|THE LEGACY OF CHE GUEVARA|
November 20, 1997
Why should Che be the subject of so much attention now? Is it possible that Che represents something more than the era in which he died? Considering the manner in which he died, how will history treat Che relative to other guerrilla leaders? Will the mass iconization of Che fuel even more anti-American sentiments abroad, as well as anti-government sentiments among America's "lost generation X-ers"? What role did the CIA play in the death of Che?
Jorge E. Ravelo, M.D. of Virginia Gardens, FL, asks:
Thirty-odd years after the death of Che Guevara many Cubans like myself are perplexed by the attention given to a man we knew well enough to despise. Why should this man who preached the virtues of cold-blooded HATE as a weapon of revolution, who was the executioner of many innocents all the way from the Sierra Maestra to the Cabana prison, and who ultimately betrayed the revolution he rode to fame and misfortune be the subject of so much attention? What has Che to offer today besides a commercial opportunity? Why all this attention? Why now?
Mr. Jon Lee Anderson, author of "Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life," responds:
In his characterization of Che Guevara, Mr. Ravelo makes a number of sweeping and emotional assertions which are historically unsound.
For instance, he says that Che was "the executioner of innocents all the way from the Sierra Maestra to the Cabana prison." To this I must point out that, while Che did indeed execute people [an episode I have gone into at length in my book] I have yet to find a single credible source pointing to a case where Che executed 'an innocent'. Those persons executed by Guevara or on his orders were condemned for the usual crimes punishable by death at times of war or in its aftermath: desertion, treason or crimes such as rape, torture or murder. I should add that my research spanned five years, and included anti-Castro Cubans among the Cuban-American exile community in Miami and elsewhere.
Next, Mr. Ravelo asserts that Guevara "ultimately betrayed the [Cuban] revolution." This is a novel concept indeed. Indeed, it is the first time I have heard such a claim. Mr. Ravelo is obviously confused: Che Guevara was a Marxist, and, even before the revolutionary victory in 1959, he was determined to see that Cuba's "revolution" become a Marxist one. He never concealed his beliefs, and never swerved from this course. I have never heard anyone – even his most bitter foes -- accuse Guevara of betraying his beliefs in Marxist revolution. Indeed, there are many amongst the U.S. Cuban exile community who credit Guevara for having always spoken honestly about the aims of Castro's revolution – while accusing Castro himself of having 'betrayed' the many anti-communist Cubans who once supported him.
In a sense, Mr. Ravelo's overheated and erroneous perceptions show why I believed it was necessary to write my book: To try and construct an accurate portrait of a fascinating, controversial and little-understood man, dispelling many of the legends, conjectures and myths -- both positive and negative -- that had cloaked his figure during the Cold War.
I think even Mr. Ravelo would agree that history's protagonists --however distasteful they may be to one's particular worldview – are worthy subjects of biography. We are enriched by our knowledge of the past, and they include those men and women who have affected history -- for better of worse.
Finally, regarding all the attention Guevara has been given recently: It just happens that a number of biographers, including myself, have published their findings coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of Che's death. The fact that his secretly-buried remains were finally discovered in Bolivia this summer also contributed to renewed public interest in Che Guevara's life and times.
Is it possible that Che represents something more than the era in which he died?
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