At the end of the 1980s, when the Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega had emerged as an international figure, he cast around for someone to ghost-write his autobiography. One of his aides casually asked me if I might be interested. I told him no – not because Ortega didn't have a fascinating life story, but because he was certainly not going to tell it honestly in a book. Ortega never produced an autobiography, but now, according to reports from Havana, Fidel Castro is about to publish a memoir. It is no more likely to be candid than Ortega's would have been. Few living figures could contribute as much as Castro to our understanding of the second half of the 20th century. Don't expect him to do it, though. Castro has lived almost his entire life as a clandestine revolutionary. To such figures, truth is always malleable, always subservient to political goals. Whatever Castro's goal now, it is certainly not confronting difficult and complex truths or reflecting deeply on the course of his life. Castro's career has been about myth-making; there is no reason to believe his memoir will be any different. Presumably Castro will describe his revolutionary war in the 1950s as intense and full of heroics, as no doubt it was. Some historians, however, marvel at how little fighting Castro's men actually had to do and how easily the old dictatorship collapsed. Nor are we likely to find new insights into Castro's relationship with his brother, Raúl; with their highly popular comrade Camilo Cienfuegos, who died in a plane crash that Castro described as an accident but that some Cubans suspect was a political assassination; or with Che Guevara, who by many accounts broke with him over his decision to lead Cuba into the Soviet bloc. Castro cannot be reasonably expected to renounce his beliefs or implicate himself in killings or atrocities. Nonetheless it would be fascinating to learn whether he still believes it was necessary to execute hundreds of his countrymen without trial in the first weeks after his victory in 1959; whether he wishes the Soviet Union had taken his advice and launched a nuclear first strike against the United States; and whether he regrets the repression and mass imprisonment of gay people, other "lifestyle dissidents", and intellectuals who supported his cause but broke with him after his first years in power. Was Castro sincere when, during his guerrilla war, he swore that he was not a Communist? If so, when did he change, and why? Looking back, does he believe he might have chosen a better course? Although Castro is built on a larger-than-life scale, he has never been known as reflective or self-aware. His ideology has evidently not changed in half a century. For much of that time he was widely said to hold more direct personal control over his people than any leader in the world. How did that feel? Was it necessary? Don't buy Castro's memoir expecting insightful reflection on questions like these. Revolutionaries who come to power by force of arms usually have great crimes in their background. Leaders who survive campaigns by great powers to destroy them do not survive because they observe the niceties of law. Subversives who shape world events by covert action and violence work in shadows and detest the light of day. Few people in the world know as many explosive geopolitical secrets as Castro. Within him he is carrying a blockbuster best-seller. He is unlikely ever to write it. Like the disciplined militant he is, he will take his trove of secrets to the grave.
Brian Lloyd French
I am a great admirer of the strength and talents of Cuban people and will share some of my experiences here.