An Encounter With Fidel
By Gianni Minà
Ocean Press. 1991. $21.95.
Reviewed by Alex Bainbridge
In the last year, Cuba has received a lot of attention as popular revolutions swept through Eastern Europe. The media turned their eyes to Cuba to watch as that country inevitably fell to the obviously superior system of capitalism. So far it hasn't happened.
Cuba is a country little understood in the West, and it is difficult to get a clear picture of what Cuba is like by reading reports in the mainstream media.
I was therefore both interested and excited to pick up this book, which is literally a 15-hour interview with Fidel Castro, a man surrounded by as much, if not more, of the confusion that surrounds his country. At the same time, not having enough information to form a clear opinion of the man or the country I was uncertain what to expect. Ultimately, this was to my advantage, for a picture of Fidel Castro emerges through the pages of the book.
The introduction by Gabriel García Márquez and preface make much of his "devotion to the spoken word" and to other aspects of his personality, but none of this takes on real meaning until you read further. Minà asks questions, Castro talks, and during this process a vibrant and exciting image is created of the man. Castro's love of knowledge and pride and faith in human beings are obvious throughout, and an intimacy soon develops with the reader.
The claim that Castro has never refused to answer any question can well be believed. Minà confronts Castro with questions about controversial issues like alleged human rights violations in Cuba, opinions of Gorbachev, Reagan, Bush, the Sandinistas, the Cuban missile crisis, his relationship with Che Guevara.
Minà's hesitance at times to ask some questions contrasts starkly with Castro's willingness to talk frankly on any topic. A quest for truth and understanding is obviously very important to Castro. He is well versed in his facts, and when he does not have enough information to form an opinion, he doesn't.
Castro is passionate in his defence of the revolution. It is never far from his mind. Despite his obvious pride in the revolution and the role he played in it, he speaks candidly about mistakes that were made and the problems that still need to be solved. He makes convincing arguments that these problems can be solved and that, when compared to the situation that other Third World countries are in, the socialist path that Cuba has taken is absolutely the right one. The advantages that Cubans face over people in even the advanced capitalist countries are noted.
Another strong aspect of Castro's personality to emerge is his faith in people. "But I know that human beings are capable of great efforts, great altruism and great solidarity, and I know this not because I read it in a book but because I saw it in this struggle ... That is why I have always been inclined to put more faith in the onscience of human beings, because I've seen what they are capable of achieving."
This book paints a vivid portrait of both Fidel Castro and Cuba. Perhaps the only thing it couldn't achieve, by the very nature of its format, is a picture of what life is like for the "average Cuban on the street".
While it is clear that Castro sees himself as just the people's representative and accountable to them (not their ruler) and it seems that the vast majority of people see him that way too (as testified to by a number of third-person accounts), it is sometimes a mistake to place too high an importance on the life and opinions of a leader when there are masses of people who have lives and opinions too. Nevertheless, it is useful and interesting to know what leaders think, and this book is more than just a testimony to Fidel Castro, it is a testimony to the Cuban revolution and the people that made it happen.