A Meeting with Che Guevara
Introduction by Shamir
is an 80th anniversary of Che Guevara’s birth, June, 14, and time to
bring all sorts of memories. Here is a short memoire by our Indian friend,
Ambassador Gajendra Singh, whom I had a pleasure of meeting recently in
Delhi. He writes about his meeting with Che in revolutionary Algiers.
Incidentally, I’ve met recently in Havana with the sole survivor of this famous
trip – Che and a few other revolutionaries had spent a few months overseas,
being hosted by Gamal Abdel Nasser, Nehru and others. Early sixties were great
times, and there was hope that mankind will go in great harmony to great
happiness, all the way until the defeat and betrayal of the 1968 Revolution.
Instead, we began the downslide to dismantling of socialism, to privatisation,
globalisation, war on Islam, Neocon rise to the present calamities. However, now
the illusions of 80s and 90s are over; the enemy manifested himself, and he will
surely be defeated! Ambassador Singh is also a survival of 1960s, like the two
other Indian pundits whose texts we publish these days. They remind us of
Nehru’s India, and its friendship with China and Russia, Egypt and Yugoslavia.
Singh’s references to Bollywood add some charm to this short piece.
Introduction by Gajendra Singh
On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Che
Guevara's birth on 14 June, I have done a piece on his fascinating life,
character and unforgettable exploits, leveraged on my very brief meeting and
handshake with him way back in early 1965 when as a young diplomat I was posted
at Algiers. I have also tried to relate his ideology to the present day
situation of US hegemony and exploitation fighting against which he sacrificed
his life in the jungles of Bolivia.
According to a recent US House of Representatives committee report based on
expert testimony and polling data, US approval ratings have fallen to record
lows across the world since 2002, particularly in Muslim countries and Latin
America, because of Washington's policies such as the war in Iraq, and
Washington's perceived hypocrisy in abiding by its own democratic values. The
problem arises not from a rejection of US culture, values and power but
primarily from its policies, such as backing authoritarian regimes while"
promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. "(emphasis mine)
Gajendra Singh. 12 June, 2006. Mayur Vihar, Delhi
A MEETING WITH CHE GUEVARA
by K Gajendra Singh
http://www. uruknet. de/?p=m44819&hd=&size=1&l=e
Che Guevara;"an inspiration for every human being who loves
freedom" –Nelson Mandela.
Che Guevara is "not only an intellectual but also the most complete human
being of our age"—Jean-Paul Sartre.
"The first thing to note is that in my son's veins flowed the blood of the
Irish rebels, the Spanish conquistadores and the Argentinean patriots. Evidently
Che inherited some of the features of our restless ancestors. There was
something in his nature which drew him to distant wanderings, dangerous
adventures and new ideas. " — Ernesto Guevara Lynch, Che's Father
1965 was a very eventful year in Algeria. Jammu and Kashmir leader Sheikh
Abdullah, who had been released from prison in India, under the pretext of
seeing Algerian Revolutionary leader and President Ben Bella turned up in
Algiers and met with Chinese Prime Minister Chou en Lai, also visiting Algeria.
Soon after, President Ben Bella himself, residing at the People’s Palace, just
across my flat on Rue Franklin Roosevelt, was overthrown in a peaceful coup
d'etat by Houari Boumeddienne, the military chief of the Algerian Liberation
Army. Twice, preparatory meetings for the Second Afro-Asian Summit failed to
agree on an agenda or the date or even the venue.
But it is the 80th anniversary of Che Guevara's birth on 14 June and the
upcoming 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution which Che helped plan and
execute with Fidel Castro, which brought back memories of the visit to Algeria
of that legendary revolutionary icon of 1960s and beyond.
Having won its independence from France three years earlier after a bloody 8
year long guerrilla war, in which a million Algerians out of eleven million
population were sacrificed, Algeria was then at the forefront of struggle
against colonialism and imperialism. Its capital Algiers was a thriving hub for
freedom movements and revolutionary groups from all over Africa, Asia and
elsewhere. Every week there were seminars, meetings and summits for Arab,
Afro-Asian and Third World solidarity and struggle. It was for one such seminar
in February 1965 that Che Guevara himself, then Minister of Industry in the
Cuban government turned up. He was indisputably the dazzling star of the show.
After the meeting people queued up to shake his hand and so did I, then posted
as a young diplomat at Algiers. I said hello and perhaps added how are you. It
was like getting an autograph of a celebrity.
With only a few years into the diplomatic service after an engineering degree
from Banaras I was still reading up on history and international relations and
was not fully cognizant of the Che Guevara phenomenon and his revolutionary
past. But the man had a charismatic presence in green olive fatigues and black
beret at a rakish angle. The very best of the Hollywood and Bollywood stars all
rolled into one; say our Ajit, Raj Kumar, Dharmendra, Errol Flynn et al. Later
when I recounted my meeting and shaking hands with Che, many students, leftists
and ladies would shake my hand to partake some of that revolutionary 'barkat'
which might still be lingering in my fingers.
Later I learnt more about Che (so nicknamed because of his constant use of Che -
dear), his full name being Ernesto Guevara de la Serna. Born in 1928 in a well
educated middle class Argentine family, he was the eldest of five siblings. He
played excellent chess as a child and was an aggressive rugby player. During
adolescence and later he remained passionate about poetry, especially that of
Neruda, Keats, Machado, Lorca, Mistral, Vallejo and Whitman, He could also
recite Kipling and Hernandez from memory. A home library of more than 3, 000
books, allowed him to be an enthusiastic and eclectic reader of philosophers and
poets, even writings of Jawahar Lal Nehru (with whom Che had lunch during the
visit to New Delhi ), apart from Marxist and existentialist writers.
He had a brilliant medical academic career and was an exceptional athlete in
spite of asthma. But his motorcycle trips across Latin America, where he
encountered American imperialism at first hand changed his vision of the world.
A bloody revolution was necessary to throw out capitalism and imperialism.
"After graduation, due to special circumstances and perhaps also to my
character, I began to travel throughout America, and I became acquainted with
all of it. Except for Haiti and Santo Domingo, I have visited, to some extent,
all the other Latin American countries. Because of the circumstances in which I
traveled, first as a student and later as a doctor, I came into close contact
with poverty, hunger and disease; with the inability to treat a child because of
lack of money; with the stupefaction provoked by the continual hunger and
punishment, to the point that a father can accept the loss of a son as an
unimportant accident, as occurs often in the downtrodden classes of our American
homeland. And I began to realize at that time that there were things that were
almost as important to me as becoming famous for making a significant
contribution to medical science: I wanted to help those people. " --- Che
Guevara in 1960.
After finishing his medical studies, he reached Guatemala in December 1953,
where President Jacob Arbenz Guzman heading a democratically elected government,
through land reforms and other measures, was attempting to improve the condition
of the peasants. Che wanted to settle down in Guatemala, but for the overthrow
of the Arbenz government by Washington which confirmed Guevara's view that USA
as an imperialist power would oppose and attempt to destroy any regime that
sought to redress the socio-economic inequality endemic to Latin America and
other developing countries. This strengthened his conviction that Marxism
achieved through armed struggle and defended by an armed populace was the only
way to rectify such a condition.
Che then shifted to Mexico city in September 1954, and renewed his friendship
with the Cuban exiles he had known in Guatemala. In June 1955, he met with Raul
Castro and later his older brother, Fidel Castro. the revolutionary leader who
was planning to overthrow the dictatorship of US backed Fulgencio Batista in
what became hallowed as the Cuban Revolution. Guevara recognized at once that
Castro was the cause for which he had been searching for. He joined Castro and
was promoted as Commander in Castro's 26 July Movement, playing a pivotal role
in the successful guerrilla campaign to overthrow the Batista. After Castro's
army rolled victoriously into Havana the revolutionary government in February,
1969 proclaimed Guevara "a Cuban citizen by birth" in recognition of his role in
After the revolution Che served in many prominent governmental positions,
including as president of the national bank, minister of industry, and "supreme
prosecutor" over the revolutionary tribunals and executions of suspected war
criminals from the previous regime. He also went traversing around the globe to
meet with an array of world leaders to explain and promote the Cuban socialism.
Che was a prolific writer and diarist. One of his most prominent published works
includes a manual on the theory and practice of guerrilla warfare.
Time Magazine, which described Che Guevara as one of the hundred most
influential persons of the 20th century wrote that ; "Che convinced Castro with
competence, diplomacy and patience. When grenades were needed, Che set up a
factory to make them. When bread was wanted, Che set up ovens to bake it. When
new recruits needed to learn tactics and discipline, Che taught them. When a
school was needed to teach peasants to read and write, Che organized it. "
The Cuban revolution, still survives in spite of American endeavours to
undermine it and many attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro himself. Cuba remains
a beacon and has inspired revolutionaries and leftist regimes around the world
especially in Latin America. More so after the collapse of the Soviet Union and
ongoing transformation of China into a bourgeoisie state. Hugo Chavez of
Venezuela is a most striking example. Many other independent leaders are being
elected in Latin America, who are following the pro-people policies of Chavez
and trying to extricate their countries from the grip of US and other
Che had come to Algeria after visiting many important Afro-Asian nations like
China, India, Yugoslavia, Egypt. This visit turned out to be his last public
appearance on the international stage. In a speech at the economic seminar on
the importance of Afro-Asian solidarity, he specified the moral duty of the
socialist countries and accused them of tacit complicity with the exploiting
Western countries. He proceeded to outline a number of measures which he said
the communist-bloc countries must implement in order to accomplish the defeat of
Che appeared closer to Mao's ideology. It was an implicit criticism of the
Soviet Union, Cuba's main support and bulwark against implacable US hostility,
which continues to this day. Ideological differences with Castro on USSR 's
policies brought some coolness in relations between Castro and Guevara. After
Algiers, Che did return to Cuba but left soon after and dropped out of public
life and then vanished altogether.
There were many media reports of his appearance with USA's CIA very much on his
trail and keenly interested in his activities. It appears that he first helped
Patrice Lumumba's cause in Congo, but did not achieve much success. In late 1966
he went over to Bolivia to set up guerrilla training groups to help dissidents
to the regime. US was keeping a watch on his movements but Che was unaware that
Washington had sent CIA and other operatives, including one Felix Rodriguez into
Bolivia to aid the government forces which had been trained, advised, and
supplied by US Army Special Forces trained in jungle warfare.
In October, 1967, Che's group was attacked by the Bolivian army. Guevara, who
was wounded in the attack, was captured, but he died defiantly. A panicky
Bolivian regime, afraid of reaction around the world if he were tried and US
demands, got him executed. Moments before his execution Che was asked if he was
thinking of his own immortality. "No, " he replied, "I'm thinking about the
immortality of the revolution. " A jittery and shaking Bolivian soldier chosen
to kill him, had trouble pulling the trigger. Che asked him to steady himself
and take a clean aim. He was only 40 years old. Few revolutionaries like Mao and
Fidel live to grow old. And Mao's China is far from a revolutionary state now.
In July, 1997, Che Guevara's remains though not exhumed were definitely
identified by two experts who were "100 percent sure", were discovered in
Vallegrande in Bolivia. A 19 July ceremony in Havana, attended by Fidel Castro
and other Cuban officials, marked the return of Che's remains to Cuba and in an
17 October, 1997 ceremony attended by Castro and thousands of Cubans, Che
Guevara's were reburied in Santa Clara, Cuba
Che's unflinching will, self sacrifice and idealism have given him a saint-like
halo and reverence among his followers around the world. His theories and
treatises on guerrilla warfare still remain a beacon for the young and the
revolutionary as they were for the 1968 students uprising in Paris and
elsewhere, for example, among the leftist Marxist students of Turkey in early
1970s, who also studied the Naxabari movement and lapped up theories of Charu
Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal from Indian Bengal. But there was also Geetanjali and
Geeta along with Marxist literature found with leftist students in Ankara. Soon
after 9/11, many Muslim radicals in the Arab world wrongly tried to compare
Osama ben Laden with Che.
Che's memories now live on in photos, music, theater pieces, movies, poems,
novels, sculptures and scholarly texts. To coincide with his 80th birthday
celebrations, a collection of vintage Che Guevara prints are on display in
Austria, including the iconic 1960 Alberto Korda portrait of him in a beret.
Exhibitions of his photographs including of his visit to India in 1960s is being
held in New Delhi. A new statue has been unveiled in his native Argentina. The
larger-than-life "Monument to Che" statue weighs three tons and towers 13 feet
high, topped off with the revolutionary's famed starred beret. Guevara had left
the city in 1953 as a young doctor embarking on a trip throughout Latin America,
a journey depicted in the 2004 movie "Motorcycle Diaries. "
But the universal consumer society today exploits even Che's fame and name to
sell designer clothes, beer, films and books. The "Brand Equity" writers in USA
who claimed "End of History" aka triumphalism of US capitalism have said much
and written numerous volumes about the failure of socialism in former Soviet
Union and Eastern Europe but little about the failure of capitalism for two
thirds of humanity, the four billion people that live below the poverty line.
Nikolai Ceausescu remains the most important leader in Romania's history
according to a recent poll. Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whom US President
George Bush once asked to implement democracy as in Iraq (some sick joke)
consistently gets over 70% in popularity poll, while Bush's popularity is at an
all time low of any US president, touching a low 30%.
The result of globalization, policies of IMF and WTO with consequent increased
income inequalities in USA and elsewhere and sliding of the capitalist system
towards failure, will only add further misery to poverty ridden masses around
the world. The crash of expectations built on rabid and unabashed consumerism
and financial speculations based on fiat currency created liquidity leading to
high oil prices and scarce and expensive food is already leading to strikes over
energy price increase and riots over food shortages around the world. .
The era immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall would be remembered for
the political, social and economic decline in human evolution and condition; in
regard to basic rights, equality, fraternity and well being. USA and UK are
becoming police states with constant surveillance and spying on its own citizens
and abridgment of civil liberties. Corporate media and government controlled BBC
churn out spins, half truths and blatant lies. And how to describe US spending
on defence (against whom) which is as much as the rest of the world put
together. Not to protect USA but to maintain unbridled hegemony as shown in its
naked and illegal aggression on Iraq for its oil, followed by rampant and
continued looting and destruction of that country. Over a million Iraqis have
been killed, millions of children rendered orphans and 4 million Iraqis made
refugees in a population of 25 million.
US leaders had the obscenity to describe the March 2003
invasion as 'Operation Iraqi freedom" as part of a so called plan to 'spread
democracy' in the Middle East. Now, daily, Iran is being threatened with
bombing, even with nuclear weapons by Israel and USA. Where will this unbridled
greed, capitalism and globalization would lead to?
But there is some hope. The fierce Iraqi resistance against US military machine
now bogged down in a quagmire. Unmasking of aura of invincibility of Israel by
Lebanese Hezbollah fighters. Defiance by Iran against US and 3 European powers.
The fast changing scene in Latin America favouring pro-people governments and
decline of US hegemony. Overthrow of the monarchy in Nepal and Maoist movements
in many Indian states ruled by corrupt political elites.
K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey
and Azerbaijan from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as
ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the
Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. Copy right with the author. E-mail: