Che Guevara: Not a Saint, Not a Butcher

Martín Guevara*

Ernesto “Che” Guevara

HAVANA TIMES — Today, I had something of a domestic dispute with an on-line acquaintance who asked me what I thought about my uncle Ernesto “Che” Guevara having been a “butcher.” I tackled the issue more or less saying that, generally speaking, we had to recognize he had been an exceptional person, but that he was ultimately a human being and not the triumphal statue he was turned into.

Neither Saint nor Butcher

The first to suffer as a result of this kind of thinking is the person we’ve turned into a myth. Doing this completely trivializes the effort and the sacrifices that person made in order to acquire each of their supposed virtues.

Ernesto was many things before becoming the man who headed down the road of the “guerrilla,” a path he was persuaded to follow by the ambition and insensitivity of the world’s powerful and their refusal to distribute the planet’s wealth in a more equitable, fraternal and even democratic fashion.

He was a great dreamer and romantic, a lone-wolf, a tireless traveler, an intellectual, a connoisseur of high French, Spanish and Latin American poetry, a refined writer, a doctor who, despite never having practiced officially, healed more people in the jungles, leper colonies and places in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra he spent time in than most professional doctors throughout their lives.

He was a person who stood out among politicians owing to what I consider to be his most outstanding feature: he practiced what he preached. In general terms, I do not agree with any of his ideas. I am not a communist. I hate it when others meddle in my private affairs. The freedom of the State, like that of anyone and anything, ends where my rights begin.

I condemn any kind of interference in the life of individuals on behalf of the interests of the masses, and I am totally opposed to any kind of violence – my uncle’s and, of course, that of his enemies (and we can agree that, since 1967, more people have died as a result of political violence, wars, bombings, armed combat, upheavals, torture and other tragedies than Che ever killed in combat or executed). I do not agree with any of those ideas. I do, however, think our times are poorer for lack of someone who does what they say, think as they act and openly tell us about what they do: someone who practices what they preach, in short.

Ernesto was many things before becoming the man who headed down the road of the “guerrilla,” a path he was persuaded to follow by the ambition and insensitivity of the world’s powerful and their refusal to distribute the planet’s wealth in a more equitable, fraternal and even democratic fashion.

He was a champion of volunteer work and he was the first to roll up his sleeves every Sunday. Fidel couldn’t stand that, because it made him look bad. Fidel would do volunteer work for the picture opportunity. He wasn’t willing to spend four hours of a Sunday sweating buckets. He only did that once or twice after Che’s death, in 1970, when the 10-million-ton sugar harvest failed miserably, but he only did that because he saw his enterprise in danger and was afraid to be held directly responsible for that catastrophic, hard-headed enterprise.

Other government officials resented Che because of that, for mocking them and rubbing their lack of scruples in their faces, and because he was straight as an arrow and not very fond of opportunists.

He stuck his neck out for what he thought was right and died next to his soldiers. He traveled without bodyguards. He would hop on trains and visit places like Hiroshima, or Montevideo, Uruguay, when I assume he missed the River Plate, a thick juicy steak, a mate and a park-bench chat with someone in the parlance of his youth. As a government minister, he would often drive places on his own.

Fidel travels with five hundred bodyguards. He called a liver expert from the Gregorio Marañon hospital in Spain over to avoid dying, razing all of the propaganda about the superiority of Cuban medicine to the ground. He has always done what it takes to remain at the top and, of course, so as to stay alive!

Ernesto took after his mother Celia in that he finished what he started, with the romantic and transgressive spirit of his father Ernesto. He told the truth, even when it was hard to do. He is the only politician ever to stand before the United Nations to say something like:

“We have executed people, we are executing people and we will continue to execute people.” This is no doubt a dreadful statement, but I do miss these sincere and needed speeches that no other leader (not even Fidel Castro) has since pronounced, affirming things such as:

“We imprison, we forbid, we kill, we torture, we bomb, we liquidate, we develop weapons of mass destruction, we create famine, misery, pain and fear, and we will continue to do so.”

Así como los dirigentes que una vez muerto lo encumbraron, y que cuando estaba vivo lo detestaban en silencio; la gente humilde y trabajadora de Cuba, lo quería de verdad, no era ese temor al omnipresente dios devorador que le tenían a Fidel, vi auténtico cariño en rostros de gente muy humilde que lo conocieron cuando me hablaban de él.

To be sure, we can miss only the speeches, as the facts have well surpassed all expectations.

Che was not a demagogue: he didn’t deceive the people.

That was his major political difference with Fidel Castro, who, in the course of his life, has been able to convince the sheep to peacefully fall asleep in a den of wolves.

Fidel would gather people up, lie right and left, and deceive the masses, officials, presidents, and businesspeople to suit his individual interests.

“We are not communists and will never be communists,” he used to say.

Then again, looking back on this, that may well have been one of the few truths he ever pronounced: he was never even the shadow of a true communist.

Che, on the other hand, would tell his soldiers this: “most of us will probably not make it out of here alive. Whoever wants to leave, leave now. This is a man’s task.” His battalions started out with a hundred men and ended with ten.

Fidel started with a hundred and ended with a million men. However, he let those million sink on the Titanic, never on Noa’s Ark.

Che died next to his soldiers. Yes, he was certainly tough, and his enemies claim he was heartless. But he was also a man of humanitarian values who took the side of those who had no hope back then, or in the world in general.

The government officials who extolled him after his death had secretly loathed him when he was still alive, but the humble, working people of Cuba loved him sincerely. They weren’t moved by the fear towards an all-powerful and devouring god, as they were when it came to Fidel. I saw genuine affection in the faces of the very humble people who knew him and spoke to me about him.

I say the same thing to those who see only the shining face of the impeccable revolutionary who had nothing but virtues, the image Fidel promoted in Cuba to suit his interests, after abandoning him when Che needed him most, that it is also true he was in charge of the executions conducted at Havana’s La Cabaña fortress, a far from happy episode in the history of the Cuban “de-evolution.”

Every coin has two faces. We are all a mix of different values. Ernesto took the good and the far-from-good to their extremes.
Visita el blog de Martin Guevara (in Spanish) 

65 thoughts on “Che Guevara: Not a Saint, Not a Butcher

  • January 6, 2016 at 8:44 am

    Che was homophobic, racist and a murderer.

  • October 11, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    Pay a loan for 10 years? You are dreaming, most USA college graduates pay MINIMUM for 30 years to get their student loans all paid off.

  • September 26, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    I love the way Americans bitch about other peoples about how evil “this one is” or “that one is” . What El Che did was during a revolution. Think about the french rev. Or the bolchaviks, what about the war between the north and the south, II can go on and on, like one person said” One person’s terrorist is the othe persons freedom fighter.” Every one of Americas So Called founding fathers, George Washington, Thomas jefferson, Abraham Lincoln. As well as others like George Custer, Cristopher Columbus, Cortez, Andrew Jackson were outright murderers of the indigenous peoples of the Americas thru execution, scorch and burn policies that killed whole villages, forced removal, broken treaties, just think of all the reminders that Native Americans Face every day of the year, holidays for their murderers, pictures plastered over everything , the names of thekr murders. If anybody has a right in America to complain about this, is the native american. But they are told to shut up and get over it. Until american nation starts atoning for the genocide of its own indigenous people, your complaints are invalid..

  • March 30, 2015 at 6:23 am

    I suggest you do some research and get the facts right.
    Throughout Che’s life there are lots of examples of racism and homophobia.
    From his early life on, as shown in his “motorcycle diaries”, to the end of his life Che showed he had very big problems working with black people and American native peoples.
    Che was a dogmatic with dictatorial attitudes. He lashed out in racist terms to anyone that did not confirm to the standards he wanted to impose.

  • March 29, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Che never fought in Angola. He fought in Congo.

    He met with the MPLA in Brazzaville on January 5, 1965 for a two-day visit . Obsessed
    to spark a revolution in Africa, he asked the MPLA to send guerrillas to fight in the Congo (formerly known as Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of Congo), but that request, of course, was received coldly.

    “Lúcio Lara’s wife, Ruth, told Gliejeses that the Angolans were not very happy with the visit of Che. He knew little of the MPLA and his mind was concentrating on the next adventure in the Congo, which proved disastrous .”

    Some suggested reading on the Cuban intervention in Angola:

    In the Congo he tried to use the rebels of Laurant Kabila, father of the current president, as a communist force for revolution. He failed utterly as he – like in Bolivia – failed to understand the cultural differences. Frustrated by the lack of “revolutionary zeal Che style” he called them “banana beer swilling useless idiots”.

    In his “motor cycle diaries” he described blacks as follows:

    “The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing, have seen their territory invaded by a new kind of slave: the Portuguese.”

    “The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even independently of his own individual aspirations.”

    Thanks for letting me educate you again.

  • March 28, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Che a racist? that’s why he went and fought in Angola alongside ONLY African soldiers ? Go do some research instead of quoting word to word that idiot Marco Rubio…

  • March 21, 2015 at 4:00 am

    What actions of the Cuban people? The Cuban people isn’t free to act internationally nor is it allow to interact with other people.
    As far as Cubans being better off under Obama: lots of Cubans still flee to the US. They vote for “the US under Obama”. I think if you asked Cubans a majority would prefer to live the US lifestyle.
    A quarter of Cubans have already voted for another life by emigrating.

  • March 20, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    Wow, the dissonance in your posts are really something!

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