Che and Diana: The Shocking Untold Story

In a book proposal for his autobiography, Cuba's maximum leader Fidel Castro outs his brother, calls Robert Kennedy a "complete fool" and compares Che Guevara to Princess Diana.

Published October 14, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

| The cult of personality demands that the leader's life remain a state secret. No wife or lover can be seen at the leader's side, for, like Christ, he is married to the people. What, then, are we to make of the news that Fidel Castro, el lider maximo, plans to publish a tell-all autobiography in which he compares Che Guevara to Princess Diana, outs his brother (armed forces chief Raul Castro) and reveals that he'd like nothing better than to give up his responsibilities and relax at the beach with a good cigar?

A proposal for "History Will Absolve Me: The Autobiography of Fidel Castro" is circulating this week at the Frankfurt Book Fair. In the hands of literary agent Sandy Dijkstra, who has also represented such bestselling authors as Amy Tan and Susan Faludi, it can be expected to fetch a seven-figure advance.

His proposed book offers what looks like a kinder, gentler, more embarrassingly banal Castro. Some excerpts:

On Raul's sexuality: "He is my brother and I love him. Does he have, shall we say, certain weaknesses and perversions? Yes. Don't we all? But is this a character flaw? No, not at all."

On the pope's visit to Cuba in January: "I longingly remember my mother and her deep faith in God. Now I find myself at the point where, out of respect for her, I can see the same need for guidance and devotion in others ... Faith in God is good, because faith is good."

On Che: "If there is anyone alive who reminds me of Che today -- of his complex nature, combining the beautiful and the ideal and the tragic -- I would say it is Diana, the Princess of Wales. If you see the vitality of her spirit and the struggle in her life, then you have seen what Che was like!"

On revolutionary mass murder: "In our youthful exuberance and sense of self-righteousness, of knowing that our end was a noble one -- we were unjust, we took measures not because they helped the cause of the Revolution, but because they satisfied a human impulse to punish."

On Robert McNamara and the Cuban Missile Crisis: "McNamara was an idiot -- still is! And Robert Kennedy was a complete fool!"

On cigars: Cuba's intelligence services had photographs of American presidents blown up, Fidel says, "to see if we could determine which cigars they smoked." And guess what: "Trade embargo or no, Cuba was then and has always remained, in the Oval Office! I can boast that there are no American goods in my office, but American presidents have secretly harbored Cuban cigars all these years."

Castro gave up smoking cigars in 1980 to serve as an example of good health to his 11.2 million children. This, he has us understand, is symbolic of his greater sacrifice. "That I can no longer smoke cigars is a metaphor for my life. I wish I were free to do what I wanted to ... I have enormous responsibilities. I am not the owner of my life since the revolution! ... In my own mind, however, it would be liberating to be free to do what I wanted to do, to sit on a terrace overlooking the sea, enjoying a drink of aged rum, and smoking a Cohiba."

Many Cubans are probably wishing he would do just that. Students of ancient history will recall that "History Will Absolve Me" was the speech Castro gave in his own defense after the failed Moncada barracks attack in 1953. But as exiled novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante put it recently, "History hasn't absolved him. History has left him behind. In fact he's in danger of becoming prehistoric."

Castro may be politically prehistoric, but he understands the importance of shaping one's own image in the celebrity culture. Rather than Kitty Kelley, Castro chose Louis Nevaer, an economist and Pacific News Service contributor, to tell his story. Nevaer, whose previous books include "New Business Opportunities in Latin America" and "The Management of Corporate Business Units," is connected to Castro through a family pharmaceutical business in Mexico, which does business with Cuba.

Foreign investment is increasingly important to the survival of Cuba, but foreigners like everyone else have to deal with the same tired old political institutions. Last week, the Communist Party held its first congress in six years. Castro -- who was rumored to be quite sick or even dead -- managed to give a seven-hour speech, just like the old days. Even Fidel's old comrade, Che Guevara, turned up in time to be reburied (Che's remains recently were dug up in Bolivia, where he died in 1967 at the head of a guerrilla band).

It will certainly be handy for Fidel to have Che around again. Though dead these 30 years, he's still a useful example of revolutionary sacrifice, and sacrifice has always been an easy word on Castro's lips. Although most Cubans are clamoring for more economic liberalization, Castro promised them more blood, sweat and tears in the name of maintaining socialism.

As long as they don't have to read his book.

By Arthur Allen

Arthur Allen writes on health, science and other issues for Salon and Kaiser Health News. He lives in Washington.

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