The life and luck of Che Guevara

I don’t foresee that I will be able to justify the title to any degree of completion, not because this is just a blog post and I am no historian, but because Che is way beyond my realm and it will take me years yet, if at all I can, to really see the man in true light.

However, in the light of what is going on in India and several other regions of the world, I believe that calling him lucky, is at least technically correct, if not entirely justifiable. It does not intend to belittle the tireless courage, leadership and passion for assuring equality for ALL men, that the ‘revolutionary doctor’, pursued throughout his life in distressed, poverty stricken corners of the world and died fighting for. It only means that he was lucky to succeed to any degree, inasmuch. Traveling on his famous motorcycle La Padoresa II (The Mighty one, which eventually broke down during the long journey) while still a medical student, with his friend Alberto Granado in South America, seeing the plight of mine workers in Chile, and the widespread poverty, disease and hunger throughout Latin America (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela) , he first found his calling to be a revolutionary: ‘to link his destiny to the poor of this world‘. His memoirs and several biographies can be found online and in book stores and needless to say, he himself was a great orator and writer and his speeches give enough content to satisfy most biographers. In one of these he says that his transformation from wanting to be a great researcher who makes contributions to medicine, gradually transformed into being a ‘revolutionary’ and making contribution towards bringing justice, equality and freedom from repression to the peoples of Latin America, and eventually have that spread throughout the world. He says that he realized pretty early that working in one corner of the world, towards any cause, no matter how noble or how sincere the effort, is fruitless in actually bringing about a revolution. And a revolution is what the world needed, to free its masses from perpetual repression, in new forms in every era.

Guevara is often called an exacting commander who did not tolerate selfishness and indiscipline of any kind, nor did he make any exceptions to the rule for himself. Yet, if her were a brute, his small practically untrained army trying to fight of Fulgencio Batista’s armed forces in Sierra Maestra, would not have acquired the reputation of treating his prisoners and the surrounding villagers fairly.  Yes, he probably was not appalled by the death sentence, as people with delicate sensibilities are or are supposed to be. But he is not the one that built and hoarded nuclear weapons that have the ability to vaporize all of humanity, he would want equal access to them for everyone, but that is bound to happen eventually, if it has not already. Increasing hoarding only increases the chances of some weapons disappearing.

He was hardened by the reality of life led by the downtrodden. There is no room for delicacies and sensibilities in war. While many pages on the web are dedicated to calling Guevara a mass murderer and a fanatic, I myself not only beg, but declare war to differ. I have not yet seen a fanatic ( remember Laden?) who themselves go to fight other people’s wars. In countries they have no financial or political gain in. If he is called an idealist or a purist, that is what a leader needs to be. He led believers, as he himself said. These believers were not followers of some religious cult being blind folded, brain washed and led to do illogical deeds. In Cuba, they were led to a guerrilla warfare against a much more powerful, US backed tyrannical government. Anything less than a puristic attitude could not lead a pack of untrained soldiers, who were often well educated themselves, into acts of immense courage and bravery, which would seem foolhardy at the face of the formidable enemy. Though, that is not to say that education itself brings any great vision or wisdom, clearly demonstrable in other countries where intellectuals rarely take on any form of revolt or dissent from the erstwhile political leaders.Why these pages neglect to mention the corrupt military regime that preceded the revolution in Cuba, made its economy (which heavily depended on sugar production) solely and incontrovertibly dependent on US backed investments, is quite understandable.

Agreed that he was no economist, and his economic policies were doomed to fail, because people can fight or work for a cause, but after the cause has been achieved they mostly want to work for a better lifestyle. Not everyone can be an idealist and normal people cannot be subjected to such high standards of moral behavior, with no avenues for making profit. That does make him a failed economist, but it does not make him a failed revolutionary.

He tried to reduce US hegemony and interest in Cuba as well as in other parts of Latin America, but that indeed is easier said than done. Given the amount of trade interests the US has in the region and the economic sanctions that can just breeze through the UN, if the US supports it. Remember Iraq? The economic sanctions destroyed the country and made the people MORE, not less dependent on Saddam Hussein. Cuba also, could not completely flourish with it being perceived as a ‘communist’ threat. Which it definitely was, but to him communism was just the people’s way to ask for their rights. Guevara led several guerilla troops all over the poverty and disease and civil war stricken parts of the world. Albeit with almost no other success stories.

It seems that other than Cuba and the Cubans, very few other regions of the world were ready for the revolution. On returning from what he called a ‘unmitigated disaster in DR Congo (1965),as perhaps the lawlessness the region is still wrought with is based on monetary issues and lack of a common goal, discipline and a belief in the cause of the revolution to bring justice, equality and respect to all those living in atrocious, inhuman condition. I have sympathy for his idealistic thinking, that did not take into account the cultural history and superstition of thousands of years and intricate tribal enmity in Africa. He admitted defeat in Congo and took partial responsibility for the cuban soldiers who had gone unprepared, in his book called ‘The African Dream’. It probably had a lot to do with his inability to work on compromises that were less idealistic than what he hoped to achieved,yet, he was always there with his men, in malaria and dysentery and in being surrounded by mercenaries.

In Bolivia, where he was finally caught and assassinated by the Bolivian army(October 1967), advised by a CIA agent Felix Rodrigues,Che’s belief that guerilla warfares are mass movements, that cannot survive without the support of the masses, the villagers it hopes to emancipate, proved to be correct. At the time of capture, Che and his remaining army were sick and he had been shot several times. their positions were given away to the military by villagers themselves, who did not support the rebellion. Neither did the Communist Party of Bolivia.

I wonder what he would have thought of the people’s movement in India these days. Where almost everyone, who has any power anyway, believes that Maoists and villagers are actually the same people. As they support each other. The more poignant question is that, is the Indian government today, instead of being the purported democracy, actually a police state that has led to such guerrilla warfares being ignited all over the country by the previously peaceful tribes, adivasis who lived in forests and did not figure in any of the nation’s economic policies or politics.

If the government can use drones, that only sees heat maps of gatherings of people, and believe they must be planning a ‘terrorist’ activity of some kind, killing 11 yr old girl and teenagers, (17 people in total, 7 minors) who had gathered to discuss the sowing procedure for the year. The CRPF and the police surrounded the gathering and started firing at random and without warning.This was in the village Kottaguda, Bijapur, which, along with two adjoining villages, had been burned down by the Salwa Judum in 2005. In calling these unmanned drones ‘deep intelligence’ that led to the discovery of this ‘Maoist activity’, as no government officials dare to visit or deign to talk to these villagers, I do not think is a very democratic or intelligent outlook by the government. Perhaps, our government is no longer as democratic. Other oppressive governments all over the world are being toppled over, like in Egypt or Libya have overthrown the acknowledged dictators. I don’t see that happening in India. The outlook of the majority of Indians in India and the ones abroad is quite different. In India, it is understood that the government is probably right, and whatever means, however unpleasant they may be, are needed for the economic progress of the country and the burgeoning middle class has no qualms in reading sporadic reports about the atrocities of Salwa Judum or operation green hunt. The massacre and the constant fear of persecution that the villagers, who have been forced to give up not only their land and livelihood, but their way of life for centuries. Imagine you being forced to live in a forest without amenities, a livelihood and a roof over your head.. For the villagers and the adivasis, who have almost no contact to the modern world, other than in seeing the guns and goons that kill them, being forced to live in an alien environment, is much much worse.

The activists fighting for the right of these people have not had the luck of Che. Who himself may have been defeated in these conditions, given the innumerable ways that India and Indians are divided. We may be united for a while for an India- Pakistan match- but even that is an irony because we share with them a history, that we don’t share with anyone else. We were united against the British, but we had a visionary leader in Mahatma Gandhi, who understood the need for tolerance and people’s rights. He spoke about reaching out and leading downtrodden villagers to progress, for India to be truly free. Maybe that is why people who have had contact with him or his immediate followers work at the grass root levels in various villages.

Youth has risen to support Anna Hazare, but he is not Mahatma Gandhi, and the unity he may want to see in India against the widespread corruption in the government, clearly does not extend to empathy for poor tribes, or anything that can lead to future, even transient, discomfort. My friend Partho knows this personally, as the two activists that were arrested with him, who are believed to be Mao supporters, but actually just work with the villagers and support women’s health and welfare, are still in jail.Other activists are constantly under persecution.

Che and Gandhiji, you were lucky to have supporters joined in a belief for equality for everyone, and release from oppression. Or perhaps your supporters were lucky to have you. Despite the natural accumulation of displeasure against both of you over the eyars where every word you said is analyzed, I believe in purist leadership. As long as it doesn’t turn into dictatorship, because without an idealistic view of the world, where human rights predominate any economic progress, millions of human beings will be forced to value human life as little as theirs is being valued. Millions will disregard honor, respect, dignity for a little food and shelter. Then where will humanity go?

I am ashamed to know so little, and do even less for the people of my country who could use my help and I don’t even know how to begin. When will the middle class society culturally teach its children to reach out to everyone who is a victim of progress, in solidarity. To believe that a better future is for everyone, not only the lucky ones.

Please visit Sanhati’s website for detailed reports on the recent incident.

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