Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Written by El Conquistadorko
Che Guevara: Where You'd Never Imagine Him, a 108-minute documentary by Cuban director Manuel Perez purports to be a surprise-filled expose of the famous Argentinean revolutionary, but it's little more than a propaganda piece that shamelessly aims to use Guevara's legacy to bolster Castro regime's increasingly pathetic efforts to prolong the first and probably last socialist worker's “paradise” in the Western Hemisphere.
It's all the more frustrating because Guevara would be rolling in his grave if he knew the Cuban government was milking his life for propaganda value, seeing as how Guevara quickly figured out Castro was more interested in keeping power in Cuba than using the island as a base to launch a hemisphere-wide uprising. That's why Guevara left Cuba in 1965 for the Congo and finally Bolivia, where he died two years later in an ill-fated effort to inflame local Indians that led to his arrest and execution by CIA-trained Bolivian army rangers.
Anyone interested in learning about the real Che Guevara, the one behind the scraggly goatee and defiant eyes in the posters and t-shirts that have immortalized him should read John Anderson's fantastic biography, Che: A Revolutionary Life, which was published in 1997 and remains the best account of the man. In that book, Anderson provides amazing details on why Guevara was such an interesting persona, and one who, despite being an unrepetentant commie, remains idealized by ideological foes. (In the 1990s, there was even a right-wing death squad in Columbia that named itself after him).
Just one example: as a guerrilla comandante in the hills of eastern Cuba, Guevara would personally execute his own troops if they raped women or looted goods from local villagers, but he'd spare the life of enemy soldiers who fought bravely. If they begged for their lives, however, he'd call them cowards and shoot them. Guevara also made a point of personally carrying out executions of Bautista-aligned officers and policemen who'd been convicted of crimes against humanity in Castro's kangaroo courts. Sure, a lot of those guys had tortured, raped, and murdered innocent Cubans, but as Anderson notes, Guevara seemed to take an almost perverse pleasure in shooting them. The way he saw it, the Cuban revolution would only succeed if it murdered all potential enemies before they could form the inevitable counter-revolution.
It's a lesson he apparently learned in Guatemala five years before the revolution, when the CIA recruited right-wing dissidents in the military led by Colonel Castillo Armas to overthrow the democratically elected Arbenz regime. But you'll hear nothing about any of this in Perez' fawning film, which simply says that the notion that Guevara murdered anyone during Cuba's show trials was an invention of the imperialist US media. The movie does a decent job of tracing Guevara's life from Cordoba, Argentina, where he studied medicine, through his journeys around South America on motorcycle, which have already been chronicled in the enjoyable Motorcycle Diaries, and from there to Guatemala, Cuba, the Congo, and Bolivia.
Just about all the film has to offer is a nice collection of previously unseen archival footage, most of it grainy black and white, and one funny anecdote: Guevara unwittingly volunteered to become president of Cuba's national bank when he was in a room full of head-scratching apparatchicks, one of whom said, “Is anyone in the room an economist?” Che raised his hand. “You're an economist?” the comrade asked, bewildered. “Oh,” Che said. “I thought you said 'communist.'” If there were more such insights to Che's personality, the movie wouldn't come off like the pure propaganda that it is. Someday somebody will make a great film about Che Guevara, one of the most enigmatic and engrossing personalities in the history of the planet, but this isn't it.