[Marxism] "El Dia de San Guevara" ("Saint Guevara's Day.")

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Oct 8 18:51:38 MDT 2007

(Here's another example of why that peculiarly sanctimonious brand
of atheism being bandied about by the Christopher Hitchens-types of
our day is so foolish. People are going to try to put their hopes
and dreams for a better life into their own intellectual and moral
frameworks. Most people in the world believe in some form of higher
power, religion, God, or what have you. People who are working for
a better world need to know that there's nothing wrong with this.
What matters isn't what anyone thinks can happen outside of this
veil of tears, but what they think about and what they do about
what is going on in THIS world at THIS time. Atheism should be a 
philosophical stance in the end, not an alternative religion as
some people would have us believe.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007: The Irish Times

An Irishman's Diary
Frank McNally

It's a grim fate for a revolutionary who wanted to change the world. But
40 years to the day after he was executed, Che Guevara has achieved
sainthood in the Bolivian province where he met his end. Not just
secular sainthood, either, of the kind conferred on him elsewhere by a
million teeshirts and posters. This is the fully religious kind.

The Observer recently reported a church service in the town of
Villagrande, during which the priest read prayers submitted by his
parishioners to "Saint Ernesto". There was a note of reluctance in his
delivery, but when interviewed about the cult the priest was resigned.

"For them he is just like any other saint," Father Agustin said. "One
can do nothing." The same article reported how the hospital laundry
where Guevara's body was displayed after his execution has become a
place of pilgrimage; and that pictures of him hang beside those of Jesus
and the Pope. It noted that a nurse who cleaned the guerrilla's body at
the time now keeps an "altar" to him in her home. "He is very
miraculous," she said.

NEVER MIND the arguments about his political legacy and the violence he
espoused. Never mind even the romantic movie of a couple of years back:
The Motorcycle Diaries. The saintly Che will be unrecognisable to anyone
who has read the irreverent book that inspired that film: his own
account of a formative trip around South America in 1952.

One reviewer said it revealed him to be "a Latin American James Dean or
Jack Kerouac". But if he was a rebel without a cause then - he was a
23-year-old medical student - he was not without a sense of humour: much
of it aimed at himself. The only miracle for which he could claim
responsibility was the survival, despite a series of calamities, of the
battered 500cc motorbike that carried him and a friend the length of the

En route, it's true, there are glimpses of a troubled social conscience.
In one moving passage, the author attempts to treat an old woman
suffering from respiratory illness and heart problems. A month before
she had still been earning a living as a waitress: suddenly she was a
burden on a family already crushed by poverty and painfully conscious of

The young doctor saw in her the plight of the poor in general: "In those
dying eyes there is a submissive appeal for forgiveness and also, often,
a desperate plea for consolation which is lost to the void, just as
their [ bodies] will soon be lost in the magnitude of mystery
surrounding us." But the tone is rarely so serious. The book is more the
story of two young men in constant search of women, drink, adventure and
a bed for the night: all the while battling such problems as (in
Guevara's case) asthma and "my inveterate bad breath".

THOSE WHO offered hospitality were not always rewarded. In a
particularly memorable episode, Guevara describes suffering "a bad case
of the runs" during the night and being too embarrassed to use the
chamber pot in his bedroom. Instead he clambered onto the window ledge
and, as he put it poetically, "gave up all my pain to the night and the
blackness beyond".

This was not a good decision. "The next morning, I looked out to see the
effect and saw that two metres below lay a big sheet of tin where [ the
host family had been] sun-drying their peaches; the added spectacle was
impressive. We beat it from there fast." Guevara (whose Irish ancestry
was through his paternal grandmother, rather than his mother, as I
suggested here last week) does not emerge from the book as a hero to
anyone, least of all himself.

But the most impressive chapters describe a sojourn spent working with
leprosy patients in Peru. The young doctors left such an impression
there that, on their departure, the impoverished patients organised a
small collection.

Guevara explained: "Their appreciation sprang from the fact that we
never wore overalls or gloves, that we shook their hands as we would
shake anybody's . . . that we played football with them. It may seem
like pointless bravado, but the psychological lift it gives to these
poor people - treating them as normal human beings instead of animals,
as they are used to - is incalculable and the risk to us extremely
unlikely." During the last moments of his life - on October 9th, 1967 -
Guevara was himself a pitiable figure as he awaited execution, wounded
and bound "like a piece of trash" on the floor of a schoolhouse in La
Higeura, beside the bodies of his friends.

Even the Cuban-born CIA man who masterminded his capture found the scene
"gruesome" and admitted mixed emotions: "Here was the man who had
assassinated many of my countrymen. And nevertheless when I saw him, the
way he looked . . . I felt really sorry for him."

A little over 15 years earlier, Guevara described his 24th birthday -
celebrated near a leper colony in Lima - in idyllic terms. He went
fishing in the morning, played football in the afternoon, and had a
"delightful" dinner at the local doctor's house where, pleasantly drunk,
he proposed a toast to a United Latin America. The chapter of the book
is ironically titled: "El Dia de San Guevara" ("Saint Guevara's Day.")

C 2007 The Irish Times

Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
writer - photographer - activist

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