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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 45, October 29, 2011

Ernesto ’Che’ Guevara

Saturday 5 November 2011

by K.P. BHANUMATHY

Ernesto Che Crevana was executed by the Bolivian Army in Bolivia on October 9, 1967 when he was just 39 years in age. On the occasion of his fortyfourth death anniversary this year we are carrying the following article by veteran journalist K.P. Bhanumathy who interviewed him when he visited India in July 1959. This has been included in her book Candid Conversations with Towering Persons (first published in 2007 and then republished in 2010 by the National Book Trusts, India).

“Since the legend of Che Guevara grows and that fiercely refined face now appears on the revolutionary ikons of all countries, we should listen attentively to what he has to say.”

—The Sunday Times, London

Ernesto Che Guevara, the legendary revolutionary of Latin America, was born on June 14, 1928 in Rosario, Argentina. Born into a well-to-do family, he was known for his radical views even as a boy. His father, an adventurous man, squandered all his fortune in ship building and growing ‘mate’, a bitter green tea, which the Argentinians loved to drink. Che (nickname meaning ‘buddy’, given by his friends) was a sickly child and suffered from asthma all his life. As he grew up he overcame his physical weakness with lots of exercise and a tough life.

He loved to travel and at the age of 18 he had roamed all over Argentina on a bicycle. He was fond of reading books on sociology, philosophy, mathematics and engineering. His favourites were Freud and Pablo Neruda. He was born a Catholic but was never interested in religion. Seeing the terrible poverty around him, he was gradually convinced that only a large scale revolution could improve conditions. Guevara had joined school only at the age of seven due to his illness but he was a brilliant student at school and college. He completed his seven-year medical course in five years. He had been involved from an early age in social and nationalist activities. Filled with a combination of intellectual and revolutionary theory and being an activist, he plunged into revolutionary activities to fight for the poor and the oppressed.

Admired and idolised by the young and old, he was one of the most feared (by the US) and loved guerilla leader. He was active in the Guatemalan revolution. Che first met Fidel Castro in 1955. Having decided to join any revolution against tyranny, Fidel and Che trained together under the guidance of a Spanish loyalist and formed a tough guerilla platoon to fight the Batista regime in Cuba. Che’s life has been a saga of great events, adventure and suffering. Dedicated to a cause and inspired by Marxist ideas, he had his own philosophy born from the needs of the situation. Che had written a philosophical dictionary for his personal use. His highly influential manual on guerilla strategy and tactics and Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, based on first hand experience, tells it all—the ‘Naked Truth’. His biographer, John Gerassi, has described him as the Garibaldi of Social Revolution. Imperialism, new colonialism and US policy in the Third World was the enemy he was fighting all his life.

After the overthrow of the Batista regime in Cuba, Che was made a citizen of Cuba and appointed President of the National Bank and later Minister for Industry but, restless at being shackled to a chair and bureaucratisation, Che left Cuba in 1965 to pursue his struggle against colonial-ism in the Third World. While fighting in Bolivia he was captured and later killed by the CIA.

Che, it is said, always knew that the Americans would kill him. “Wherein death may surprise us, it will be welcome provided that our battle cry reaches some receptive ear that another hand stretches out to take up weapons,” he had written. He believed in a socialist economy and in a Socialist Man.

CHE GUEVARA came to India on July 1, 1959 at the invitation of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, after a visit to Vietnam and other countries. In an interview at the Ashoka Hotel where he was staying, the guerilla leader spoke on neocolonialism and underdevelopment in the Third World. Dressed in Army fatigues, paratroop boots, a well-trimmed beard, rather a goatee, and a beret, he was a handsome man rather withdrawn. It was his dark and soulful eyes that spoke volumes. This was a soulful revolutionary waiting for a spark to ignite the fires. He reminded me of Norman Lewis’ words—“Guevara invokes a direct humanity that is rarely discoverable in the writings of the fathers of socialism.”

“What brings you to India?” I asked.

Flicking the ash from his Monte Carlo 4 cigar, his voice came across low and distinct: “I have been travelling on a quest for first hand knowledge in Vietnam and other countries suppressed under the colonial yoke after Cuba was freed from the Batista regime—your Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited me. I also wanted a close impression of India’s post-independence plans for its development. We in Latin America have suffered under imperialism and we have to build from scratch.”

“You believe in a socialist economy and socialist man. Can you elaborate?”

“We in the underdeveloped world have to free ourselves from the imperialist yoke, the puppet governments and their armies and the system of exploitation in underdeveloped countries. We are colonies or dependent countries, with underdeveloped or distorted development. The objective conditions for a struggle for independence is created by the hunger of the people. A Socialist Man and a socialist economy can be achieved without being a slave to a foreign power. No underdeveloped world would ever be able to enjoy the benefit of a corruption-free structure. We, the under-developed, must come together.”

Continuing he said: “India has won freedom after a long struggle, I have great admiration for Nehru. He will bring economic independence and make India a powerful state. We need to build a society in which all men share the collective spirit of human individual aspirations —neocolonialism grew first in South America and has made itself present with intensity in Africa and Asia. See what is happening in Vietnam and Korea. The brutality in some countries in Asia is in a more subtle form—we in the Third World or underdeveloped world have to be united to overcome the machinations of the colonialists and imperialists.”

“You are said to be a Communist but communist dogmas won’t be accepted by a multi-religious society.”

“I would not call myself a Communist. I was born as a Catholic, I am a socialist who believes in equality and freedom from the exploiting countries. I have seen hunger, so much suffering, stark poverty, sickness and unemployment right from my very young days in America. It is happening in Cuba, Vietnam and Africa—the struggle for freedom starts from the hunger of the people. There are useful lessons in the Marxist-Leninist theory. The practical revolutionary initiaties his own struggle simply fulfilling laws foreseen by Marx. In India Gandhiji’s teachings had their own merit which finally brought freedom.” That was his reply.

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