Getting to Know the Unknown Che

Vicente Morin Aguado

HAVANA TIMES — On February 26, 1964, Ernesto “Che” Guevara wrote the following to a man living at 560 Juan Bruno Zayas Street, Vibora, Havana: “Unfortunately, what reaches the majority – myself included – is an apology of the system and not its scientific analysis.” Che goes on to say to the non-sympathetic reader: “Because of this – because you are thinking – I thank you for your letter. That we should disagree is the least important part.”

These words written by Guevara, words that should be etched indelibly in our minds, have been deliberately forgotten by Cuba’s current leadership, its immediate subordinates and the whole of the crapulent bureaucracy that claims to defend socialism in Cuba (when the essence of the system proposed by Marx was to secure the greatest degree of democracy for the working class, to effectively emancipate that majority whose redemption is the basic aim proclaimed by communists).

The book quoted above gathers some of Che Guevara’s private observations, part of an incomplete project aimed at offering his critical perspectives on the experiences surrounding the creation of the so-called “new society.” Referring to the mistakes he observed during his visits to the Soviet Union, he employed a word that, in my view, ought to be taken as an essential concept here: “These mistakes are excusable in Soviet society, the first to undertake the experiment…”

That is to say, it is clear to Guevara that socialism is a genuine experiment, that no one is infallible and nothing predestined to succeed, that we are dealing with the most extraordinary undertaking ever essayed by human beings in the course of their history.

This unknown Guevara, made public after many years by the Australian publisher Ocean Press, provokes us with his initial remarks where, quoting the “holy” Marx, he writes:

“To those who look upon us with distrust based on their assessment of and loyalty towards socialist countries, we offer only one warning: Marx’s statement, found in the opening pages of Das Kapital, about bourgeois science’s inability to criticize itself and its reliance on apologetics, can, regrettably, be applied to Marxist economics today.”

Such self-criticism is a task our leaders, who must publicly and clearly assume full responsibility for the failure of the experiment they have been conducting for more than 50 years, have yet to take on.

This next-to-unknown Che ought to be read because his immense prestige and intelligence are invaluable tools for reflection. Allow me to share another opinion of his, regarding the new trade unions that took shape within socialism, expressed during one of the bimonthly meetings of the Ministry of Industries, which saw the participation of a large number of workers, when he was still a minister in the sector (on December 5, 1964):

“Trade union democracy is a myth here. It will be acknowledged or not, but it’s a complete myth. The Party meets and puts forth so-ad-so as the only candidate. Then, that person gets elected, sometimes with plenty of votes, sometime with less, when, in fact, there hasn’t been a true selection process by the masses.”

Some may think I’m making this up. The book is within everyone’s reach: it costs 18 Cuban pesos. I just bought it at the Fayad Jamis bookstore on Obispo Street, in Old Havana.

Che Guevara’s proposals for the new, socialist economy are equally controversial. They are well deserving of a complete article, for they express his complete opposition to the presence of the market within the socialist experiment. He is even highly critical and says negative things about worker self-management, as applied in ex-Yugoslavia.

I will limit myself to underscoring his impertinence of the Castro brothers and others who defended the Soviet model (ultimately implemented in Cuba) to the death. I imagine how hard it was to reconcile his immense prestige as a guerrilla leader, his tried-and-true loyalty, total capacity to carry out the tasks assigned him, his irrepressible intellectual acuteness and the personal freedom that being a foreigner afforded him.

It is sad, a testament to the intolerance of despots, that Che Guevara was ultimately encouraged to give in to the adventurous side of his personality, when we dearly needed him in his capacity as competent and incorruptible minister (as more than one testimony tell us he was), and now, when Raul Castro dubs “corruption” the root of all evil, an evil capable of destroying the socialism whose defense is his raison d’etre as president.

If someone believes I am exaggerating or being untruthful, suffice it to go back to the letter I quoted at the beginning of this post, in which Che Guevara tells Mr. Jose Medero Mestre:

“If you ever feel the need to tell me something else, please remember I am no authority on these matters. I am just another man fighting to bring about a new Cuba, one who was fortunate enough to live the most difficult moments of the Cuban revolution next to Fidel, and some of the most tragic and glorious chapters of the history of the world struggling for its freedom.”

“This is why you know who I am and I do not recall your name. It could have been the other way around, and, then, I would have had to write you from whatever remote part of the world my wandering bones had taken me to, since I was not born here.”

I await your comments, and I hope you will read the book.
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20 thoughts on “Getting to Know the Unknown Che

  • “In order to build socialism, we must have control.”
    Che Guevara

  • Are you saying you find it acceptable to criminalise people you consider to be prostitutes? None of any government’s business, By the way, that also gives police officers a nice sideline in briberies.

  • I was trying to ignore this thread but was overcome by your obvious ignorance of the Cuban reality. I am an medium-skinned African-American constantly mistaken for Cuban when I am on the streets in Cuba. THERE IS RACISM IN CUBA. No where near as bad as it is here in the US but enough to be felt by its victims and measured in terms of police harassment and public services. Cuban police are armed by the way. OK, old and likely rusty pistols but armed nonetheless. And the whole 2000 calories a day crap? Hahahahaha! I am sorry but who told you that? The “libreta” provides for about a week of rations. Poor quality and often bug-infested rations. have you been to the bodegas that sell and distribute those rations. The rest of the month Cubans are on their own. Did you notice that they earn in an entire month what you spend on a single bottle of wine? Could you eat for three weeks in Cuba on 23 cuc? Finally, education and health care are NOT free. The Castro effectively tax Cuban incomes at more than 95%. Likewise, there is an estimated deficit of 1 million homes in Cuba. Keep in mind there are only 3.5 million households. According to the Castros own statistics, as many as half of those dwellings are substandard and 10 percent of Cuban homes would be condemned by Canadian standards. As a result, it is common to see three even four generations living under the same leaky roof. Please don’t sing that song about closer family ties. I am guessing that you don’t live in the condo you mentioned with your kids and your in-laws and your grandparents. I am married to a Cuban woman. She loves her country intensely. But there is a difference between Cuba and the Castros. You need to go easy on the Castro koolaid. It’s making you sound crazy.

  • Do please write to The Globe and Mail, to CBC, to The National Post and to your Member of Parliament and inform them that the police are stopping your husband when walking the dog! It will I assure you be national news!
    You were not married as Cubans or as a foreigner marrying a Cuban. I know, because my wife is a Cuban and we were married in Cuba in one of the few offices licensed to carry out such marriages. No mention of a “Cuban Family Code”. The Notary did put on a blue jacket on over his red T shirt because we had dressed for what to us was an important occassion
    I don’t imagine for a moment that you have actually read the Cuban Constitution. I have! It says for example that the correo (mail) is inviolate. That as anyone will tell you is bunkum. The post office regularly opens mail – they even have the gall to put a sticker on saying that they have done so. The Constitution says (if my memory serves me correctly it is section 26) that:
    Work is a right and a duty.
    In October 2011, President Raul Castro Ruz decreed that by April 2012 500,000 (that is almost 10% of the workforce) would lose their state jobs and have to seek work in the “private sector”. There was understandably consternation as there was no private sector. In February 2012, he rescinded the decision as desperation was mounting.The regime then published a list of 187 “professions” that Cubans could obtain licenses for 200 pesos to pursue. It included pushing a wheelbarrow.
    You are obviously either intoxicated or so enamoured of the political guff, that you have failed to examine anything you have been told by your guide. Neither obviously do you speak Spanish.
    My home is in Cuba and your claims about the country are as fictitious as the nonsense about police stopping your husband for walking the dog because he is black – your husband I mean as I don;t know the colour of the dog.
    As a Canadian let me assure fellow contributors to these columns that the MyCatisFat has certain delusional views about Canada. I can only hope that she, her husband the dog of unknown colour and even the fat cat move to Cuba as immigrants to take full advantage of the benefits that she has apparently observed during her (short) stay there.

  • Wow….I should have realized how nice it was before my family and I fled. All that food and free medical care. What were we thinking?

    This observation brought to you by a natural born Cuban and not a tourist!

  • I’m Canadian and have visited Cuba. I guess I met a very different set of Cubans than you did. The people were very unhappy. They were careful and cautious in how they spoke about it, but they hated the government, they hated repression, and they hated the hopelessness of life in Cuba today.

    In North America, there are two streams of propaganda about Cuba: one that is anti-Castro, and the other which is pro-Castro. When you go to Cuba you see that the reality is complex, but the underlying facts are that Cuba is a military dominated dictatorship, the people have no freedom of speech, no free press, and no labour rights. Violent police repression of all political descent is commonplace.

    The so-called “free” education an healthcare are very expensive indeed, considering the average salary is about $20 per month. That represents a taxation rate of 90%. For that the healthcare they get is very poor quality and the education is worthless: taxi drivers, waiters & prostitutes make more money than engineers, teachers or nurses.

    So keep reading and figure out the truth about Cuba. It is not the socialist paradise you naively described.

    A book I strongly recommend you read to get a more realistic view of what life is like in Cuba for Cubans, and not that side seen by affluent Canadian tourists, is “Ruins” by Achy Obejas

  • You need to visit Cuba to understand what I am saying (unless you are American and are not free to travel there). And I was not on a well-managed tour. My husband and I grabbed a map and got lost in Havana and that’s when we met up with several different Cubans, visited their homes, and learned about their city. We did not form our opinions based on the propaganda on which so many North Americans rely. We went there with open minds.

  • Yes. The police do stop my husband when he is out walking the dog here in Canada but simply because the police are racist. Before we were stopped in Cuba, the hotel told us people would assume my husband was Cuban. Cubans are held to a higher standard than tourists, that is why we were stopped. The police were not stopping us because of race but because of citizenship. Did you notice the police do not carry guns there? After leaving Havana we were married in Varadero where our vows, what are called the Cuban Family Code, emphasized equality and responsibility to one another, support for one another’s careers and pursuit of knowledge, responsibility to the family. It was refreshingly egalitarian and feminist. Such important tenets form the Cuban constitution.

  • If there isn’t racism, why do the police select and stop mixed race couples? Don’t respond by saying that black people tend to be more involved in prostitution. I served as an officer in the UK Military Police and was stationed in Germany. Lots of prostitution with both brothels and street prostitution and not a black person of eitherr sex in sight! Look in the columns of any local newspaper in Canada – lots of prostitutes advertising their services – no mention of being black.
    “Every Cuban is guaranteed 2000 calories per day.” Who are you trying to kid? Describe how that is achieved and when trying to quote the rations try listing them and putting their calorific value beside each.Then add up the calories multiply by 30 days and tell me where they get the balance! You have been had!
    Cubans do have pride in their country, it is very beautiful which is why 920,000 Canadians visit it each year. Pride in their country is not pride in the Castro family regime. Why do so many risk their lives to flee? It isn’t because they don’t have pride in their country, it is a consequence of repression.
    You say your husband looks Cuban. But officially only 10.1% of Cubans are black.
    My home is in Cuba, my wife is as I said black, If she can talk of the racism she experiences in Cuba and the lack of racism from her observations in both the UK and Canada then why are you making excuses for Cuba? Wilful blindness?
    It is over fifty five years since the mafia were involved in Cuba. There are few Cubans who can recall actual mafia activities and the demise of the Castro family regime doesn’t necessitate the return of the mafia. Go to the most famous night club in Havana, pay the $60 entrance fee and watch the white skinned ladies picking up the single males, that in Castros Cuba!
    You say you live in a more inhumane place than Cuba. With your views, don’t hesitate, leave the benighted country where you live currently whichever it is, and move to Cuba. There you can join the 5,600 residents who were born in other countries. For some strange reason Cuba’s shores are not invaded by would be immigrants but rather by Cubans pushing out rafts.
    Finally I am amazed that you approve of being stopped by the police ” as a precaution to prevent abuses”. Does that occur in your current country of residence?

  • Wow! You certainly drank the Koolaid.

    Your description of Cuba reads like the standard propaganda brochure. There is a lot more to Cuba than you saw on your obviously well managed tour.

    Did you happen to see the police beating up on the Ladies in White? Or was that stop left out of your Potemkin Village tour?

    Stick around, read some of the critical columns here and the comments. Check out other blogs devoted to the subject of Cuba. I hope your eyes will be opened.

  • I’m not claiming that Cuba is perfect, just that it is more humane than the place I live. And talking to Cubans, I found the North American narrative of a cruel regime to be wholly unsupported. I too am white and married to a black man (who looks Cuban) and we were stopped by police. This is because prostitution is illegal in Cuba after the abuses/exploitation by the mafia prior to the Revolution made such a law necessary. Once we explained our Canadian citizenship we were free to go. This was explained to us by Cubans living there. It’s one thing to be stopped by police as a precaution to prevent abuses, another to be stopped for racism. Also, I was in a Cuban’s apartment and there was a giant flat screen TV and many comforts. Every Cuban is guaranteed 2000 calories a day, free health care, free education, and they don’t pay rent. The Cubans I met had great pride in their country.

  • Welcome to discussion about Cuba MyCatisFat!
    You obviously have obtained a false initial impression of certain aspects of Cuba and the lives of Cuban citizens. Let me give you an example. You say that there is “AMAZINGLY, no racism. I have in the past in these columns described personal experiences of racism in Cuba but for your benefit will describe some of them.
    My Cuban wife and I (both professionals) live in a fairly large city in Cuba where she holds a very responsible position in education. We also like you, have a condo in Canada where my wife spends her summer vacation with me.
    When on brief two day visits to Havana, we have been stopped three times by the police when walking on the street together. On one occasion when walking from our casa particular and crossing the Prada to go for supper at La Gitana a paladar, we paused to allow traffic to pass – it included a police car. We then crossed the road and continued along the street opposite, where we were stopped by the police car which had gone around ther block. The police got out of the car and demanded our papers – Cubans are obliged to carry their identity cards at all times. I fortunately had my Canadian passport. Eventually following quizzing my wife, we were allowed to go on our lawful business. On both the other occasions police officers stepped in front of us as we walked along streets.

    On a further occasion we were in a Cubataxi going to Jose Marti International Airport. Our driver passed a police car which then pursued us and waved the driver to the side of the road. That in itself is not unusual in Cuba – we have for example been stopped four times during one 63 km journey by taxi particular from our home to the airport – so, the taxi driver pursued the usual routine of getting out with his papers and going towards he police car. But he was moved aside by the police officer who came forward, opened the door beside my wife and demanded that she get out when he then examined her papers.
    After this disturbing event we proceeded to Jose Marti airport.
    The first overseas visit my wife and I made was 23 days in the UK where we travelled from as far south as Folkestone to as far north as Fochabers in Moray. We were barely aware of the police. I promised my wife that when (if) eventually Canada granted her a visiting visa, we would not be stopped by the police. She has now spent combined almost four months in Canada and has barely seen the police.
    What has this got to do with racism? My wife is black and that is why the police in Cuba stop her in the street, because she is with a “blanco”!
    You should know about question number six in the official Cuban census form of 2012. It read:
    What is he colour of your skin?
    Just imagine the reaction to such a question if it had been included in our Canadian census form!
    But the key question in response has to be:
    Well the answer is simple, as whites have always held the positions of power and authority in Cuba, those with some coloured blood but not obviously so, write down that they are white. Those who despite being black to you and I but who know that they had a white great grandfather write that they are metiza
    mullato leaving only those who are very black or have pride in their race, to enter that they are black.
    What are the consequences? Well statistically you may be surprised to know that the Government of Cuba (the Castro family regime) claims that 10.1% of Cubans are black. Now that you have been there, do you believe that?
    What is the purpose of the manipulation? Well it justifies appointing whites to the vpositions of authority and power as only 10% of the population is officially black.
    Take a good look at a photograph of the top dogs in the regime! Yes there is the one token black (Chair of the Congress). Take a look at the managers of any of the State organizations.
    If you have read the above with an open mind, you will longer claim that there is no racism in Cuba.
    Don’t be fooled by an initial impression. Cuba is a communist dictarorship with the power (el poder) lying in the hands of the Castro family regime. Go through the other contributions made to this web site. You will find a mix of ‘socialismo’ sympathisers who have only visited for brief periods and others who either do or have lived there and are married to cubans. Look up the various names onthe web – put in Che Guevara executions. Do the same with Raul Castro Ruz, study the realities including abject poverty, food rationing, the average income of $20.69 per month and think about how you could feed and clothe two or three children on that. Look at the Cubans risking their lives on rafts on the high seas in their endeavors to find freedom.
    Finally, consider why it is that Cubans are unable to contribute to this site. The regime controls the media totally and Cubans in general cannot access the Internet.
    When shortly i return home to Cuba, I too will be silenced. That will be a relief to the socialist sympathisers who contribute to this site for their last wish is to address the reality of life for Cubans in Cuba.

  • Nope…we ain’t fallen for it!

  • I have just returned from my first of hopefully many trips to Cuba and was struck by the Cuban people’s way of life which differs greatly from mine in Canada. Unlike Canada, there is deference for knowledge, learning, science, literature, poetry, all avenues of cultural and educational expression that are derided in North America. When I went to graduate school I was referred to as a Geek and an elitist (despite the fact that I was slinging pasta til the wee hours to survive and going to class with little more than 4 or 5 hours sleep – all while subsisting on an inadequate diet). In Cuba, I couldn’t help but notice how those who seek knowledge are honoured and celebrated. I think capitalism is responsible for the derision of the learned in North America; venal unthinkingness is necessary for capitalism to thrive. I may have “made it” here living in a fancy condo, but looking down from my window on those who are homeless, starving, and shivering through the nights, I’m constantly reminded of how my own survival is precarious within such a system. In Cuba, there is no homelessness, starvation, and AMAZINGLY, no racism! This is a stunning achievement and a drift towards capitalism will surely undo this. As I was told by many Cubans while visiting, “People are the national treasure.” You can feel that when in Cuba. Vincente, once I’ve mastered Spanish (which I’m working on) I’ll be sure to give this book a read.

  • Why is that ? What do you suggest the multitudes be called ? There needs to be some way to distinguish a Walton heir from a Walmart cashier and a Bacardi from a machatero in Matanzas. Consumer maybe ?

  • Depend upon it: anyone who refers to people as “the masses,” will have never have any real respect for individual human rights, and deep down, is really an elitist totalitarian, despite all pretenses and protestations to the contrary.

  • Che in the final analysis was a joke.
    His myth hides a man that would kill those that thought and disagreed with him.
    A Cuban friend once told me how he acted against striking truckers. That was in line with his reputation for dogmatism and intransigence in “La Cabana”.
    His own writings and actions expose the man as racist and a homophobic.
    His actions failed everywhere except in Cuba. and there the contributions of others like Frank Pais and Huber Matos have been belittled to enhance the myths of Che and Fidel.
    It is not unexpected that Fidel decided to dump him eventually: a dead Che was worth more to him than a living one.
    Now Che’s myth is being reexamined and therefore destroyed reducing him as an icon for the uninformed and a good brand name for products from beer to t-shirts.

  • A very good factual analysis Informed Consent. The power of Che Guevara’s personality coupled with the myths promoted by the Castro family regime have however propelled him to being for the bulk of the people of Cuba into the equivalent of Robin Hood. The regime has gone to extraordinary lengths to shower Guevara with adulation.
    Few – if any – would question that Che Guevara was a genuine revolutionary, far more motivated to creating revolution(s) than either of the Castro Ruz brothers. Following his death and eventual disinterrnment from beneath a runway in Bolivia, the Fidel Castro Ruz had constructed the way over the top mausoleum at Santa Clara. Che Guevara as a genuine revolutionary with concern for the masses would have deplored such extravagance preferrring instead to see those millions of dollars spent upon the general benefit of society,
    Why then did Fidel Castro Ruz go to such an extreme? The obvious answer is that when his turn comes to depart and the requirement for the construction of a “suitable” memorial, further extravagance for Fidel will be justified by comparison with what was done for Che! Perhaps Revolution Square will be remodelled and re-named as “President Fidel Square”. One can guarantee that unlike the great Winston Spencer Churchill who was buried amongst the parisioners at Bladen in Oxfordshire, Fidel Castro Ruz will not be buried at his original home village in the Cuban countryside. Unlike Lenin, I think it unlikely that he will be stuffed or embalmed as a tourist Attraction.

  • Interesting quotation above:

    “The Party meets and puts forth so-ad-so as the only candidate. Then, that person gets elected, sometimes with plenty of votes, sometime with less, when, in fact, there hasn’t been a true selection process by the masses.” -Che Guevara

    That ought to put to rest the lies recited by Castro apologists here that the Cuban Communist Party is not involved in elections. As Che himself pointed out above, the Party is not merely involved but dictates the undemocratic outcome.

  • “….Other than his competence at murdering bound, gagged and blindfolded men, Che Guevara failed spectacularly at everything he attempted in his life. First he failed as Argentine medical student. Though he’s widely described as a Medical doctor by his hagiographers (Castaneda, Anderson, Taibo, Kalfon) no record exists of Ernesto Guevara’s Medical degree. When Cuban-American researcher Enrique Ros inquired of the Rector of the University of Buenos Aires and the head of its Office of Academic Affairs for copies or proof of said document, Ros was variously told that the records had been misplaced or perhaps stolen.

    In 1960 Castro appointed Che as Cuba’s “Economics Minister.” Within months the Cuban peso, a currency historically equal to the U.S. dollar and fully backed by Cuba’s gold reserves, was practically worthless. The following year Castro appointed Che as Cuba’s Minister of Industries. Within a year a nation that previously had higher per capita income than Austria and Japan, a huge influx of immigrants and the 3rd highest protein consumption in the hemisphere was rationing food, closing factories, and hemorraghing hundreds of thousands of it’s most productive citizens from every sector of its society, all who were grateful to leave with only the clothes on their back.

    Most observers attribute this to “Communist mismanagement.” Che himself eventually confessed to his multiple economic errors and failings. Actually, given the goal of Cuba’s ruler since January of 1959 (absolute power,) the Cuban economy has been EXPERTLY managed. Castro inherited a vibrant free market economy in 1959, something unique among communist rulers. All the others, from Lenin to Mao to Uncle Ho to Ulbricht to Tito to Kim Il Sung, took over primitive and/or chaotic, war ravaged economies.

    A less megalomaniacal ruler would have considered it a golden goose landing in his lap. But Castro wrung its neck. He deliberately and methodically wrecked Latin America’s premier economy. A Cuban capitalist is a person I wont be able to control, reasoned Castro–and does so to this day….”

    “Che Guevara; A Study in Failure
    by Humberto Fontova”

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