Communism's Great Survivor; Lucky in His Enemies: Global Anti-Americanism Has Helped Keep Fidel Castro in Power

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Byline: VICTOR SEBESTYEN

My Life by Fidel Castro with Ignacio Ramonet (Allen Lane, [pounds sterling]25)

HIS FIRST serious act of rebellion was at the age of 11 when, in a quarrel withhis father, Fidel Castro threatened to burn down the family house. Mr CastroSenior clearly understood the nature of his son. He calculated that the boyprobably meant business so he beat a retreat, teaching the child early lessonsin how to defeat a superior force.

For 50 years, Fidel Castro has been the world's most famous revolutionary icon.His comrade in arms Che Guevara may have sold more T-shirts, but Che had thegood fortune to die young. It was Castro who created a revolution, survivedscores of assassination attempts and stayed in power from 1959until his operation for intestinal disease critically weakened him last year.

Despite the evidence that Cuba's tropical version of Communism failed ascatastrophically as all the other kinds, and the testimony of thousands ofCastro's victims to the brutality of his regime, the old monster remains fetedin the Third World. In his final years his reputation has risen in proportionto the global growth of anti- Americanism. Fidel's rants against "Yankeeimperialism", which he has been making for more than four decades, are nowadaysaccorded more respect than ever in Europe.

Of course, he remains a hero to the Left, including to the co-author of thisbook, Ignacio Ramonet, a Marxist academic who teaches at a French university.

This is an unorthodox autobiography based on 100 hours of interviews withCastro over two years. Ramonet's interviewing style may be more Hello! magazinethan Jeremy Paxman"Commandante, you are a great public speaker, tell us the secret of youreloquence," he says.

Yet Castro's life has been extraordinary and he can tell a good story. Born, asso many future Marxists were, into a comfortably off landowning family, he waseducated by Jesuits. …