Fidel asks the Cabinet: “Any of you guys an economist?”
Afterwards, Fidel approaches Che: “You’re an economist?”
At the 2:30 A.M. meeting, in July 1960, the new bank prez took his feet off his office desk and admitted that he knew little about economics. Revolution inspired him, he told the students. “Politics,” he emphasized, “not economics, should drive revolutionary policy.”
He described poverty and underdevelopment in Argentina, where this son of an architect grew up. The conditions at Chile’s Chuqicamata copper mines “are beyond belief,” he said, accusing Guggenheim-Rockefeller family interests of exploiting the minors’ labor, and persecuting those who tried to unionize, especially the communists. “Imperialism,” he snapped “has also wreaked havoc on the Amazon region shared by several countries.”
“What would you like the United States to do during this revolution?” the student asked.
Che stared at the student, who visibly gulped. The room was quiet. “I’m yanking your chain.” said Che, now smiling.
44 years later, I stared into the face of Gael Garcia Bernal, playing the youthful fourth year medical student bouncing on a motorcycle, with his Jack Kerouac-like partner, (Rodrigo de la Serna) in the pit of Patagonia, the snowy Andes of Chile and on the Amazon. In The Motorcycle Diaries, the asthmatic hero, struggling for breath, swims the un-swimmable river to the other side of the Amazon to spend his birthday with the lepers: determination, audacity, recklessness.
Che was “temerario,” (Presumptuously or recklessly daring) Fidel told me in July 1974, one of the few criticisms he had of his most brilliant lieutenant. “I once tackled him [during the 1956-8 guerrilla war against Fulgencio Batista] when he stood up during a battle. `You’re too important to lose,’ I told him.”
“But he shouldn’t have allowed his columns to lose contact,” Fidel said bitterly, referring to the split of Che’s guerrilla group in Bolivia. “And his relaxed attitude on security cost him,” he remarked. Che had permitted Regis Debray, the French intellectual (author of the text on guerrilla strategy, Revolution in the Revolution?), to learn the guerrilla’s whereabouts. Debray was subsequently captured. We now know, however, that CIA agents had tracked the guerrillas.
It had worked in Cuba. So, in 1964, with Fidel’s full support, Che organized a similar battle plan in the Congo. In his Congo diary (Che in Africa: Che Guevara’s Congo Diary, by William Galvez), the scientific minded-Che records his observations about reality in the Congo, as he did in Latin America.
Like a character from a Conrad novel, he concludes that “During those last hours in the Congo, I had felt more alone than ever…”
Che returned in disguise to Cuba; then led an elite group of veteran guerrilla warriors to join a Bolivian cadre to liberate the landlocked country. The “foco” method assumed support from the Bolivian Communist Party whom, despite protests from Moscow, Fidel had “convinced” to back the operation. But the Bolivian Communists, following Soviet orders “betrayed Che,” Fidel charged.
Che’s death became and has remained an international event. Now, the movie offers insights into Che’s character. Gael Garcia conveys the young medical student whose addiction to principles propelled him to action, injected him with the kind of courage that arises almost preternaturally from the wellspring of feeling and thought inside him; the qualities that made him charismatic. Thirty seven years after his murder, his icon still entices the most noble souls around the world to try to “be like Che.”
“Seremos como el Che,” appears on billboards and posters. Some students cynically reply, “Sure, we’ll also become asthmatics.” One student, however, insists that Che epitomizes revolutionary. She plans to spend her life working for the poor:
In the film, Garcia Bernal portrays of Che with effortless changes of facial expressions and body language. He offers qualities of wit, intelligence and determination that the real Che later manifested as he made history. Garcia Bernal’s Che shows how an immature medical student transforms his middle class guilt into revolutionary will.
Landau’s new book is THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA: HOW CONSUMERS HAVE REPLACED CITIZENS AND HOW WE CAN REVERSE THE TREND. He directs digital media at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.