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
October 8, 1967-Ernesto “Che” Guevara dies at the age of thirty-nine in the jungles of Bolivia as he attempts 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 still look to his writings, speeches and quotes as inspiration. And although 48 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.