CHE’S MOTORCYCLE FOLLIES
by Agustín Blázquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton
Jaime Costas recently said Che "didn’t know how to ride a motorcycle!" And Jaime would know because he participated in Castro’s 1953 ill-fated assault on the Moncada Barracks and was aboard the Granma expedition with Che Guevara, Castro and his brother Raul to infiltrate into Cuba to fight Batista.
Costas, now in his seventies, made that comment on September 29, 2004, in New York City during the presentation of his book of his memoirs answering a question from the audience about the movie "The Motorcycle Diaries" (Robert Redford, its executive producer, is an unapologetic Castro collaborator). Costas knew Castro, Raul and Che personally for many years.
He added that he "unequivocally" knows that detail because on various occasions he went motorcycling around Havana with Castro and his comrades and "Che never went along with them even when asked to accompany them. All he did was sheepishly wave ‘good-bye’, because he didn’t know how to ride a motorcycle!"
A person present at this presentation commented, "Ah, the mythmaking of the left that ceaselessly lionizes Che! Pretty soon, they'll have him coming down on a cloud!"
Another person acquainted with the history of the Cuban revolution said to me, "It is good to know that but please inform the Harley-Davidson Corporation before they put him [Che] in a commercial.
"I might add that Dr. Guevara, like all his fellow comic-book characters, is essentially mythical, or at least fictional.
"Although he was there in person, Guevara was so disconnected from the actual facts of the so-called Cuban Revolution as to be, in a sense, quite pathetic. He interpreted a Cuban soap opera as if it had been the Iliad. He projected Mao's epic Long March onto the battle for the provincial capital of Santa Clara, Cuba, in effect a cakewalk made possible by the money with which Julio Lobo and other fellow Cuban magnates bought out Batista's miserable army.
"So, when he tried to replicate that in Bolivia and the Bolivian army fought back - incidentally, in far tougher terrain than Cuba's - Guevara's operation rapidly unraveled and he ended up like a side of beef on the counter of a Bolivian kitchen, a fate none other of his fellow extreme leftie loonies has deemed fit to emulate.
"The problem with Guevara is that he is not a positive, life-enhancing myth, but a completely counterproductive one which feeds the worst and most destructive impulses in the Latin American mind - what I call ‘political sophomorism’ combined with an adolescent's grasp of the world and a nihilistic yearning for martyrdom (and even some good old fashioned Argentine necrophilia). Remember that Guevara's canonization began with that infamous shot of him dead, looking like Christ by Mantegna.
"Guevara was catastrophic for Cuba, and would have been catastrophic for Latin America but for his early transit.
"Guevara is actually laughable, and the sadness of it all is that no one has done to him what Michael Moore did to Bush, that is, a good spoof.
"We treat him like a legend, a Promethean, almost tragic figure, instead of what he really was: a no-good physician, a Mickey Mouse with a beret, an Argentine spoiled youngster that almost by accident walked into - we can no longer say he motorcycled his way into - a political swindle aspiring to be called a revolution.
"Treat him for what he was--he even looked a bit like-- the Cuban Revolution's own Cantinflas."
This comparison with Cantinflas, the late famous Mexican comic movie star, evoked my memories of when I met Che Guevara in 1963 when I was in the cast of a movie being filmed in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra Mountains.
One afternoon Che came to pay us a visit at the barracks we were staying. I was within a foot from him. And I was utterly disappointed by that unremarkable little man (who was very photogenic) and most women in Cuba at that time were fawning over him as some sort of movie star. Actually, his raggedy mustache was similar to the one sported by Cantinflas. I found him so uninteresting that in the diary I was keeping of those says I dedicated only one sentence to him.
The Washington Times in the Business section on September 25, 2004, pg. C10, published an article about Che paraphernalia being offered for sale. In addition of being offensive to Cuban Americans who knew who Che really was, the article promoted and generated interest in those merchandises among the less informed, insensitive and ignorant Americans. Meanwhile, Hollywood is putting together yet another movie about Che and Benicio del Toro, may be playing him.
I made the comment to an American friend as to how the left in America keeps offending Cuban Americans with impunity. I said, "Can you imagine what would happen if T-shirts, articles, books and movies idolizing Hitler were produced and promoted in the U.S.?"
He replied, "Well of course the neo-nazis have a lot of Hitler stuff you can buy on eBay."
I said, "The difference between the neo-nazis on eBay and the cult of the criminal Che, is that the later is in the main stream, in the open, from schools to universities and promoted by the media" - even by The Washington Times!
While, admittedly not as romantic as the myth, the reality about Che is that he was unwanted by Castro and did not have any place to go. Castro sacrificed the inept Che for his own personal and political benefit. He eliminated Che from Cuba, enabling the creation of a false admirable myth that he must continuously, actively support in order to maintain and as a result make a lot of good propaganda and money for his regime. Castro turned a liability into an asset.
Che has a long and documented criminal history. It was Che, in the Sierra Maestra Mountains of Cuba, years before Castro’s 1959 triumph, who revealed his fascination with cruelty by asking to be the executioner who kept the troops in line.
At the onset of the revolution on January 1, 1959, Castro appointed Che in charge of La Cabaña fortress in Havana. There, execution squads flourished under Che’s command, assassinating, in mass, those perceived as enemies of the revolution. Che ordered that women and children visiting his prisoners be paraded in front of the execution wall, gruesomely stained with blood and brain parts. All of this was well publicized in Cuba in order to spread fear throughout the population. The surviving ex-prisoners of the infamous La Cabaña fortress remember Che as a "mass murderer."
The myths that surround Che are much more interesting than the man; problem is, they simply do not resemble reality.
In February 1959, Che began training foreign guerrillas and terrorists in Cuba. His first guerrilla attack (planned with the brothers Fidel and Raul Castro) was to "liberate" Panama in April 1959. But by May 1, he suffered a humiliating defeat by Panama’s National Guard. On June 14, 1959, Fidel Castro sent Che’s guerrillas to the neighboring island of the Dominican Republic to fight against dictator Trujillo. But Che’s guerrillas again failed miserably.
After this second fiasco in June 1959, Castro sent Che to tour third world countries. After his return, Castro put him in charge of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), Industries Division and later, as President of the National Bank (where he signed the currency "Che"). He proved himself inept for those assignments as well and Castro reassigned him again.
On October 29, 1959, Castro sent Che to communist countries to establish commercial ties, negotiating the initially secret sale of sugar to the Soviet Union. He made trade agreements with Czechoslovakia, China and North Korea, announcing on September 10, 1960, that Cuba "had received arms from Czechoslovakia."
In 1965, Castro sent Che as far away as possible. This time to "liberate" Africa. After Che’s failure in Africa, he was summoned to Havana for two days of secret conversations with Castro. He was then sent back to Africa with 200 Cuban soldiers to help a Congolese leftist group. After he failed there, in late 1965, he secretly returned to Cuba, leaving his soldiers behind. Che was kept hidden all through 1966.
Obviously, Castro needed to carefully get rid of him, but all of his attempts to get Che involved in international wars of "liberation" and get him killed and converted into a martyr had failed.
As secretly as he returned to Cuba, Che left again in September 1966, sent by Castro on another international mission. He went to Prague and then on to Paraguay, where disguised as a businessman, he traveled by plane to Bolivia.
Along with 17 Cubans (clandestinely smuggled into Bolivia), he began organizing a guerrilla movement. But he was able to recruit only 15 Bolivians. By the end of March 1967, Castro stopped supplying Che’s guerrillas. The last contact with Havana was in July 1967.
Denounced by the peasants and Indians in the region (who never supported his intrusion), Che and his guerrillas were finally apprehended by the Bolivian army on October 7, 1967. As we all know Che was executed and Castro at last had the martyr he was longing for. His amputated hand is proudly displayed in the Museum of the Revolution in Havana.
Out of Castro’s way, the cruel and inept Che could be heralded now as a big hero. Finally, Castro was free to create an international legendary myth. Che’s image flooded Cuba and posters began to appear in the domain of the academic left: colleges and universities of the U.S. and the free world in order to attract the romantics and uninformed. As with much communist misinformation, it worked! We still have fools displaying posters and wearing Che’s junk offending his victims.
For heaven sake, there is more hatred from the left in America directed against Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush than against a real bad guy and a mass murderer: Che Guevara.
I have not seen in our learning centers an urge for romantic and misleading presentations about criminals like Charles Manson, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, etc. Why Che?
© 2004 ABIP
Agustin Blazquez, Producer/director of the documentaries COVERING CUBA, CUBA: The Pearl of the Antilles, COVERING CUBA 2: The Next Generation & COVERING CUBA 3: Elian presented at the 2003 Miami Latin Film Festival and the 2004 American Film Renaissance Film Festival in Dallas, Texas and the upcoming COVERING CUBA 4: The Rats Below
Author with Carlos Wotzkow of the book COVERING AND DISCOVERING and translator with Jaums Sutton of the book by Luis Grave de Peralta Morell THE MAFIA OF HAVANA: The Cuban Cosa Nostra