IN SEARCH OF CHE

  By  - Dr. Khalid Sohail

The more I ponder over the human condition the more I realize that human beings have a duality to their nature. They can be saints as well as sinners. They can be devilish as well as sacred. They have a bright as well as a dark side to their personalities, a mixture of light and shadow. It is their duality that I find perturbing as well as fascinating. And one of the best examples of that duality I found in the life of Che Guevara. He could hate with the same intensity as he could love and he could kill with the same passion as he could save lives. He was the doctor and the guerrilla warrior, a peace lover and a revolutionary at the same time.

            Last year when I was doing research for my book Prophets of Violence and Peace and reviewing biographies of twentieth century reformers and revolutionaries, the personality that intrigued me the most was that of Che Guevara. He was the only revolutionary who got involved in the liberation movement of a country other than his own motherland. He was born in Argentina but his identity was that on a Latin American. He wanted to bring revolution in all of Americas. Since he hated poverty, ignorance, injustice and human suffering, he also hated all those capitalists and imperialists who created those conditions for humanity to suffer. After meeting Fidel Castro he initially joined the revolutionary guerrilla warriors as a doctor but as the war escalated he became a soldier and at the end of the war he was more of a soldier than a doctor. I found that transformation fascinating.

            I was amazed to read how American Government and CIA tried to follow him and finally with the help of Bolivian Government not only tracked him down in the Bolivian mountains but also surrounded him and finally captured him on October 8th, 1967. Rather than treating him with respect as a prisoner, the way he treated his prisoners, they killed him the next day. They only showed his hands to the world and secretly buried his body alongside the dead bodies of his comrades. It was apparent that American Government was as afraid of dead Che as they were of the living Che. They were aware that his grave would become a pilgrimage of all the revolutionaries, guerrilla warriors and freedom fighters of the world. In spite of the secret grave Che became the symbol and transformed into a myth.

            Che’s myth took another turn when in 1997 the secret of Che’s grave was revealed to a journalist by a Bolivian official who was involved in secret burial of Che. When that journalist shared the news with the world, the Bolivian Government came under international pressure and Che’s body was transported from Bolivia to Cuba. That transfer to Cuba rather than Argentina, his motherland, proved that a person’s identity can be defined more by where he is buried rather than where he is born. After reading that story I had a secret wish to go and visit where Che is buried in Cuba.

            So when my sweetheart Bette asked me where I would like for my holidays this year I mentioned Cuba. She was surprised as she knew that I had visited Cuba before. I told her that last time I had gone for the sake of revolutionary Fidel Castro, a constant challenge to United States, and the writer Ernest Hemingway. When I had visited Cuba the last time, I had seen the clubs where Ernest Hemingway used to drink and socialize and the streets where he used to wander around. I even saw the room he did his writings and took pictures of the typewriter on which he created his masterpiece The Old Man and the Sea. But this time I wanted to go to see Che’s Memorial. Bette kindly agreed and we went to Cuba and stayed in a wonderful hotel Breezes near a famous beach by the name of Veradaro.

            After spending time on the beach and sunbathing and eating lots of fruits including guavas, mangoes, bananas, oranges, papayas and watermelons and visiting Havana city so that Bette could do some shopping I asked her to join me to visit the small town of Santa Clara, where Che’s Memorial is erected.

            It is amazing that the day we were supposed to visit Che, Cuba was hit by a hurricane Charley. It was the hurricane that came from the south, hit Cuba and went North to devastate Florida in United States. It was symbolic of Che’s storm rising from South America and hitting North America. We had to postpone our trip for a day. After the hurricane storm passed we went to visit the stormy personality of Che. Since no bus or train went there we had to hire a special taxi and pay the driver two hundred American dollars for that trip. Che’s memorial was nearly three hundred kilometers from our hotel. So we left at 8am and reached Che’s Memorial at 11am.

            The view of Che’s statue was breathtaking. It reminded me of statue of liberty. Che’s statue that must be nearly twenty foot tall holding a gun is erected on top of a twenty-foot column. Next to the statue is another column on which Che’s famous letter is transcribed that he wrote to Fidel before he left Cuba secretly. It is a wonderful statue, a beautiful piece of art, a masterpiece. Underneath the statue, in the basement, where Che’s remains are buried, we found an eternal flame burning reminding us the fire that Che ignited in the hearts of the oppressed to fight for their rights and is still burning in the minds of freedom fighters all over the world.

            After visiting the Memorial the taxi driver took us to the local train station where we could see the two derailed coaches. As we went in we saw them being transformed into little Che’s museums with his beds and hammocks and rifles and bazookas and pictures. It was just incredible. That train was the reminder of the famous Santa Clara battle against the Batista army in which Che’s guerrilla warriors won their final victory and then joined Fidel in Havana to announce the new revolutionary government. It was hard to believe that I was there amongst the memories of Che. After taking some pictures we left.

While we were driving back I thought of the last message Che had given to the world as his speech to Tri-continental Conference in April 1965 while he was fighting an underground revolutionary battle against the imperialists of the world. In that speech he had addressed all the oppressed of Asia, Africa and Latin America. He had mentioned that the time of peaceful protests and negotiations had ended and time to pick up arms had come. Since enemies had become cruel and sadistic he encouraged his comrades to fight fire with fire. I had never read any leader before who had propagated hate with passion. Advocating guerrilla war he had stated, “The great lesson of the guerrillas’ invincibility is taking hold among the masses of the dispossessed. The galvanization of the national spirit; the preparation for more difficult tasks, for resistance to more violent oppression. Hate as a factor in the struggle, intransigent hatred for the enemy that takes one beyond the natural limitations of a human being and converts one into an effective, violent, selective, cold, killing machine. Our soldiers must be like that, a people without hate cannot triumph over a brutal enemy.” (Ref 1 ) Che was inviting his comrades to hate his enemies more than they hated them. I just could not believe my eyes when I read those lines.

            That was the violent side of Che. But he also had a loving side. He dearly loved his comrades, his family, his children. His letter to Fidel was so much full of affection and love and caring. It was amazing to see it written on a wall in Santa Clara. It has become a historical document and monument. After Fidel Castro read that letter on the national television highlighting his special bond of friendship with Che, he stated, “Those who speak of revolutionaries, those who consider revolutionaries as cold people, insensitive people, and unfeeling people will have in this letter the example of all the feeling, all the sensitivity, all the purity that can be held within a revolutionary soul.” (Ref 2 p 36)

Fidel Castro also shared with his countrymen that Che had written loving letters to his parents and his children and he was going to ask them that after reading them to give them back to Cuban Government so that they could become part of historical documents and heritage for all the lovers, admirers and disciples of Che Guevara. In his letter to his children, representatives of future generation he shared the essence of his life, struggle and philosophy in these words,

“To my children,

Your father has been a man who acted on his beliefs and has certainly been loyal to his convictions…grow up as good revolutionaries…always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary…Papa” (Ref 2 )

Che Guevara was one of those intellectuals; philosophers and revolutionaries who chose the road less travelled, lived on the edge of society, lived dangerously and for his ideals and dreams were willing not only to die but also willing to kill. He left a remarkable story of his life and times, a story worth understanding and examining from a political as well as a psychological point of view as there are more and more revolutionaries and guerrilla warriors around the world who have chosen him as their prophet and are following his footsteps. Che’s life provides great insights into the psychology of guerrilla warriors who believe in armed struggle to bring revolution.  Che Guevara had presented a dangerous proposition and young people need to be careful, very careful before they follow his footsteps as his road leads to creation and destruction at the same time. As a student of human psychology I find Che Guevara as the ultimate synthesis of human contradictions, a man who could love and hate to the extreme.

In the end all I can say is that visiting Cuba and Che’s Memorial and reading some of his letters, speeches and essays was a memorable experience in more than one way. I will cherish those memories for the rest of my life.

                                                Dr. Khalid Sohail        August 23RD,  2004. 

                        REFERENCES

1.      Castro Fidel…CHE…A memoir by Fidel Castro

Ocean Press New York USA 1994

2.      Deutschman David…Che Guevara Reader

Ocean Press New York USA 1997

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