Hello readers and friends.. (20 – 30 minute read)
A warm welcome to audience, new and old. As usual, I’d like to say thank you to everyone thus far, no matter who you are. Your support always gives me the encouragement to continue forward without quitting.
I’ll cut to the chase. I’ve been occupied with pursuing my studies. In the meantime, here’s another assignment that I was really proud of. It was about none other than the legendary revolutionist and hero, El Che, the man once called “the most complete human being of the 20th century” by the French existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Satre.
Once again, I attest that I am the original author of this assignment. To accommodate the blog post, I have made some alterations to the original text.
There will be 5 parts for this post:
c) Accomplishments and Social Contributions
Without further adieu, let’s begin
The man I have chosen for this reflective writing is none than Che Guevara or El Che. El Che was an individual I have greatly admired for a long time for his legend, philosophies and legacy. He was known to be a revolutionist, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat and military theorist. This was the man who was demonized and hated yet revered and romanticized in equal measures around the world. Jean-Paul Sartre, a renowned existentialist philosopher, writer and activist calls this man “not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age” of the 20th century and even in Vallely’s (2004) article, Vallely reports that Time Magazine called this individual as “the icon of the 20th century” even though the weekly magazine represented the embodiment of all the American values so despised by the man. Nelson Mandela deemed El Che “an inspiration for every human being who loves freedom” (Singh, 2008). Other articles one of such as written by Totten (2014) condemns El Che as the reviled despot they claim him to be. In the article, though the world views El Che as “the Argentine guerilla and modern Cuba’s co-founding father” and is symbolized as “a hipster icon, a counter-cultural hero, an anti-establishment rebel and a champion of the poor”, Totten argues otherwise in that all of this is just biased propaganda and that “he helped free Cubans from the repressive Batista regime, only to enslave them in a totalitarian police state worse than the last. He was Fidel Castro’s chief executioner, mass-murderer who in theory could have commanded any number of Latin American death squads” (Totten, 2014).
Che Guevara in his trademark olive-green military fatigues and beret June 2, 1959 Cuba. (Wikipedia, 2015)
So who is this remarkable man behind the legend? What is the truth behind the lies, disinformation and misinformation? To understand this, we would need to understand El Che’s biography from start to end. Note that what I have researched could be wrong, so it’s best to take some of it with a pinch of salt. I do not claim to fully understand El Che’s reasons for his ideology especially concerning communism (though I can draw sympathy for his cause due to his reasons for believing in socialism and his critiques towards capitalism)
I will use Singh’s (2008) article as a simplified biography due to its simplicity and relatively bias free accounts. El Che’s full name is Ernesto Guevara de la Serna and was born in 1928 to a highly educated middle class Argentine family and was the eldest of his five siblings. He was an excellent chess player when he was young and is an aggressive rugby player. In his teens, he was avidly into poetry such as “Neruda, Keats, Machado, Lorca, Mistral, Vallejo and Whitman” and could recite Kipling and Hernandez from memory” (Singh, 2008). He was a voracious reader and had a home library of more than 3,000 books, encouraging him “to be an enthusiastic and eclectic reader of philosophers and poets” far and wide, “apart from Marxist and existentialist writers” (Singh, 2008). He later went into a medical academic career and was an excellent athlete even with asthma.
Young Che Guevara at 22 years old (Wikipedia, 2015)
However, it was during “his motorcycle trips across Latim America, where he encountered American imperialism at first hand” which “changed his vision of the world” (Singh, 2008) and caused him to leave his life of relative peace for a life of guerilla warfare, sacrifice. Here is what he said after his motorcycle trips:
“Because of the circumstances in which I traveled, first as a student and later as a doctor, I came into close contact with poverty, hunger and disease; with the inability to treat a child because of lack of money; with the stupefaction provoked by the continual hunger and punishment, to the point that a father can accept the loss of a son as an unimportant accident, as occurs often in the downtrodden classes of our American homeland. And I began to realize at that time that there were things that were almost as important to me as becoming famous for making a significant contribution to medical science: I wanted to help those people. ” — Che Guevara in 1960 (Singh, 2008)
The article continues to elucidate the events after El Che’s motorcycle trip that opened his eyes:
“After finishing his medical studies, he reached Guatemala in December 1953, where President Jacob Arbenz Guzman heading a democratically elected government, through land reforms and other measures, was attempting to improve the condition of the peasants. Che wanted to settle down in Guatemala , but for the overthrow of the Arbenz government by Washington which confirmed Guevara’s view that USA as an imperialist power would oppose and attempt to destroy any regime that sought to redress the socio-economic inequality endemic to Latin America and other developing countries. This strengthened his conviction that Marxism achieved through armed struggle and defended by an armed populace was the only way to rectify such a condition” (Singh, 2008).
Guevara and Fidel Castro, photographed by Alberto Korda in 1961 (Wikipeda, 2015)
Thus, El Che left his old life behind to become the legend he is known today. He joined Fidel Castro and Raul Castro, who are still alive to this day in Cuba and are both living historical figures. Raul Castro is currently the President of Cuba. The article by Singh continues to summarize what happen to El Che later on:
“Che then shifted to Mexico City in September 1954, and renewed his friendship with the Cuban exiles he had known in Guatemala. In June 1955, he met with Raul Castro and later his older brother, Fidel Castro. the revolutionary leader who was planning to overthrow the dictatorship of US backed Fulgencio Batista in what became hallowed as the Cuban Revolution. Guevara recognized at once that Castro was the cause for which he had been searching for. He joined Castro and was promoted as Commander in Castro’s 26 July Movement, playing a pivotal role in the successful guerrilla campaign to overthrow the Batista. After Castro’s army rolled victoriously into Havana the revolutionary government in February , in 1969, Castro proclaimed Guevara “a Cuban citizen by birth” in recognition of his role in the triumph” (Singh, 2008).
In Cuba, Che Guevara was given many responsibilities as stated in the article by Singh:
“Che served in many prominent governmental positions, including as president of the national bank, minister of industry, and “supreme prosecutor” over the revolutionary tribunals and executions of suspected war criminals from the previous regime. He also went traversing around the globe to meet with an array of world leaders to explain and promote the Cuban socialism. Che was a prolific writer and diarist. One of his most prominent published works includes a manual on the theory and practice of guerrilla warfare” (Singh, 2008).
Che Guevara speech at UN 1964 (Youtube, 2011)
Sometime in 1964, El Che even went as a representative of Cuba to the United Nation’s in New York.
The article continues as follows:
“Time Magazine, which described Che Guevara as one of the hundred most influential persons of the 20th century wrote that ; “Che convinced Castro with competence, diplomacy and patience. When grenades were needed, Che set up a factory to make them. When bread was wanted, Che set up ovens to bake it. When new recruits needed to learn tactics and discipline, Che taught them. When a school was needed to teach peasants to read and write, Che organized it.” (Singh, 2008)
Despite his efforts however, some of his economical programs for Cuba failed miserably due to very low pay and high absenteeism rates. Nevertheless, Cuba as said in the article now becomes a new bastion of hope as the article continues:
“The Cuban revolution, still survives in spite of American endeavours to undermine it and many attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro himself. Cuba remains a beacon and has inspired revolutionaries and leftist regimes around the world especially in Latin America . More so after the collapse of the Soviet Union and ongoing transformation of China into a bourgeoisie state. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is a most striking example. Many other independent leaders are being elected in Latin America , who are following the pro-people policies of Chavez and trying to extricate their countries from the grip of US and other multinationals.
Che had come to Algeria after visiting many important Afro-Asian nations like China , India , Yugoslavia , Egypt . This visit turned out to be his last public appearance on the international stage. In a speech at the economic seminar on the importance of Afro-Asian solidarity, he specified the moral duty of the socialist countries and accused them of tacit complicity with the exploiting Western countries. He proceeded to outline a number of measures which he said the communist-bloc countries must implement in order to accomplish the defeat of imperialism” (Singh, 2008).
However, after his visit to Algeria, El Che vanished for a long hiatus from the eyes of the world. This is what Kumm (1967) had to say:
“He had left Cuba in March 1965 because there was no longer a place for him in the Cuban political leadership and because the Russians on whom the Cubans depend in order to survive the American embargo, wanted Guevara out of the way. He was their enemy. On his last official journey around the world, in the spring of 1965, Che had caused a sensation in Algiers when he made a scathing attack on the Russians. Then Guevara returned home and disappeared. It did not seem far-fetched to assume he had been liquidated.
Only now is it possible to piece together Che’s itinerary after his disappearance. He seems to have traveled widely in Latin America, appearing now and then in Guatemala, where guerrillas are active, in Peru and in Brazil. He used various passports, some of which the Bolivian government found in a dead guerrilla fighter’s mochila. He may have been in the Congo. He most certainly at one time or another was in North Vietnam, where the hard-core Bolivian guerrillas were sent for training as a kind of revolutionary counterpart to the American Special Forces who get their training in South Vietnam and use their knowledge to train highly efficient Bolivian Rangers. For a couple of weeks during the spring of 1966, Guevara was in Paris; then in late 1966, he arrived in Bolivia” (Kumm, 1967)
El Che traveled the world to further the cause of the revolution and aid governments in freeing themselves from the grasp of the United States. However, he and his entourage was ambushed captured by the Bolivian forces trained by the CIA and led by Felix Rodriguez. It was later decided that he be killed.
El Che after he was captured (Wigmore, 2007)
El Che’s final words to his executioner were as follows:
“I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot coward, you are only going to kill a man.”
Thus, El Che’s life was ended there and then by his executioner on 9 October 1967 when he was 40 years old. When news of El Che’s death reached the rest of the world, many parts of the world reacted in outrage and truly mourned the loss of such a once-in-a-lifetime individual. The following is a summary of the events after El Che’s death as described in Wikipedia (I do apologize, I had trouble accessing most of the original articles as some were about 40 years ago and written in newspapers and magazines at the time):
“Che’s legend began to spread. Demonstrations in protest against his “assassination” occurred throughout the world, and articles, tributes, and poems were written about his life and death. Rallies in support of Guevara were held from “Mexico to Santiago, Algiers to Angola, and Cairo to Calcutta.” The population of Budapest and Prague lit candles to honor Guevara’s passing; and the picture of a smiling Che appeared in London and Paris. When a few months later riots broke out in Berlin, France, and Chicago, and the unrest spread to the American college campuses, young men and women wore Che Guevara T-shirts and carried his pictures during their protest marches. In the view of military historian Erik Durschmied: “In those heady months of 1968, Che Guevara was not dead. He was very much alive.”
Thus, even though Che Guevara had passed on, his legend and legacy remained. Ironically, his death made him a martyr in to the public and paved the way for inspiring revolutions from all countries across the globe.
c) Accomplishments and Social Contributions
So what did El Che accomplish in his lifetime? Firstly, he was part of the revolution that freed Cuba. Secondly, he became a universal symbol for freedom, heroism, sacrifice, rebellion from oppression, machismo and more. Thirdly, his actions caused Latin America to be inspired to cast off the chains of capitalistic imperialism and be independent from the United States.
Fourthly, Che was responsible for improving the economy of Cuba after overthrowing the repressive Batista regime. He was the “director of the Industraliation program of the National Agararian Reform Institute” when he was still in Cuba as part of its governance (Stodden, 2000). The article elucidates his efforts in improving Cuba economically as follows:
“His job was to coordinate activities among the nation’s industries which had been nationalized over the past 10 months. Che’s job consisted of keeping the business under his direction going no matter what. Carlos Rodriguez, in a speech in 1987 described the purpose behind this very well. These businesses were necessary, even if they weren’t what capitalists would call “profitable.” They provided things the people of Cuba needed. They weren’t profitable, because they had to be practically given to people of Cuba, who had little money. These products included such commodities as medicines and other essentials. Che instituted a system where the workplaces would be organized as to what they produce, and the economy would be funded by a central funding agency tied to the Cuban treasury. From there it would be easier to coordinate different businesses in the Cuban economy, and direct for production. This was another step in making Cuba a Communist nation (the agrarian reform was the first). Around this time Che also instituted a principle known as Voluntary labor, which consisted of men doing work for free during a day. It was the beginning of Che’s philosophy of “a new man”, where people worked for the benefit of society and from that an individual received his reward. This “moral” incentive (as opposed to a material one, where the worker receives a monetary incentive or a house or something for working hard) was far more important to Che’s “New” man because it involved improving the lives of the many over the life of the individual” (Stodden, 2000).
El Che working (Drummer Freak Gabo, 2009)
El Che was not only responsible for organizing the economy of Cuba but he actively participated in working alongside everyday workers as an inspiration and following his beliefs that humanity should work to not only better the community, but for the intrinsic moral reward for doing it for the good of all. In my opinion, if I had to guess, since he was had a medical career, he would have emphasized on the importance of healthcare in Cuba and probably build up Cuba’s healthcare system too. Additionally, he could have had a hand in building Cuba’s education system as he himself knows the true value of education. He probably even taught children and others to read and write in school. Those are just a few of the contributions from El Che.
Statue Memorial of Che Guevara (Totten, 2014)
Here is an extract from Wikipedia’s entry on Che Guevara that captures the contradicting essence of who he was (do forgive me again but this passage really does justice to El Che’s memory):
“Guevara’s life and legacy remain contentious. The perceived contradictions of his ethos at various points in his life have created a complex character of duality, one who was “able to wield the pen and submachine gun with equal skill,” while prophesying that “the most important revolutionary ambition was to see man liberated from his alienation.” As undogmatic as he was committed, his vision of liberation was at once romantic, poetic, compassionate, and ruthless. Guevara’s paradoxical standing is further complicated by his array of seemingly diametrically opposed qualities. A secular humanist and sympathetic practitioner of medicine who did not hesitate to shoot his enemies, a celebrated internationalist leader who advocated violence to enforce a utopian philosophy of the collective good, an idealistic intellectual who loved literature but refused to allow dissent, an anti-imperialist Marxist insurgent who was radically willing to forge a poverty-less new world on the apocalyptic ashes of the old one, and finally, an outspoken anti-capitalist whose image has been expropriated and commoditized; Che’s history continues to be rewritten and re-imagined “ (Wikipedia, 2015).
Even after 48 years since his death in 1967, his life and legacy continue to inspire many others including myself and more. As said by Totten, he is nevertheless “a hipster icon, a counter-cultural hero, an anti-establishment rebel and a champion of the poor” as mentioned earlier. Moreover, he continues to impact the world. For example, during Pope Francis’s visit to Latin America and Cuba, the Pope “delivered a subtle Jab at Cuba’s communist system, when he told thousands of congregants at a Mass in Havan’s Revolution Plaza that they should serve one another, and not an ideology” and that the Mass “took place under the watchful eye of Che Guevara in the iconic square” (Bolton, 2015). In Mid-day.com (2015), Russia bans using Che Guevara images of poll campaigns recently, such was his influence and symbolism of freedom, rebellion and struggle against oppression. Another event held in memory of El Che is told in this article (Muircheataigh, 2015). These events are only a tiny fraction of El Che’s influence.
Some of his ideas and philosophies are still evident today. For example, some facts about Cuba is that it has some of the highest standards of education and health (due to having the highest doctor-to-patient ration) coverages in the world as noted by the United Nations. Che Guevara, in his time serving in Cuba’s governance and administration, laid the foundations for Cuba’s strong educational and health standards. Additionally, it has some of the lowest poverty rates in the world. Nevertheless, the country suffers from low economic freedom and has a centrally planned economy that contributes to the somewhat low standard of living in Cuba. However, Cuba in recent years has adopted more capitalistic characteristics such as inviting foreign investors to invest in Cuba and allowing for more self-owned small businesses and enterprises albeit under the somewhat declining state control of Cuba’s government.
In conclusion, however, to not know Che Guevara is to neglect a huge part of history. It is to neglect the fact that one individual can truly change the world with his intellect, sacrifice and love for the people. Maybe that is why El Che truly valued life, whether living life to the fullest through one’s own path or to cherish and value human life, even if it’s just one single person. Thus, to conclude my reflection, I’ll end it by quoting El Che’s famous battle-cry “Venceremos!!” (We will overcome!!).
El Che, the great hero and revolutionist fought and sacrificed not only for his ideas, but for the people of Latin America. There is a saying that history is written by the victors, as cynical as it sounds. It is the efforts of misinformation and disinformation by the United States or other opposing nations on El Che to the rest of the world to obscure the truth and misdirect the public that makes the saying ring ever so cynically but ultimately true. Thus you will find that America has a very bias view towards El Che while in Latin America and some other parts of the world, El Che is revered and respected, even till today.
Yet, for remarkable and unique individuals that made their mark in history like El Che, the truth of his actions will resonate through history. This is evident from the strong and equally polarizing opinions about the man especially from those who remember the great sacrifices made by El Che for the betterment of humanity. I admit, I am no historian and this reflective writing will offer only scant and limited accounts of the man in question. Moreover, I can honestly admit to myself that I am perhaps biased and in love with the legend. What really made me admire him so much was his love for the oppressed and poor, the value he placed in human life, his intellectual prowess, his willingness to abandon his former life of wealth to fight for the oppressed, together with his actions of his final days in Bolivia where he sacrificed so much to aid a resistance group and paid with his life. But I do not deny El Che is not clean from bloodshed and violence.
In my opinion, El Che is no stereotypical tyrant or mass murderer by nature. Yet, I admit his hands are not free from atrocious acts of bloodshed. Yet, to call him as such while admiring leaders like Joseph Stalin, General Douglas MacArthur and Napoleon Bonaparte etc. who can be said to have orchestrated war that killed thousands for the good of all as they perceive their actions to be is hypocritical. Yet it is perhaps even worse not to acknowledge the good that El Che has done such as teaching children and people how to read, rebuilding important infrastructure in towns and villages and more. In history, people or sides are not as simple or direct as white or black, good or evil but actually consisting of many shades of grey. Thus, this marks the ending of my note.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. I hope everyone enjoyed the read on one of history’s most influential individuals from the 20th century. Thank you for reading.
- Wallpaper of Che Guevara – http://wallpapercave.com/wp/oBDsmTA.jpg
- Popularized cropped version of Guerrillero Heroico – Che Guevara at the funeral for the victims of the La Coubre explosion – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Guevara#/media/File:CheHigh.jpg
- Young Che Guevara – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Guevara#/media/File:CheG1951.jpg
- Guevara in his trademark olive-green military fatigues and beret – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Guevara#/media/File:Che_Guevara_June_2,_1959.jpg
- Guevara (left) and Fidel Castro, photographed by Alberto Korda in 1961 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Guevara#/media/File:CheyFidel.jpg
- El Che after he was captured – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-486423/The-truth-modern-legend-Che-Guevara-man-hunted-down.html
- Picture of El Che working – http://www.oocities.org/drummerfreak_gabo/chepics.htm
- Statue Memorial of Che Guevara – http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/truth-about-che-guevara
- AZ Quotes of Che Guevara – http://www.azquotes.com/picture-quotes/quote-and-then-many-things-became-very-clear-we-learned-perfectly-that-the-life-of-a-single-che-guevara-38-21-11.jpg
Bolton, D. (2015) Pope celebrates Mass under the eyes of Che Guevara during historic trip to Cuba [online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/pope-celebrates-mass-under-the-eyes-of-che-guevara-during-historic-trip-to-cuba-10510411.html [Accessed 3 October 2015]
Drummer Freak Gabo (2009) Here are some pictures of Che Guevara that I have collected since I was in high school [online] Available at: http://www.oocities.org/drummerfreak_gabo/chepics.htm [Accessed 3 October 2015]
Kumm, B. (1967) The Death of Che Guevara [online] Available at: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/the-death-che-guevara [Accessed 3 October 2015]
Mid.day.com (2015) Russia bans using Che Guevara images in poll campaigns [online] Available at: http://www.mid-day.com/articles/russia-bans-using-che-guevara-images-in-poll-campaigns/16571165 [Accessed 3 October 2015]
Muircheataigh, J.O (2015) Che Guevara mural makes return to Kilkee [online] Available at: http://www.clarepeople.com/2015/09/30/che-guevara-mural-makes-return-to-kilkee/ [Accessed 3 October 2015]
Singh, K.G. (2008) A meeting with Che Guevara [online] Available at: http://www.globalresearch.ca/a-meeting-with-che-guevara/9324 [Accessed 2 October 2015]
Stodden, W. (2000) Chronology of The Economic Ministry of Comrade Guevara after the Revolution in Cuba – A secondary interpretive account [online] Che Guevara Internet Archive. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/biography/econ-ministry.htm [Accessed 3 October 2015]
Totten, M.J. (2014) The Truth About Che Guevara [online] Available at: http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/truth-about-che-guevara [Accessed 2 October 2015]
Vallely, P. (2004) Che Guevara: When the reality becomes myth [online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/che-guevara-when-the-reality-becomes-myth-6162923.html [Accessed 2 October 2015]
Wigmore, B. (2007) The truth about modern legend Che Guevara, by the man who hunted him down [online] Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-486423/The-truth-modern-legend-Che-Guevara-man-hunted-down.html [Accessed 3 October 2015]
Wikimedia.org (2014) CheHigh.jpg [online] Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/58/CheHigh.jpg [Accessed 30 September 2015]
Wikipedia (2015) Che Guevara [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Guevara [Accessed 3 October 2015]
Youtube (2011) Che Guevara speech at UN 1964 (English Subtitles!!) [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ekfej_kmHQ [Accessed 3 October 2015]