September 25, 2004

Berman on Che

I read everything Paul Berman writes. This, from his article in Slate:

The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction,

I remember wearing a Che t-shirt when I was a kid. The graphic was easy and appealing to a kid who liked to draw people. The image was simple as outline implied volume, the graphic appeal when simplicity implies complexity. I remember thinking of him as an expression of good qualities, something like independence, strength, integrity, freedom, a macho virtue with a conscience... how wrong I was. Clueless.

Here's s'more from the Slate article:

The modern-day cult of Che blinds us not just to the past but also to the present. Right now a tremendous social struggle is taking place in Cuba. Dissident liberals have demanded fundamental human rights, and the dictatorship has rounded up all but one or two of the dissident leaders and sentenced them to many years in prison. Among those imprisoned leaders is an important Cuban poet and journalist, Ra?l Rivero, who is serving a 20-year sentence. In the last couple of years the dissident movement has sprung up in yet another form in Cuba, as a campaign to establish independent libraries, free of state control; and state repression has fallen on this campaign, too.

These Cuban events have attracted the attention of a number of intellectuals and liberals around the world. V?clav Havel has organized a campaign of solidarity with the Cuban dissidents and, together with Elena Bonner and other heroic liberals from the old Soviet bloc, has rushed to support the Cuban librarians. A group of American librarians has extended its solidarity to its Cuban colleagues, but, in order to do so, the American librarians have had to put up a fight within their own librarians' organization, where the Castro dictatorship still has a number of sympathizers. And yet none of this has aroused much attention in the United States, apart from a newspaper column or two by Nat Hentoff and perhaps a few other journalists, and an occasional letter to the editor. The statements and manifestos that Havel has signed have been published in Le Monde in Paris, and in Letras Libres magazine in Mexico, but have remained practically invisible in the United States. The days when American intellectuals rallied in any significant way to the cause of liberal dissidents in other countries, the days when Havel's statements were regarded by Americans as important calls for intellectual responsibility?those days appear to be over.

I wonder if people who stand up to cheer a hagiography of Che Guevara, as the Sundance audience did, will ever give a damn about the oppressed people of Cuba?will ever lift a finger on behalf of the Cuban liberals and dissidents. It's easy in the world of film to make a movie about Che, but who among that cheering audience is going to make a movie about Ra?l Rivero?

This is the t-shirt I should have worn when I was a kid:

The blogger Merde in France has a more cutting comment on the cult of Che.

UPDATE: Go Aznar:

He spoke at a meeting of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba, which is examining ways to support resistance to Fidel Castro's regime

Participants highlighted the case of Raul Rivero, a dissident journalist and author who was arrested in March 2003 along with 74 others in a crackdown on the opposition.

"There's nothing to justify that people like Raul Rivero should be imprisoned just because they wrote a critical poem against a dictator," Aznar said.

UPDATE2: Check out this 1967 Guardian Article on Che, the last eye witness.

UPDATE3: This post from Bad Hair Blog sums it all up pretty well:

Now we have a romanticized story coming to a cinema near you, telling us of Che's "strength and tenderness", along with articles from his loving daughter in the newspaper of record. No less obscene than the worst pornography, the lyrical and beautiful film's become a Sundance Festival and Cannes Festival success. How ironic that the film synopsis reads "Their experiences at the colony awaken within them the men they will later become by defining the ethical and political journey they will take in their lives".

It is estimated that Che Guevara sent to the firing squads some 15,000 Cubans. Untold number of people died in Cuba, Central America, Bolivia and Congo from his guerrila wars. The real number might never be known.

No movie will be made from their stories.
Posted by Dennis at September 25, 2004 10:37 AM

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