New book on Fidel intended for the new generations, says author

Campaign News | Tuesday, 23 May 2006

100 Hours with Fidel is already a huge hit in Spain

BY JEAN-GUY ALLARD of Granma International newspaper

"MY book is intended for the new generations that have not had access to the thoughts, to the work of Fidel Castro and that have difficulty learning about his work due to the wall of lies, the slander, and the systematic criticism of the Cuban Revolution, especially in Europe," affirmed French journalist Ignacio Ramonet at a press conference in Havana on May 19.

The enormous volume, launched in Cuba a few days ago under the title Cien horas con Fidel (100 hours with Fidel) is already an instant hit in Spain, where the publishing house Mondadori (Debate collection), which published it with the title Fidel Castro. Biografía a dos voces (Fidel Castro. Biography in two voices), just ran out of the first edition of 12,000 copies and has a reprint on the way.

"In Spain, some readers approached me to say that they had no idea what Fidel Castro thinks because the Spanish media talks frequently but never lets Fidel speak," said Ramonet.

The author, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, a respected monthly publication in Paris, commented, "one of the dangers for a professional interviewing Fidel Castro is allowing oneself to be charmed by the personality."

"He has a charismatic personality for a journalist of my generation," he confessed. "He is a witness, an actor, and a protagonist of historic events of such import that obviously, there is or could be a type of fascination."

Being conscious of that danger the author contacted several friends, including well-known individuals named in the book. "I asked them what indispensable questions they would ask if they had the opportunity to talk to Fidel Castro."

"My moral obligation was that these questions would be in the book? and they are in the book."

Accused by certain media agencies in Madrid -and Miami- of having used excerpts from speeches for some pages of the book, Ramonet explained that he did this only under the direction of Fidel himself, who felt that his thoughts were more precisely elaborated in that medium on certain topics.

The author of the book joked about the origins of such criticism, stating that there were people trying to claim that the interview never happened, and that the photos of Fidel with Ramonet were phony.

He told of one Spanish individual, Arcadi Espada, who even wrote on his blog, "In truth, that interview could not have taken place because Fidel Castro has been dead for several weeks or more."

"The extent to which they go to disqualify the interview are that extreme," he commented.

To Ramonet, "a journalist is someone who goes against the current."

"In France and Spain, Fidel is one of the most censored public figures: censorship by consensus, because when all the world says that this is an atrocious dictatorship and that Fidel is a cruel dictator, it creates such a consensus that even journalists who try to be critical do not dare to say something against prevailing opinion."

"And this is normal," he added. "I have tried to do it and I know what one can suffer. I had an opinion column in a Spanish newspaper and when an excerpt of the book came out in El Pais they censored me? In the name of liberty, they suppressed the freedom of expression, the freedom of opinion! That is consensus, censorship by consensus."

The French editor and journalist emphasized: "I feel that our duty is to try to give voice to those who have no voice. In Spain, France or Europe, the international figure with the least opportunity for expression is Fidel Castro and my duty as a journalist, my honesty as a journalist, is to let him speak."

What is the central theme of this volume of extensive conversations with the Cuban president? "The idea is to explain the mystery of how a boy born in a village far from everything, in a landowning family of extremely humble origins - without great culture we would say today - how that boy educated in the Catholic, reactionary schools of Jesuits who came during the Spanish war? how did he become a revolutionary leader? Where did it come from, how did this creativity emerge??"

"This is what the book attempts to answer."

With a tone of humor, Ramonet told how his closeness to the president during four 24-hour periods had led him to fly with Fidel to Ecuador "in his ancient airplane."

"I was frightened ? I would not fly in that plane like he does? he is a brave man."

Ramonet described Fidel, in his daily activities, as "a person who always has extraordinary tact with those around him, very respectful, attentive, he doesn’t want to upset people?"

"He is very much a gentleman. You might say that is normal, but I know politicians who in public are very attentive, but in reality are dictators in their own environment," he explained.

He emphasized: "He lives in extremely frugal conditions. There is absolutely nothing luxurious about his surroundings. He lives like a soldier-monk. I asked him how much he makes and he explains this in the book. I told him that I could not live on his salary, obviously. And I am happy that I make a bit more than him!"

Ramonet’s book will soon come out in Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Greece, Russia, Korea, Japan, Italy (Mondadori), Britain and the United States (Penguin Books). In France, it will be published by the end of the year by Fayard. In Spain, 20,000 hardbound copies are for sale accompanied by a documentary on DVD featuring several hours of the exchange between the journalist and the Cuban president.

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