Saturday, October 20, 2007

Che Guevara

When I was a teenager I used to have a poster of Che Guevara on my wall. Even then, almost 30 years ago, I thought that Fidel Castro was a bloody dictator who threw dissidents and gays in prison and had orchestrated an ugly cult of personality, but that Che, who had died young, had been an idealist who would never have approved of the dictatorial turn the Cuban revolution took in the 1970s if not before. Last year, I enjoyed and was moved by the movie The Motorcycle Diaries.

Jacobo Machover, author of the recently published "La face cachée du Che," has convinced me that I should have known then that this was too good to be true. (I've read a lot about the Chinese revolution, starting with Simon Leys' Chinese Shadows, which I read in 1981, a year before I started studying Chinese. Reading Chinese history is, or ought to be, a good inoculation against political propaganda of any sort.). Machover argues persuasively that Che Guevara not only ordered the execution of hundreds of prisoners but personally murdered several with his own hands (or gun). Not surprisingly, the rightwing press, which has never been keen to write about the Pinochets and Videlas of this world, has lapped up this book.

From a Sunday Times review: <,25197,22428134-36235,00.html>

A prolific diarist, Guevara wrote vividly of his role as an executioner.

In one passage, he described the execution of Eutimio Guerra, a peasant and army guide. "I fired a .32-calibre bullet into the right hemisphere of his brain, which came out through his left temple," was Guevara's clinical description of the killing. "He moaned for a few moments, then died."

"I carried out a very summary inquiry and then the peasant Aristidio was executed," he wrote about another killing. "It is not possible to tolerate even the suspicion of treason."

Guevara found particularly "interesting" the case of one of his victims, a man who, just before being executed, penned a letter to his mother in which he acknowledged "the justice of the punishment that was being dealt out to him" and asked her "to be faithful to the revolution".

A couple of weeks ago, L'Express published a shocking article (shocking to me, still shocking, even after having read quite a bit about this recently):

An excerpt:

Luciano Medina, d'abord. A 81 ans, robuste, volubile et enjoué, il reste ce guajiro (paysan) qu'il fut au temps de la révolution quand il était le facteur personnel de Fidel Castro. Dans la sierra Maestra, en 1957 et 1958, c'est lui qui acheminait les messages du comandante en jefe à travers les lignes ennemies aux autres comandantes: Raúl Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos ou encore Ernesto «Che» Guevara. «C'est simple, je les ai tous connus», lance l'ex-coursier, dont la voix rocailleuse retentit dans le deux-pièces exigu de Miami (Floride) qu'il occupe depuis les années 1970. «Guevara? Il traitait mal les gens. Très mal», insiste Medina. Les deux hommes se sont fréquentés, deux mois durant, en avril-mai 1958, dans le campement de La Otilia, près de Las Minas de Bueycito. «Un jour que je lisais Sélection du Reader's Digest, peinard dans mon hamac, le Che, furieux, m'arrache la revue des mains et s'écrie: "Pas de journaux impérialistes ici! " Mais surtout, il tuait comme on avale un verre d'eau. Avec lui, c'était vite vu, vite réglé. Un matin, vers 9 heures, nous déboulons au Rancho Claro, une petite exploitation de café appartenant à un certain Juan Perez. Aussitôt, le Che accuse le fermier d'être un mouchard à la solde de la dictature de Batista. En réalité, le seul tort de ce pauvre homme était de dire haut et fort qu'il n'adhérait pas à la révolution.» Une heure plus tard, le malheureux caféiculteur est passé par les armes devant sa femme et ses trois enfants de 1, 3 et 4 ans. «Les voisins étaient traumatisés, indignés. Et nous, la troupe, nous étions écoeurés. Avec trois autres compañeros, nous avons ensuite quitté le Che pour rejoindre un autre campement.» A l'image de Juan Perez, 15 «traîtres», «mouchards», ou supposés tels, devaient pareillement être liquidés sur ordre de Guevara, entre 1957 et 1958. Et ce n'était qu'un début.

And another article in French:

Che Guevara staged public executions and carried out mock executions on prisoners. Having known Chileans who were tortured with mock executions (and many other ways), I'm ashamed I ever had a poster of Che Guevara on my wall.

Yesterday I heard an interview (in French) on Espace 2 with Jacobo Machover. He's what in Cuba they call a "gusano" but he's persuaded me that he is not making this stuff up and he's opened my eyes a bit wider (just as Simon Leys opened my eyes when I first started reading about China). Click on the link next to "JEUDI 18 OCTOBRE 2007" and above "L'image d'un malentendu" to hear the interview with him: <>.