Friday, July 20, 2012

Acuse de recibo: Seremos como El Che?

El mundo, sí, es un pañuelo
It is indeed a small world. 

I thought readers might like to take a peak at this brief e-mail exchange between me and Joshua, a "year 12 student" (which I think is the equivalent of a high school senior and not a 12-year old) from Australia. 

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On Jul 19, 2012, at 11:06 PM, Joshua wrote:

Hello, I am a year 12 student in Queensland, Australia. I am currently doing my final assessment on a biography about Che Guevara. I have to present a Oral speech presentation about Che Guevara, using a biography as a basis. I have to present information about how Che Guevara was an agent of change in history, how he affected historical events and what historical opinions on him say.

The book I chose as my basis for this oral is the Che Guevara book in the Critical Lives series published by Alpha Books. I was wondering if you would be able to assist me with any information about Che Guevara. Such as what your opinion on him is, why you wrote in the book about him and any other information that could assist me in my assessment.

Any help you could provide would be much appreciated.

Yours Sincerly, Joshua

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Wow!  It is quite enterprising of you to reach out to me as part of your project.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna is certainly a complicated and controversial figure even now 45 years after his death. To assess the impact of his life is difficult since he had so many different stages and phases. Another difficulty in assessing his life is that he tends to be either turned into a hero, saint, and martyr by his fans on the one hand; or a villain, terrorist, and murderer by his detractors on the other.

I myself am more of a detractor than a fan of his, but I can and do recognize his important contribution to Latin American political history and especially to anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist resistance around the world.

To be brief, I'd say that his most important positive contribution was to recognize, denounce, and confront the abuses of capitalism and U.S. imperialism; and to become a symbol across the world for others who fight for national self determination and social justice.

On the negative side, I'd say that his ideological rigidity, intolerance of dissent, and utopian messianism turned out to be a disastrous recipe both for Cuba and for the other countries and movements where his ideas were put into practice.

While his vision and example of the "new (altruistic and socialist) man" was inspiring to many, when applied on a national scale in Cuba it led to economic collapse, divisive and almost religious orthodoxy and sectarianism, and perhaps worst of all increasing alienation and cynicism (instead of inspiration and hope) on the part of new generations of children and grandchildren of the revolution.

It is quite instructive that the economic reforms currently being slowly put into place in Cuba today under the leadership of Raul Castro are the very antithesis of Guevara's ideas of revolutionary consciousness, voluntary labor, moral incentives, and the new man.

While Che, Fidel, and "socialism" are often celebrated as revolutionary, socialist "saints" today in Cuba (and even used to justify the need for an "updating" of Cuba's economic model), even the Cuban government has come to recognize that their economic ideas have been unworkable at best and ruinous at worst.

They still teach Cuban school children to shout "Viva Fidel!" (long live Fidel) and "Seremos como El Che!" (we'll be like Che), but almost everyone recognizes the irony and contradiction between these patriotic slogans that celebrate an idealized, defiant past and the "brave new world" that Cuba faces today.

Sandra Ramos - Seremos como el Che (1993)

I hope this helps and feel free to let me know if you have any follow up questions.


Ted Henken

1 comment:

  1. Wow I'm impressed by your reply to the young man. Most authors don't bother to reply to their fans. I'm also pleasantly surprised by how balanced are you on your assessment of Mr. Guevara De La Serna. Kudos!