So in light of the 50 year Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution and the recently released Steven Soderberg films: "Che Part 1" and "Che Part 2", I've decided to post this little review/essay about Ernest "Che" Guevara. I wrote it last summer, just after my wife and I were wrapping up our "failed" business venture in San Diego and I just never got around to posting it. So if politics and history bore you, don't read it! And equally, if you are a political and historical expert, don't criticize me!
July 2, 2008
So a few weeks ago, whilst preparing to leave San Diego, I finished reading "The Motorcycle Diaries" as I'm fascinated as anyone else with Sr. Ernesto "Che" Guevara. He's a much more complicated man than the rebellious icon he's been made out to be. Many of his observations are right on and others well...let's just say he was a man of his time and place and some of his musings would by today's standards be considered, perhaps slightly, racist and homophobic. But to be fair, those things are minor compared to his overall view of the world and it's problems and the solutions he felt were necessary.
The issue I have with Guevara’s ideas is that he felt that individualism should be eradicated for the good of all people- an idea that, to me, is an extraordinary contradiction of his own character. As I see it, his life (and he would probably stab me mercilessly in my bourgeoisie throat for saying so) was more American than anything else. After all, here he is, a young Argentinian doctor born into an upper-middle class of Irish/Spanish descent, who can afford to put his professional career on hold and live a life of adventure: tear-assing across the beautiful vastness of Latin America. That’s sounds more like Jack Kerouac than Karl Marx. So in his speech to Cuban medical graduates (in the last entry of the book), he goes on to condemn the power and will of individualism – the very vital quality that allowed his own social and political transformation. So I have to ask, how did he feel about denying this freedom of choice to others?
So when it comes down to it, I think the people who mindlessly wear t-shirts and hats with Guevara are just that - mindless. Equally, so are the right wing conservatives who seem to have no shortage of books, documentaries and web sites painting him as a blood thirsty, cold blooded murderer.
The first group seems to ignore that Guevara did indeed oversee hundreds of executions- without trial and berated and belittled his own fellow comrades who thought there should be some sort of justice by way of trials. He was also known for having the families bare witness to the executions of loved ones. They also seem to ignore or overlook that Guevara had no mercy with the Indians, who fought on the side of governments he was trying to undue. Not taking into account that these poor Indians fought not out of ideology, but of economic necessity – to feed their families. In deed, in some of his own writings, Guevara admits to succumbing to bloodlust and enjoying the excitement of battle. That said, it' no surprise that he would leave the tedious, day-to-day business of running Castro’s Cuba in order to chase revolutionary glory in Bolivia, where he was killed in a manner not unfamiliar to his own tactics.
The second group, on the other hand, tends to ignore the context of the time and place in which Guevara lived. During that period, the US had a notorious habit of using its C.I.A. to dismantle democratically elected governments all over Latin America. Putting in their stead, military dictatorships that ruled with unspeakable brutality and oppression. While they belittle Guevara, they don’t often expound upon the "greatness and compassion" of American “friendly” leaders like, Fulgencio Batista, Carlos Castillo Armas or Augusto Pinochet. I mean, let’s face it, these guys and others like them, were evil, scum-sucking shit bags of the first order and they had no reservations about raping and fleecing their own country with reckless, gleeful abandon. Our government was there and they were ready and all too eager to assist. It’s also apparent that the Guevara detractors easily overlook, or dismiss similar actions committed or permitted by the US, such as the recently reported mass executions during the Korean War.
I'd like to go on but I don't really have the time to properly analyze and write all that I would like to in regards to the diary itself and the man. But to sum this up quickly, I'll only say that it’s just not helpful to understand Mr. Guevara by reducing his rebellious image on bumper stickers or t-shirts. Guevara is just too complicated a figure - in death as he was in life.