[Marxism] Castro's Collaborator (Guardian profile of Ignacio Ramonet)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Nov 5 10:32:38 MST 2007

(Very positive profile of the man whose hundreds of hours talking
with Fidel evolved into the book CIEN HORAS CON FIDEL, which is now
being published in English as "My Life". It han't been available as
yet by the time I left Los Angeles in mid-October, unfortunately
for me.)

Guardian Media Pages

Castro's collaborator: The editor of Le Monde Diplomatique talks
about how he became Fidel Castro's biographer and what it was like to
work with the Cuban president

John Crace

5 November 2007

The Guardian

Critical factor . . . Ignacio Ramonet was chosen by Castro despite
having chided Cuba in the past Photograph: Paul Cooper

It was the story everyone wanted. For decades journalists have been
queuing up to get Fidel Castro's story - but his response had always
been a polite, but resolutely firm, "no". Until 2002, when the Cuban
leader unexpectedly agreed to work on his biography with Ignacio
Ramonet, the Spanish-born editor of French newspaper Le Monde
Diplomatique. The story of their collaboration turns out to be every
bit as illuminating as the book itself.

Castro could have taken his pick of any number of leading South
American writers. So why a European? Partly it was a matter of being
in the right place at the right time. When Ramonet bumped into him at
the Havana Book Fair in January 2002 and suggested they write a book
together, Castro was nearing 80 and was not in the best of health, so
the Cuban was in a more receptive mood than usual. But there was more
to it than that. As Ramonet acknowledges, the relationship was as
beneficial for Castro as it was for him.


"We had met a number of times previously at conferences," he says,
"and he had taken a great interest in the World Social Forum [the
anti-globalisation alternative to the G8 summit that Ramonet had been
instrumental in setting up]. So he was familiar with me and knew that
I wasn't an enemy of Cuba. But he also knew that I had been critical
of his country in the past.

"I think this was very important, as he wanted to collaborate with
someone with a reputation for integrity. If he had chosen a Cuban
journalist - and there are some very good ones - everyone would have
said the book lacked objectivity. It's the US he wants to reach and
by choosing to work with me - a foreign journalist from a prestigious
newspaper and an author with several books behind him - he stood the
best chance of achieving his ends."

Even so, it still took more than a year to finalise the structure of
the book. Ramonet had originally envisaged it as an extended piece of
journalism, a snapshot of 21st-century Fidel and 21st-century Cuba.
It was Castro who insisted it should be a historical overview, a book
to encapsulate his life. "He repeatedly said that he didn't want to
die without setting the record straight," Ramonet says.

But just how straight? The format for the book, a rather uneasy
hybrid of question-and-answer, proved non-negotiable: "It was clear
Fidel had things to say and he wanted to say them through

Ramonet understands this makes him more vulnerable to criticism than
if he had taken sole authorship and passed comment on Castro's
remarks. Yet he still believes it was a price worth paying. "Castro
has never been allowed to express himself in the west as media
organisations seldom report him accurately," he says. "So it is
clearly important his voice should be heard.

"I had a list of 200 questions, but he never asked to see them in
advance. We just sat together, often long into the night. He talked
and I listened. There were some things he chose not to talk about,
such as the Colombian humanitarian crisis, but there were many
issues, such as the repression of homosexuals and racism in Cuba,
about which he was forthcoming. He was also, for the first time,
critical of Che Guevara, arguing he was too authoritarian."

Ramonet knows that some will accuse him of being a willing stooge,
but what politician or statesman - other than Alan Clark - ever put
their name to a memoir that was anything other than a well-spun,
airbrushed version of history? In any case, with this particular
quasi-autobiography the fact that it exists at all is a story in

Castro has a reputation for being obsessively private and
security-conscious - understandable, perhaps, in a man who has
survived 638 assassination attempts. He remains a distant figure even
to his family, never sleeps in the same place two nights running and
rarely spends much time with his brother, Raul, in case someone tries
to kill them both. So almost no one has a real sense of what makes
Castro tick.

Having spent longer in Castro's company - sometimes 10 days at a
stretch - than anyone outside Cuba, Ramonet has a better idea than
most. And yet he is curiously reluctant to pass judgment. But when
pressed, he offers some revealing insights. "The world always sees
the man in uniform, the self-assured leader," he says. "But when you
get to know him, he appears quite different. He is shy and unsure of
himself but respectful of, and attentive to, other people's feelings.
He speaks incredibly quietly and doesn't try to dominate a
conversation; rather, he is always asking others for their opinions
and ideas.

"I saw him with his children, but we never talked about his emotional
life. I'm not even sure that he has a private life. Even when he goes
fishing it is with people with whom he can talk politics. For him,
everything is politics; there has been no Latin-American intellectual
to match him other than Bolivar."

It becomes clearer still why Castro chose to work with Ramonet. Both
men are steeped in the same left-wing political and intellectual
traditions. You'd never catch a British academic - let alone a
British journalist - talking about himself as a serious intellectual
without a hint of self-deprecation; when Ramonet does so it is no
more than a statement of fact; a job description.

Displacement and injustice

Politics has been in Ramonet's blood for almost all his life. He was
born in Galicia in 1943, but his parents moved to Morocco to escape
the Franco regime two years later, and his childhood was shadowed by
a lingering sense of displacement and injustice. He went to
university in France, where his doctorate was supervised by Roland
Barthes, before returning to Morocco to teach in the late 1960s.

It was not an easy time. The government was clamping down on
political activists, so he returned to France where he started
working as a journalist.

"I got to know Claude Julien while writing for Le Monde," he says,
"and when he was appointed editor of Le Monde Diplomatique in 1983 he
brought me with him."

Ramonet covered many different beats and when Julien retired in 1991
he became the first - and so far only - non-French born editor of a
French national newspaper, upping the political ante and becoming
heavily involved in campaigns to introduce taxes on currency
speculation and counter what he sees as the G8's efforts to carve up
the world.

"We have built a movement that didn't exist before - a new
anti-globalisation forum that has helped create a new breed of leader
in Latin America," he says.

While he plans to step down as editor-in-chief of Le Monde
Diplomatique next year, he has no intention of leaving politics. "I
want to think about creating an anti-globalisation thinktank," he
insists. "We have to learn from the past and create what the
socialism of this century is going to be. The left hasn't produced
theory for 30 years."

It is not exactly the usual editor's leaving speech. And you can't
help wondering what Castro might make of it.

Additional reporting and translation by Jessica Shepherd

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