Born: 14 June 1928 in Rosario, Argentina, the first of five children to an upper-middle-class family. Father a construction engineer; mother an aristocrat.
Family: First wife: Hilda Gadea, a Peruvian Marxist; one daughter. Second wife: Aleida March de la Torre, of Castro's army; four children.
Education: Buenos Aries University. Qualified as a doctor in 1953, specialising in dermatology.
Career: After Cuban revolution, commander of La Cabana Fortress (1959-1963). Also governor of the National Bank 1959 and then minister of industry 1961. Worldwide ambassador for Cuba 1961 to 1965. Moved to Bolivia to foment revolution, executed on 9 October 1967.
He said...: "Always be capable of feeling deep inside any injustice committed against anyone anywhere in the world. It is the finest quality of a revolutionary."
They said...: "The most complete human being of our age." - Jean-Paul Sartre
"One of the most oversold figures of the past half century." - Daniel Wolf, journalist and broadcaster
Even given its critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, the movie The Motorcycle Diaries, which opened across the country yesterday, has created unusually large amounts of pre-publicity. Surprisingly, you might think, if all you knew about it was that it is the story of a journey across Latin America by two men on a Norton 500 who uncover, on the way, the deep poverty of the continent in the early 1950s.
What changes everything is that one of the two men later went on to become the archetype of the contemporary revolutionary, Che Guevara. At the end of that motorbike journey he announced: "I want to link my destiny to that of the poor of this world." But the real journey here is not one from Argentina across a continent to Guatemala. It is not even Guevara's transition from bourgeois complacency to fiery rebel. It is a voyage from reality into myth.
Such was Che Guevara's hold on the imagination of his time that Jean-Paul Sartre called him "the most complete man in history", and Time magazine, that embodiment of all the American values which Guevara so despised, declared him to be "the icon of the 20th century". In 1968 - the great year of political, cultural and social revolution that followed his death - the slogan "Che lives" appeared on walls from Paris to Prague, Berkeley to Belfast and anywhere else that the old order seemed under threat by what felt like an unstoppable wave of youthful opposition. It was the era of anti-Vietnam War protest and student barricades. The times they were a-changing and the image of Che Guevara, dead but resurrected in a billion bedsit posters, was the most potent symbol of this new generation of power.
It is not difficult to deconstruct the power of the man and his myth. He was sultry and sexy: there is no myth around his revolutionary comrade Fidel Castro, who also made the mistake of staying alive. Che Guevara, by contrast, died young, as all the heroes of the age, from James Dean to Jimi Hendrix, did and should. Hope I die before I get old was the maxim of the moment.
He was, like so many of his devotees across the world, someone from a middle-class background who had rejected the cosy cocoon of affluence. He had attended medical school in Buenos Aires but, after the long exposure to his continent's poverty in that celebrated 1952 motorbike epic, everything changed. It was not just the urban and rural deprivation, the migrant workers driven from their land and the degradation of the native Mayan Indians. In Guatemala he witnessed the overthrow of its progressive leftist government in a CIA-backed coup and became convinced him that social progress was impossible without violent revolution. From there he went to Mexico to join up with Fidel Castro, and in 1956 landed in Cuba to carry on a guerrilla campaign against the US-backed dictator Batista.
He was physically brave. He carried on the invasion despite being wounded in the neck, fatally he thought at the time, in an ambush.
He was the ultimate emblematic figure of the counterculture, who had made real the aspiration that, against all the odds, things could actually be changed. This was the man, after all, who had entered Cuban and then worldwide revolutionary folklore in a battle where he and a few hundred rebels defeated 10,000 Cuban government troops in the Sierra Maestra mountains, and turned an impossible adventure into a real revolution. Ordinary people could triumph over their masters, was his message, which seemed so much more radical than the alternatives of anarchist hippies such as Abbie Hoffman, whose ultimate rebellion was the instruction to bookstore shoppers to "Steal This Book". Even as a member of Castro's elite after the revolution, he refused the privilege and luxury granted to other Cuban leaders, insisting on drawing only the average wage.
He had the gift of being able to encapsulate his idealism and his philosophy in pithy and memorable phrases. "It is better to die standing than to live on your knees." "I don't regard only Argentina as my native country but whole of America." "We have a rendezvous with history, and we simply cannot permit ourselves to be afraid!"
As icons of the 1960s go, few are more ubiquitous and less understood than Che Guevara. His name has become a catch-all phrase for rebellion, and his image is on posters, mugs and boxer shorts, but only as the instantly recognizable two-tone portrait taken by Alberto Korda in 1960. In his evolution from Castro's right-hand man to the face that launched a thousand T shirts, Guevara has been frozen in time, always and forever the revolutionary. But most people have little sense of how he got there, or that, once upon a time, he was just a guy whose biggest problem was trying to get his girlfriend to sleep with him.
Enter Walter Salles. In his latest film, The Motorcycle Diaries, the Oscar-nominated Brazilian director (Central Station) looks at Guevara before he started making history (imagine Mel Gibson making a film about a carpenter who wonders why he doesn't look like his dad). Salles' yet-to-be hero is the 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara, a romantic, asthmatic Argentinian medical student who hasn't yet picked up a gun or earned the nickname Che (a casual Argentinian slang word, like "O.K." or "buddy"). Part road movie, part coming-of-age story, the film is based on the journals that Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado kept on their eight-month journey across Latin America in 1952, from Buenos Aires through Argentina, Chile, Peru and Venezuela. The motorcycle of the title, a beat-up 1939 Norton 500 optimistically named the Mighty One, only makes it as far as Los Angeles, Chile, but stubbornness and curiosity keep the adventurers moving toward their destination: a leper colony in San Pablo where they have volunteered to work. On the way, they discover a uniting Latin American identity and witness the poverty, illness and social injustice a world away from their comfortable, middle-class lives. By the time they reach San Pablo, Guevara's consciousness has been raised, the seeds of revolution planted.
"It's a film about the necessity to react to what seems unfair and unjust," says Salles, "about making choices that will have an impact not only on your life, but also the lives of other people." It was producer Michael Nozik, working with Robert Redford, who approached Salles with the idea of realizing Guevara's writings. "I had seen Central Station and knew I wanted to work with him," Nozik says. "Walter is the kind of director who's open to everything around him. He just goes with the flow and I think that adds to the vitality of the movie."
To get hold of the rights, they went to Gianni Minà, an Italian journalist and documentarian who had received permission from Guevara's widow, Aleida March, to publish her late husband's manuscripts and turn them into a film. "I worked on it for seven years," Minà says. "But eventually I realized it would be impossible for me to make this movie. It would be too difficult to travel across Latin America with a crew of 50 people.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa
The Killing Machine
Che Guevara, from communist firebrand to capitalist brand.
THE NEW REPUBLIC -- JULY 1 1 & 18, 2005
CThe Observer The Motorcycle Diaries so that Minà could produce his own documentary. Not to mention Alberto Granado, who accompanied Che on his youthful trip and advises documentarists, and now complains in Madrid, according to El País, over Rioja wine and duck magret, that the American embargo against Cuba makes it hard for him to collect royalties. To take the irony further: the building where Guevara was born in Rosario, Argentina, a splendid early twentiethcentury edifice at the corner of Urquiza and Entre Ríos Streets, was until recently occupied by the private pension fund AFJP Máxima, a child of Argentina's privatization of social security in the 1990s.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, is the authorof Liberty for Latin America:How to Undo Five Hundred Years of Oppression (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
------------------------The Motorcycle Diaries"Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué," or "I have a Che T-shirt and I don't know why."
Consider some of the people who have recently brandished or invoked Guevara's likeness as a beacon of justice and rebellion against the abuse of power. In Lebanon, demonstrators protesting against Syria at the grave of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri carried Che's image. Thierry Henry, a French soccer player who plays for Arsenal, in England, showed up at a major gala organized by FIFA, the world's soccer body, wearing a red and black Che Tfilm shirt. In a recent review in The New York Times of George A. Romero's Land of the Dead, Manohla Dargis noted that "the greatest shock here may be the transformation of a black zombie into a righteous revolutionary leader," and added,"I guess Che really does live, after all." The soccer hero Maradona showed off the emblematic Che tattoo on his right arm during a trip where he met Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. In Stavropol, in southern Russia, protesters denouncing cash payments of welfare concessions took to the central square with Che flags. In San Francisco, City Lights Books, the legendary home of beat literature, treats visitors to a section devoted to Latin America in which half the shelves are taken up by Che books. José Luis Montoya, a Mexican police officer who battles drug crime in Mexicali, wears a Che sweatband because it makes him feel stronger. At the Dheisheh refugee camp on the West Bank, Che posters adorn a wall that pays tribute to the Intifada. A Sunday magazine devoted to social life in Sydney,Australia, lists the three dream guests at a dinner party: Alvar Aalto, Richard Branson, and Che Guevara. Leung Kwokhung, the rebel elected to Hong Kong's Legislative Council, defies Beijing by wearing a Che T-shirt. In Brazil, Frei Betto, President Lula da Silva's adviser in charge of the highprofile "Zero Hunger" program, says that "we should have paid less attention to Trotsky and much more to Che Guevara." And most famously, at this year's Academy Awards ceremony Carlos Santana and Antonio Banderas performed the theme song from The Motorcycle Diaries, and Santana showed up wearing a Che T-shirt and a crucifix. The manifestations of the new cult of Che are everywhere. Once again the myth is firing up people whose causes for the most part represent the exact opposite of what Guevara was.
NGranma is captured in a phrase in a letter to his wife that he penned on January 28, 1957, not long after disembarking, which was published in her book Ernesto: A Memoir of Che Guevara in Sierra Maestracasquitos, were peasants who had joined the army simply to escape unemployment.
But the "cold-blooded killing machine" did not show the full extent of his rigor until, immediately after the collapse of the Batista regime, Castro put him in charge of La Cabaña prison. (Castro had a clinically good eye for picking the right person to guard the revolution against infection.) San Carlos de La Cabaña was a stone fortress used to defend Havana against English pirates in the eighteenth century; later it became a military barracks. In a manner chillingly reminiscent of Lavrenti Beria, Guevara presided during the first half of 1959 over one of the darkest periods of the revolution. José Vilasuso, a lawyer and a professor at Universidad Interamericana de Bayamón in Puerto Rico, who belonged to the body in charge of the summary judicial process at La Cabaña, told me recently that
Che was in charge of the Comisión Depuradora.The process followed the law of the Sierra: there was a military court and Che's guidelines to us were that we should act with conviction, meaning that they were all murderers and the revolutionary way to proceed was to be implacable. My direct superior was Miguel Duque Estrada. My duty was to legalize the files before they were sent on to the Ministry. Executions took place from Monday to Friday, in the middle of the night, just after the sentence was given and automatically confirmed by the appellate body. On the most gruesome night I remember, seven men were executed.Javier Arzuaga, the Basque chaplain who gave comfort to those sentenced to die and personally witnessed dozens of executions, spoke to me recently from his home in Puerto Rico.A former Catholic priest, now seventy-five, who describes himself as "closer to Leonardo Boff and Liberation Theology than to the former Cardinal Ratzinger," he recalls that
there were about eight hundred prisoners in a space fit for no more than three hundred: former Batista military and police personnel, some journalists, a few businessmen and merchants.The revolutionary tribunal was made of militiamen. Che Guevara presided over the appellate court. He never overturned a sentence. I would visit those on death row at the [i]galera de la muerte[/i]. A rumor went around that I hypnotized prisoners because many remained calm, so Che ordered that I be present at the executions. After I left in May, they executed many more, but I personally witnessed fifty-five executions. There was an American, Herman Marks, apparently a former convict. We called him "the butcher" because he enjoyed giving the order to shoot. I pleaded many times with Che on behalf of prisoners. I remember especially the case of Ariel Lima, a young boy. Che did not budge. Nor did Fidel, whom I visited. I became so traumatized that at the end of May 1959 I was ordered to leave the parish of Casa Blanca, where La Cabaña was located and where I had held Mass for three years. I went to Mexico for treatment.The day I left, Che told me we had both tried to bring one another to each other's side and had failed. His last words were:"When we take our masks off, we will be enemies."How many people were killed at La Cabaña? Pedro Corzo offers a figure of some two hundred, similar to that given by Armando Lago, a retired economics professor who has compiled a list of 179 names as part of an eight-year study on executions in Cuba. Vilasuso told me that four hundred people were executed between January and the end of June in 1959 (at which point Che ceased to be in charge of La Cabaña). Secret cables sent by the American Embassy in Havana to the State Department in Washington spoke of "over 500." According to Jorge Castañeda, one of Guevara's biographers, a Basque Catholic sympathetic to the revolution, the late Father Iñaki de Aspiazú, spoke of seven hundred victims. Félix Rodríguez, a CIA agent who was part of the team in charge of the hunt for Guevara in Bolivia, told me that he confronted Che after his capture about "the two thousand or so" executions for which he was responsible during his lifetime. "He said they were all CIA agents and did not address the figure," Rodríguez recalls. The higher figures may include executions that took place in the months after Che ceased to be in charge of the prison.
Which brings us back to Carlos Santana and his chic Che gear. In an open letter published in El Nuevo Herald CshariaCImproper Conduct showed the world a couple of decades ago.
So TIME magazine may have been less than accurate in August 1960 when it described the revolution's division of labor with a cover story featuring Che Guevara as the "brain" and Fidel Castro as the "heart" and Raúl Castro as the "fist." But the perception reflected Guevara's crucial role in turning Cuba into a bastion of totalitarianism. Che was a somewhat unlikely candidate for ideological purity, given his bohemian spirit, but during the years of training in Mexico and in the ensuing period of armed struggle in Cuba he emerged as the communist ideologue infatuated with the Soviet Union, much to the discomfort of Castro and others who were essentially opportunists using whatever means were necessary to gain power. When the would-be revolutionaries were arrested in Mexico in 1956, Guevara was the only one who admitted that he was a communist and was studying Russian. (He spoke openly about his relationship with Nikolai Leonov from the Soviet Embassy.) During the armed struggle in Cuba, he forged a strong alliance with the Popular Socialist Party (the island's Communist Party) and with Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, a key player in the conversion of Castro's regime to communism.
This fanatical disposition made Che into a linchpin of the "Sovietization" of the revolution that had repeatedly boasted about its independent character. Very soon after the barbudos THGuerrilla Warfare teaches that popular forces can beat an army, that it is not necessary to wait for the right conditions because an insurrectional foco (or small group of revolutionaries) can bring them about, and that the fight must primarily take place in the countryside. (In his prescription for guerrilla warfare, he also reserves for women the roles of cooks and nurses.) However, Batista's army was not an army, but a corrupt bunch of thugs with no motivation and not much organization; and guerrilla focos, with the exception of Nicaragua, all ended up in ashes for the foquistas; and Latin America has turned 70 percent urban in these last four decades. In this regard, too, Che Guevara was a callous fool.
IBases y puntos de partida para la organización de la República Argentina, was the foundation of the Constitution of 1853 that limited government, opened trade, encouraged immigration, and secured property rights, thereby inaugurating a seventy-year period of astonishing prosperity. He did not meddle in the affairs of other nations, opposing his country's war against Paraguay. His likeness does not adorn Mike Tyson's abdomen.
McGuevara's o CheDonald's
Todos se dejan la barba y el pelo como él
Pero no son como él
Todos declaran y hablan en nombre de él
Como si fueran él
Yo me pregunto que estara pensando él
Si pudiera ver
Cómo se llenan de plata hablando de él
Sin saber nada de él
Todos se compran la remerita del Che
Sin saber quien fue
Su nombre y su cara no paran de vender
Parece McGuevara's o CheDonald's
Parece McGuevara's O CheDonald's
No es hermano de Fidel ni pariente de Pino'che'
El nació en la Argentina y salió a recorrer
No es de la época de Evita y a pesar del musical
Nunca fue asistente de Peron, el General
Yo me pregunto por qué le tocó a él
Ser Jesucristo al final del milenio, che, eh, Che
(Y lo mataron como un perro en Bolivia)
Vuelve y vuelve mil veces al que matan asi
O es que al final nunca muere
El que no teme morir
Parece McGuevara's o CheDonald's
Alvaro Vargas Llosa
The Killing Machine
Che Guevara, from communist firebrand to capitalist brand.
THE NEW REPUBLIC -- JULY 1 1 & 18, 2005
..........Javier Arzuaga, the Basque chaplain who gave comfort to those sentenced to die and personally witnessed dozens of executions, spoke to me recently from his home in Puerto Rico.A former Catholic priest, now seventy-five, who describes himself as closer to Leonardo Boff and Liberation Theology than to the former Cardinal Ratzinger," he recalls that................
Liberation theology is a movement in Christian theology which understands the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust political, economic, or social conditions. It has been described as "an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor".
Leonardo Boff entered the Franciscan Order in 1959 and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1964. He spent the following years studying for a doctorate in theology and philosophy at the University of Munich, which he received in 1970. Boff's doctoral thesis studied in what measure the church can be a sign of the sacred and the divine in the secular world and in the process of liberation of the oppressed.
He became one of the best known (along with Gustavo Gutiérrez) of the early Liberation theologians. He was present in the first reflections that sought to articulate indignation against misery and marginalization with promissory discourse of the faith, leading to Liberation theology.
I always liked Ché and his charisma; and he had the same crazy, idealistic ideas as I did/do...
I read his African diaries and was blown away. I'm definitely going to see the film. How about you, Thok?
Pantalones has it right ... "when history becomes pop culture".
Everyone adores Che as a pop icon.