Friday, November 25, 2005


In this post, Gaurav rightly castigates Ernesto 'Che' Guevara as a pseudoicon behind which lay a repressive and insidious soul. Interestingly, like Gaurav, I also was rather taken in by reading about Che Guevara at first. But after reading a couple of accounts about him by various authors, it becomes apparent that Guevara is exactly the kind of person who would be easily mistaken for a freedom loving liberal and passionate revolutionary. So I realised that our experience is not really an isolated one, and anyone who simply skims the details of his life would be bound to have a false notion of the wolf in the samaritan's clothing.

Guevara is further lionised by movies like 'The Motorcyle Diaries', which I incidentally believe is a fine and refreshingly simple movie. I even bought the DVD. In it, Guevara's life before he became the Che Guevara is explored, and he comes across as an unusually honest, sensitive and kind man. I don't doubt that he was then. But a man's life should be weighed in the totality of his actions, and in Guevara's case, it seems that the bad definitely outweighed the good in the end. Also, his was not an isolated case of someone turning towards communism after being inspired by the misery of the masses, and so the image of him painted in the movie, rosy as it seems, is not a unique one. In fact, the story of his adventures in Latin America would have been one among several reasonably touching stories if he had not been turned into the martyr that people made him. It's always interesting how events from a man's life which may not bear awe-inspiring significance by themselves, suddenly become timeless folk tales after the man is turned into a martyr.
Che may have been a liberal revolutionary in the making when he trekked across the continent with his friend and witnessed the injustice meted out to poor and destitute people. But the liberal revolutionary became an authoritarian and rabid belligerent soon after he joined Fidel Castro's ranks. Like Castro, Guevara descended into the clique of those who tout freedom, without respecting the concept of personal freedom of the common masses one bit. I always feel much more sorry than angry about Guevara. A striking and noteworthy example of massive potential being put to the wrong use. In fact, it is interesting to contrast Guevara's life with Gautam Buddha's. Like Che, Buddha also saw the misery and injustice in the world. But what a different path he chose!

Incidentally, apart from 'scholars', even Roger Ebert, the fine movie critic, has shed light on the true Che Guevara in his review of The Motorcycle Diaries':

"Che Guevara makes a convenient folk hero for those who have not looked very closely into his actual philosophy, which was repressive and authoritarian. Like his friend Fidel Castro, he was a right-winger disguised as a communist. He said he loved the people but he did not love their freedom of speech, their freedom to dissent, or their civil liberties. Cuba has turned out more or less as he would have wanted it to...The final titles of the movie say he would go on to join Castro in the Cuban Revolution, and then fight for his cause in the Congo and Bolivia, where he died. His legend lives on, celebrated largely, I am afraid, by people on the left who have sentimentalized him without looking too closely at his beliefs and methods. He is an awfully nice man in the movie, especially as played by the sweet and engaging Gael Garcia Bernal (from "Y Tu Mama Tambien"). Pity how he turned out"

I am not surprised that students in Germany have to be specifically told that Che Guevera is not to be idolized. It is easy to be impressed by him. Dig deeper and one knows better.


Anonymous Anirudh said...

I saw the movie a year ago and it was very moving. I was quite impressed by Che Guevera. It's nice to see that you don't damn him completely because if the movie is honest then he certainly wasn't authoritarian at that point.

10:48 PM  
Anonymous hirak said...

Just saw Y Tu Mama Tambien last night and it's a great movie. A very honest exploration of two teenagers coming to age as they understand life's cruelties, sexuality and friendship. Gael Garcia Bernal is really good!

8:52 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Quite a coincidence! He is Mexican I hear

9:45 AM  

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