro speaks about his family, his childhood, his religious training in school etc. Castro tells that his mother Lina and father Angel were faithful religious people, but more so his mother. He was born in a farm called Biran, but there was no church. Castro’s father was a Spaniard from Galicia and had settled in Cuba, working there. Castro’s parents were from poor background, though later his father bought enough land. Castro refers to Cuba’s first war of independence against Spain in 1895, which ended with the defeat of Spanish colonial regime in 1898, Castro describes Cuba to be ‘the Vietnam of 19th century’. Castro’s father died on 21st October 1956, before the triumph of Cuban revolution, his mother died after the revolution on 6th August 1963. Castro describes that how Christmas was celebrated in his house in his childhood. Castro was born on 13th August 1926 and his armed struggle started at the age of 26years on 26th July 1952 with attack on Moncada, the struggle got thename as ‘26th July movement’. His father bought 800 hundred hectares of land, of which 400 hundred hectares were surrendered after the revolution as per new law of land owning limit. There was no church in castro’s village, he was baptized in Santiago de Cuba at the age of 5 or six years. He was named as Fidel-the fathful one, on his godfather’s name. Castro’s aunts and grandmother had strong belief. Castro was third child of her mother’s second marriage, out of seven in total. Children from first marriage were also known to them. Castro has four sisters and two more brothers. He was put in school in Santiago de Cuba, staying at the house of godfather. Castro listened to the Three wise Men stories from family—Caspar, Melchoir and Balthazar-mythical stories. He was not happy in home, later was shifted to boarding school La Salle for four years, which gave Castro satisfaction. He had his religious training in school and enjoyed his Xmas vacation of two weeks at his home. He was a good athlete at school and good in studies as well. Castro makes interesting observation about martyrdom here-‘Conviction is what makes martyrs. I don’t think that anybody becomes a martyr simply because he expects a reward or fears punishment. I don’t think anybody behaves heroically for such a reason.’ Castro had his high schooling in Colegio de belen school in Havana, he graduated from high school in 1945 at 19 years. He first heard about communism in school as a ‘terrible thing’. He excelled in sports, academics. His school certificate recorded—
“Fidel Castro Ruz (1942-45)-He distinguished himself in all subjects related to Letters. A top student and member of congregation, he was an outstanding athelete, always courageously and proudly defending the School’s colours. He won the admiration and affection of all. We are sure that, after his law studies, he will make a brilliant name for himself. Fidel has what it takes and will make something of his life.”
  After joining the University Fidel acquired Marxist ideology, he was a firm follower of Jose Marti. Batista made military coup in Cuba on 10th March 1952 and on 26th July 1952, Castro made armed insurrection, which failed. 1st part of interview concluded at 3.00 a.m, starting from 9.00 p.m, six hour before.
      Second part of the interview started on 24th May 1985 at 4.45 p.m. Frei refers to Christian participants in 26th July movement such as Frank Paise and Jose Antonio Echeverria. Castro told that how much they respected their faith and gives example how he chastised his comrades at the death of Echevveria, when from his will, his invocation to God was left out. In this chapter the attack on Moncada is detailed, about 120 men attacked Moncada, in the clash, 1000 soldiers countered the attack, only 2 or 3 comrades were killed in initial clash. But batista army brutally murdered 70 rebels after arresting them. Castro could also have been killed, but a black lieutenant did not allow his men to shoot them, in fact, he even praised Castro men by saying-you are brave boys brave-, later the lieutenant was blamed for not killing and discharged from army. Later after the revolution he was made Captain and in charge of President’s security, his name was Padro Sarria, but he died of cancer in 1972.
  Castro spent 22 months in prison in Isle of Pines, now named as Isle of youth, 19 months he was kept in solitary confinement. Father Sardinas from church joined Sierra Maestra guerrilla struggle in 1956. After revolution, one judge Urrutia was made provisional President of Cuba, but he clashed with revolutionaries. Castro was named as Prime Minister, he resigned and in public debate Urrutia had to face embarrassment and he resigned, later a prestigious comrade was named President and then many radical laws were passed. Castro tells-‘Values and morals are man’s spiritual values’. Castro refers how priests and church was tried to be used by CIA against the revolution and three priests participated in invasion of Cuba in Bay of Pigs in 1961. They could have been executed, but were treated leniently. Communist party of Cuba came into existence in 1965 from Integrated Revolutionary Organisations.
   82 men waged war in 1956-57, ist major battle in January 1957 by 22 comrades, won the first battle. When they won the war on 1st January 1959 Castro had just 3000 men, who defeated Batista’s 80 thousand army. People socialist Party (PSP) was more homogenous. Socialism was proclaimed at the time of Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Castro described relations with church as ‘A period of coexistence and mutual respect between the party and the churches.’(Page 171).
   The conversation concluded at 10.p.m, more than six hours after it started.
  Third conversation started on 25th May at 8.p.m Castro exposes ‘gentleman’ Pinochet, allegedly a ‘devout’ man, who is responsible for thousands of deaths, murdered, tortured or missing people in Chile. Castro tells the proud role of one lakh teachers and thousands of doctors working in other countries as missionaries. Castro also praises nuns who are taking care of old people’s homes in Cuba with much austerity, like model communists. They talk about Father Ernesto Cardenal, a Sandinista poet and writer, much respected personality of Nicaragua. Castro emphasis the need of improving works of revolution and defines it as a work of art. They discuss the positive role of Liberation Theology in Latin American countries like Guatemala, Peru Brazil, El Salvador and others, in promoting revolutionary ideas, which was described subversive by US rulers. Church described as oldest institution, 2000 years old, Buddhism and Hinduism may be older, but they are not institutions.
   Discussion concluded at 11 p.m, first time in just three hours.
  4th and last part of interview took place on Sunday, 26th May 1985 at 7.00 p.m. Castro gifted the copy of his school certificate as memento to Frei. They discuss the proposed visit of Pope, which castro is ready to welcome. Frei asks question on religion as ‘Opiate of the people’. Castro explains the phenomenon in detail and opines that it is possible for Christians to be Marxists, but they have to be honest in ending the exploitation of man by man and struggle for equal distributiuon of social wealth. Here Castro also refers to first social revolution of modern period-French Revolution with three word slogan-Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, but exposes the myth of the slogan in practice in capitalist system. Castro opines that the achievement of the spirit of this slogan is possible only in Socialist society. Castro also exposes the myth of ancient Greek and Roman democracy, by detailing the unknown facts about the number of slaves, more than the greek/Roman own population and only high classes participating in debates, reference to Nero also come, while Rome was burning and he was playing the lyre! Slavery abolished in Cuba and Brazil in 1886. Then they talk about ‘hatred’ and Castro explained that Either Marx or Lenin, Marti or he never hated persons, they hated only the system, it reminds Bhagat Singh’s famous court statement mentioning this very concept. Castro underlines the fact that he hates fascism, and Nazism. They also note the fact that during Imperialism’s most cruel system, in world war first 20 million people and in second world war more than 50 million people lost their lives and underlines the fact that Imperialist system is to be blamed for this, which needs to be smashed as system. Frei also questions about love and ‘export’ of revolution. Castro explains that revolution can never be exported, only ideas travel world over, not the physical forces can go and make revolution. Revolution is made by internal forces and mechanism only. They talk about Che Guevara as well, the kind of fond relationship Che and Castro had with each other. Castro brings out the exceptional qualities of Che, his leadership quality and intellectual characteristics, courage; he was so daring that had to be held back by Castro. Che had grat moral integrity, man of profound ideas, untiring worker, rigorous and methodical in fulfilment of his duties. ‘He was one of the greatest figures of his generation in Latin America and nobody could tell how much he would have accomplished if he ‘d survive’. 9Same comment may be true for Bhagat Singh in context of India. Che went to Congo, Zaire, Tanzania and then to Bolivia. They talk about other revolutionary hero Camilo, who died young at 27 in 1959.
  The book concludes with the fact- 82 men expedition arrived in Cuba on 2nd December 1956, after first hard setbacks, 14-15-16 men regrouped-Fidel and Raul castro, Che and Camilo among them and made historic revolution in Cuba on 1st January 1959, the most wonderful event, even more interesting than October 1917 and 1949 Russian and Chinese revolutions!.
   Though focussed on the issue of religion the book actually narrates the story of Castro’s life as well as the story of Cuban revolution. A very good book to follow.

68. Che: A Memoir –by Fidel Castro, edited by David Deutschmann, Preface by Jesus Montane, National Book Agency, Calcautte, first Indian ed. 1994 , original ocean Press Melbourne, price Rs. 100/ Pages 168
   This is the book, which I have read for second time, but it was worth reading again. These days I am trying to make regular reading on Cuba, Venezuela and the Caribbean in general. In the beginning life sketches of both Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are given, then Che’s life’s Chronology is given. Later preface by Jesus Montane Oropesa is given and then David Deutschmann’s introduction is given. Then in seven chapters Castro’s writings or lectures relating to Che Guevara are put up together and after Post script, Glossary of persons and events is given.
                            Castro’s speeches start with sharing with Che Guevara’s farewell letter written to him by Che before proceeding to start revolution in Africa and Latin America. As Che was not seen in Havana, all kinds of rumours and scandals were spread by bourgeoisie media and Castro made the letter public only when Che Guevara reached Bolivia in 1966 to make revolution and get his life sacrificed in 1967. Second speech was made by Castro on Cuban television on 15th October 1967 to announce the death of Com. Che and third chapter includes his speech in front of one million people in Revolutionary Plaza Havana in memorial meeting for Che. Chapter four includes Castro’s introduction to Bolivian Dairies of Che, which were published in 1968, after these were recovered from Bolivia after Che’s killing at the hands of US mercenaries Bolivian army. Chapter five includes Castro’s speech in Chile, where the first statue of Che Guevara was inaugurated by Castro, it was his inaugural speech. Chapter six is Castro’s interview with Italian journalist Gianni Mina on the occasion of 20th anniversary of Che’s martyrdom in 1987 and seventh and last chapter includes Castro’s speech on that occasion at Electronic factory named after Ernesto Che Guevara at city of Pinar del Rio.
   If i have to take notes of this book, I may have to copy almost half of the book, suffice to say that very important book to understand both Che and Fidel. I can say that I understand both better with the reading of this book. It confirms my earlier conviction that Che and Bhagat Singh have lot much in common, which have been aptly described by Castro in context of Che, but which description is largely applicable to the personality of Bhagat singh.

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