The Cuban Revolutionary war has been viewed through different lenses, typically dependent upon which side of history the viewer falls on. Fidel Castro’s march through Havana after the exit of Fulgencia Batista was paraded as the era of change that Cuba needed in order to break out from Yankee imperialism and the iron grip of organized crime. The charismatic and bearded leader introduced a new pride in Cubans with promises of true revolution and equality for all. Today, nearly sixty years later, we know that did not happen and the true number of people persecuted under his rule may never be known. Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990) was just one of thousands of exiles who were able to leave the island they called home to escape relentless persecution because of their sexuality and literary beliefs. And when he took his own life on December 7, 1990, an end came to a short but painful life in which he never truly found peace. Before his death he made it a goal to complete this autobiography as a sort of farewell gift to those who knew him or his work. His death was no accident and Arenas explains himself that he will in fact leave this world as his choosing. Twenty-seven years have passed since his death but his story is remarkable even today. The book was adapted into a screenplay by Julian Schnabel and the film starred Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp. Both are great actors but as good as the film may be, the only person who told Arenas’ story the best was Arenas himself.
The author begins the book by taking us back to his childhood in Cuba, in particular his village of Holguín where he was born into a village of poverty where he and his closest siblings had no shoes and sometimes ate the earth. The descriptions of the poverty that could be found in his village are shocking but an accurate portrayal of life in small villages just decades ago. At a young age, he realizes he is a homosexual and his sexual orientation will be a major factor in almost all of the events that take place throughout the rest of his life. They are also central to everything in the book. Stories of the persecution of homosexuals in Cuba under the Castro government are well-known but those outside of Cuba may not know just how much. In a society where all were supposed to be equal, the blatant harassment and discrimination of gay men and women contradicted the revolutionary ideology. Nevertheless, from Arenas’ words, it does seem at times as if homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality. His encounters with men are spontaneous, dangerous and also numerous. And his descriptions of his encounters and what he witnesses are graphic and not for readers that are uneasy with explicit sexual dialogue.
As a writer, Arenas also possessed another quality which made him an enemy of the state. He explains himself that Castro does not like writers, either those for or against the government and the suppression of free thought, speech and works of literature is present everywhere as big brother cracks down in Orwellian style manifested in the classic 1984. Informants, mail-opening and surveillance were tools of the trade as ordinary citizens lived under a microscope where everyone was suspected of being counter-revolutionary and forced to live on meager rations with nearly no income. In fact, their lives stood in stark contrast to the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by Castro and his subordinates. In short, it was the classic totalitarian state despite of the image projected by the Castro regime. Cuban exiles will readily agree with this but even in Cuba, there are those who believed in Castro and still do. The debate will go on for an eternity.
Arenas realizes that his sexual orientation and writing have made him a target and he knows it is just a matter of time before the authorities come for him. They do and his incarceration in Cuban jails makes up the central part of the book. His descriptions of life in Cuban prisons defy belief and it is a miracle that anyone survives. Towards the end of the book, he admits that he never fully healed from prison and that no one ever does. But he remains strong in the face of adversity as authorities do their best to break his spirit and turn him into informant. When he finally puts prison behind him, he troubles are over as he has to earn a living but is known to the State and known in society as part of a group of people who are often ostracized. He knows he must get out of Cuba, but the questions remains as to how he will do it. A chance event in Peru changes his life and the lives of thousands of other Cubans and when he finally steps foot on U.S. soil, the next phase of his life begins but not long before it tragically ends.
Although this is Arenas’ autobiography, he tells the story of the lives of many people close to him, all struggling to find peace and happiness in a society which represses anything an everything. Scene and scene of debauchery and tragedy play out by characters just short of despair. Their stories and Arenas’ life reveal the facade behind the triumphant revolution which replaced on dictator with another who was at times even more brutal towards his own citizens. In a cruel twist of fate, Castro outlived Arenas and many other Cuban exiles depriving them of the chance to see Cuba after Castro. The future will tell if Cuba will every truly be free but as the nation moves towards that goal, then it is best served to remember the stories of those who have suffered and Arenas who through his words, one of Cuba’s loudest voices.
October 10, 1967 – Argentine newspaper Clarin announces that Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) has died in Bolivia on October 9 after being capture with a group of guerrilla fighters attempting to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America. In Buenos Aires, his family receives the news of his death and is completely devastated. Juan Martin, his younger brother, races to his father’s apartment where his mother and siblings have gathered as they attempt to piece together the last moments of Ernesto’s life. Che was secretly buried in an unmarked grave and his remains remained hidden for thirty years before author Jon Lee Anderson convinced a retired Bolivian general to reveal the grave’s location. His remains were returned to Havana on July 13, 1997 where he was buried with full military honors on October 17, 1997. In death, Che’s legacy grew exponentially and even today in 2017, he is the icon of revolution around the world. But after his death, what happened to his family and where did their lives take them? Juan Martin, at seventy-two years old, has decided to tell his story and reveal to us many facts about the Guevara family that have sometimes been overlooked by history.
Before reading this book, I was already familiar with Che’s story, having read Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara and several others relating to the campaigns in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia. But I was always curious to know how Guevara’s fame affected the lives of his family. A couple of months ago, I watched an interview with Juan Martin from Buenos Aires that appeared on the news station France24. And it was then that I learned of his book in which he reminisces about his famous older brother. And what I found in the pages of this book is a story that should be read by those who admire Che and even those who loathe him. I would like to point out that the book is not a glorification of his brother. Without question, they shared a special bond and he remembers him with fondness but admittedly, he was fifteen when Che died and did not have the decades long relationship with him that his parents and older siblings did. Nevertheless, he shares many great details about their lives, shattering long-held myths about the Guevara and Lynch names.
In death, famous people sometimes become larger than life and their stories are retold but often misinterpreted and sometimes outright distorted. It is well-known that Che was very close to his mother, but as Juan Martin shows, Ernesto even tested her patience at times and his relationship with his father was not as great as some have been led to believe. They had many battles and never completely saw eye to eye on various issues but it in the end the elder Guevara supported his son and benefited from his legacy.
To understand Che’s life, it is necessary to trace the family’s origins several generations back. Juan Martin provides a short biography to clear the record about the family name. What I found interesting is that their family life was far from upper class and was highly nomadic. Money was usually and issues and several moves between Rosario, Misiones, Alta Gracia and Buenos Aires proved to be a challenge for the family of seven. But incredibly, they maintained strong family bonds that were desperately needed following Che’s death. The events in Cuba would change the family’s life forever in more ways than one. What is often misunderstood is that while Che had enormous success in Cuba, his accomplishments received little to no acknowledgement in Argentina. And having been there myself, I can attest to the fact that you will not find monuments or murals to him rampant throughout Buenos Aires. And following his death, the family would have to fear for their lives as a brutal dictatorship under Juan Peron locked the country in a vice grip and leftist organizations were persecuted beyond belief. And it is this part of the story where Juan Martin’s life takes on a life of its own.
Juan Martin Guevara spent eight years in incarceration for suspected leftist activity. His wife Viviana was incarcerated for an equal amount of time. In fact, most of Che’s immediately family were forced to leave Argentina as the government initiated a crackdown on anyone suspected of being communist. And during that time, the Guevara name was suspect to immediate suspicion. He along with millions of other Argentines lived through the tragedy of the “disappeared” in which an estimated 30,000 Argentines are believed to have been seized and murdered by nefarious elements within the government. The Falklands War followed in 1982 and the country reached its breaking point under the government of Carlos Menem (1930-) when the convertibility system imploded and the Corralito was imposed on Argentine citizens limiting the amount of money people were allowed to withdraw from their bank accounts. Today he is still going strong, having lived through appendicitis, hepatitis and even a heart attack while in prison. Sadly, his older sister Celia, who he describes as being just like Che in many ways, has steadfastly refused to discuss her famous older brother, never recovering from his death and according Juan Marin, completely unaware he had written this book. His children grew up in Cuba and now live in Europe and other parts of the world. Four of Che’s five children still reside in Cuba where his daughter Aleida and son Camilo carry on their father’s legacy. And Fidel, who died on November 25, 2016 makes his presence felt in the book providing many gestures of good will for the Guevara family as they made a new life in Cuba.
Che will also be a controversial figure but with this book, Juan Martin has in fact shown more of the private side of Che and relayed the truth about what their family life was really like as they grew in Argentina. There are many parts of the book which are said and also shocking but necessary to understand the political climate that existed then and continues to plague Latin America. In the end, this is a fitting tribute from a younger brother to an older sibling, whom he misses dearly and idolized.
The Cuban Revolution has served as a blueprint as a successful campaign for independence from imperialism. Fidel Castro (1926-2016), Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967) and Raul Castro (1931-) became legendary figures in Cuba and around the world. Raul is remaining member of the trio and is currently the President of the Council of State of Cuba and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba following Fidel’s retirement in 2008. In March, 2016, United States President Barack Obama made a historic visit to the island in an effort to restore severely strained diplomatic relations between the two nations. Time will tell if Washington and Havana continue down that path.
When Fidel Castro died in December, 2016, he joined the ranks among the now deceased leaders from the Cold War Era. Raul remains carrying the Castro name and the torch of the revolution. As fascinating as the revolution is, there are many stories that have never been told. Che’s march in Santa Clara and Fidel’s triumphant march into Havana are typically referred to as the shining moments of the movement. But upon closer inspection as Michelle Chase shows us, a revolution took place within the revolution. Examining the importance of women and gender politics, Chase shows the revolution from the view of the female revolutionary and the struggle of women prior to and post-revolution. Admirers of the Castro brothers and Guevara might be tempted to believe that the Cuba became a glorious paradise following Batista’s overthrow. But the reality is that women waged their own battle to achieve equality and a voice in Cuban society.
When we think of the Cuban revolution, we often conjure up the image of the Barbudo, the bearded guerrilla fighter in the jungles of the small Caribbean island. In truth, behind the heroic figures, were women who saw the revolution as a chance to transform Cuban society and prove that they had just as much courage, will and goals as their male counterparts. To reinforce the importance of women in the effort, Chase revisits the events prior to Batista’s fall as young Cubans began to form resistance groups opposed to the tyrannical dictator supported by the United States. And interesting, the effort was far more widespread than the Twenty Sixth of July Movement which is the default resistance group examined in books, magazines and documentaries. Women participated in this group and many others in the effort to establish a free Cuba. Their voices and stories come alive in this book to enlighten even the most serious student of the revolution. I found the book to be significant for it touches of a largely unknown topic outside of Cuba.
Where the book shines is in its unfiltered examination of Cuba post-revolution. There is no glorification of Castro here. We see what was happening and the effect on everyday Cubans. And without women, there was no way Cuban society could have continued to function. Also highlighted in the book are the areas in which the revolution was failing its citizens. Even today, Cuba is still in need of much reformation but is still constrained under the banner of revolution. We can only guess as to what will happen after Raul Castro leaves office for the final time. Regardless of how or when he leaves office, it is imperative that we remember the lives and efforts of the Cuban women, who marched, carried signs, put their lives on the line and challenged the establishment. Today they are grandmothers and great grand-grandmothers. But there was a time in their lives where they took part in one of the 20th Century’s greatest events.
ISBN-10: 14 le69625008
On October 8, 1967, Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) is executed by the Bolivian army after he is captured in failed attempt to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America. He leaves behind a widow and five children. Since his death he has become the icon for revolution and his image can be found on items such as lighters, coffee mugs, t-shirts, posters and even the graduation caps of high school and college students throughout the world. Students of Marxist-Leninist ideology and guerrilla conflict look to his writings, speeches and quotes as inspiration. And although forty-eight years have passed since his death, his name continues to spark admiration, disdain and curiosity.
Recently, President Barack Obama visited Cuba in an effort to repair the strained relationship between two countries that share a long history. And while the embargo is still official U.S. policy towards Cuba, their meeting did serve as a sense of change for future generations. I couldn’t help wonder, had Che been with us, what his thoughts would be about the recent developments. Often seen as the “hardliner” of the Castro regime, the Argentine doctor turned guerrilla fighter was one of the most important participants in the Cuban revolution and a staunch opponent of any form of U.S. aggression and intervention in Cuban affairs.
The more I began to think about Che, the more I realized that I needed to revisit his life story to get more of a sense of who he was and why. And for those reasons, I took another look at the most comprehensive and extensive biography of Che’s life by author and journalist Jon Anderson Lee. Che never wrote his own biography but instead penned several books about his experiences in the revolutionary campaign and articles in the journals El Cubano Libre (Free Cuban) and the Verde Olivo (Olive Drab). His book Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War‘ is among the best written about the campaign. Others have published accounts of their memories of Che with his widow Aleida’s account ‘Remembering Che‘, the most intimate of all. While he is seen as the icon for violent revolution, the real Che was extremely complex, highly intelligent and fiercely devoted to revolution with unwavering fanaticism in his beliefs of a new Latin America shaped by Marxist-Leninist ideology.
Through Anderson’s writing, we step inside Che’s life and witness the many obstacles and chance encounters along the way that allowed him to become a doctor, author, ambassador, guerrilla fighter, husband, father and unfortunately in some cases, executioner. The true beauty in this book is its unbiased view of Che’s life and Anderson does a masterful job of being as neutral as possible even in face of some of Che’s least favorable actions, some of which would cause surprise and consternation among many today. In life, it is always tempting to portray icons of the past in the most favorable light possible. And although Che’s image has become a commercial success, what we learn in this book is that the real Che was no where close to believing himself a commercial icon and openly showed disdain for capitalist tendencies.
His actions will come under scrutiny for generations to come and his image and likeness will continue to be reprinted and used as a commercial too for entrepreneurs across the globe. He will forever be loved, feared and hated, and his commitment to communist ideology combined with a fearlessness of using armed conflict are eerily similar to modern-day fundamentalism in various parts of the world. Nonetheless, he is a critical part of Cuban and world history and one of the most important figures of the 20th century. Anderson’s biography is the definitive account of the mythical Argentine revolutionary.
Fifty-six years have passed since Fidel Castro and his guerrilla army overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and liberated the island from the grip of United States control. Accompanied by his younger brother Raul and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, he marched triumphantly through the streets of Havana declaring a new Cuba. In 1955 Guevara met Fidel and Raul in Mexico City in 1955 and enlisted his services in the revolution that is still the topic of debate and the cause of strain between Cuba and the United States. As the new government was instituted, Guevara served as the island’s Finance Minister, President of the National Bank and chief judge at La Cabana prison. He was a complex character who filled a myriad of roles and strictly devoted to his communist ideology. He was a meticulous note taker and kept many journals of his experiences. In this book are his memories of the Guerrilla campaign and triumph.
In 1953, Che graduated from medical school earning his doctorate degree. His fame will always be him time in Cuba but it should not be forgotten that he was an excellent author with a sharp literary mind and of deep analytical skill. His classic Guerrilla Warfare, is the textbook for revolutionary warfare against a stronger and more intimidating opponent. His speeches about U.S. foreign policy and the state of Cuba have been composed into the short but insightful Che Guevara Speaks. Each book is phenomenal in its own right and recommended reading for students of the revolution and Guevara himself.
Che once said that “at the risk of sounding ridiculous, a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love”. Love comes in many different forms and for Che, that meant commitment to ideology at the cost of personal sacrifice. But never did he waver in his beliefs and as he explains in the book, the cause was not without problems or hardship and in some cases, extreme violence combined with executive decisions. He was assigned the doctor of the group and eventually given his own command of troops. His efforts in the city of Santa Clara which proved to be the final nail in Batista’s coffin are well known. What is not often mentioned, is the day to day of the guerrilla fighters in the jungles of Cuba. For some it may be hard to imagine a war taking place in a country so small but for Castro and his band of bearded figures, it was a matter of the survival of the nation. As Fidel made decisions and the group of men plotted their fates, Che was there taking notes that are presented here to shine light on the struggle that was their daily lives.
Food rations, discipline, medical conditions and political factors all come into play making the life of the guerrilla a daily struggle between life and death. Treasons and famine proved to be severe threats to the mission, recurring repeatedly throughout the book. But in spite of both, Castro is successful and through Che we see how and why that was so. Towards the end of the book are extras by the publisher and they consist of Che’s letters to Fidel, his parents and many others. Also included is Che’s eulogy on the death of his close friend and revolutionary icon, Camilo Cinfuegos. The letters are a joy to read and I am sure that there were plenty others that have never been published that Che wrote. The tragedy of his death in October, 1967 is that he left behind a widow, children and deprived us from other great books that I am sure he would have written throughout his life. But it is our fortune that he left us with these writings and many others during his time on earth.
As the United States and Cuba move closer to restoring diplomatic relations and easing travel restrictions between the two nations, there are bound to be moments of reflection by those who lived through the most turbulent moments in the island’s history. Many years have passed since the Bay of Pigs and Cuban missile crisis, but many of the inhabitants of the island are still alive and can vividly recall the tension in the air as Cuba, the Soviet Union and the United States moved steps closer to a nuclear conflagration.
Che himself wrote several books dealing with the revolution and guerrilla warfare. Some have become best sellers but they do not shed light on the most intimate details of the iconic revolutionary’s life. His second wife and widow, Aleida, presents to us her account of daily life with one of the most important figures of the 20th century. Meeting towards the end of the guerrilla campaign, the two were married in 1959 following Che’s divorce from his first wife Hilda Gadea (1921-1974) who is the mother of his first and late daughter Hilda Guevara (1956-1995).
In contrast to the bare-chested and hardened Marxist-Leninist who became a legend on the battlefield and earned an infamous reputation as head of the La Cabana prison, the Che that we are introduced to here is a loving husband and father, committed to ideology and the welfare of his family. It’s well-known that following the exile of Fulgencio Batista, Che took on many jobs and often work Monday through Saturday leaving Sunday afternoon for time with his wife and children. For many women, the call of the revolution would have been far too much. Aleida, in contrast, shows her commitment to the revolution, unconditional love unwavering devotion.
In 1967, Che left Cuba for the final time, on a mission to spearhead a revolution in Bolivia, tragically doomed from the start. It is hard for me to imagine the position that March found herself in with four young children to raise and a step-daughter. It’s often said that loving someone is harder than hating them. Love is one of the most precious emotions that humans can and do experience. There are those who believe that we all have our other half out their, another kindred spirit of spiritual being that completes us. For Che, in Aleida he found his other half, the woman who signed on for a lifetime with him, bore him children and stood by his decisions and his belief in spreading revolution throughout Latin America. This is the other side of Che that Aleida has given us the privilege of seeing.