Nicknamed “Fuser” for his aggressive style of play by his rugby friends as an adolescent, Ernesto “Che” Guevara is a legend of the Cuban Revolution. (Fuser was a nickname born of a contraction of El Furibundo (raging) and his mother’s surname, de la Serna)
He is the classic contradiction that could be called common in warriors. Loving, devoted, loyal, intelligent and equally brutal, quick tempered and unpredictable. Che’s striking good looks, bravery and sweet smile won him the adoration of the Cuban people. Today, he is still celebrated on all kinds of Cuban memorabilia. Tourists stroll the streets of Cuba adorned with t-shirts, hats and bags decorated with Che’s face. There is something about Che that was so attractive, sexy and intriguing that still today, years after his death, his charisma enchants tourists to buy anything and everything with his face on it. In fact, Che became so popular amongst the Cubans during Castro’s revolution that Castro himself became jealous of his popularity.
Fidel Castro described Guevara as intelligent, daring, and an exemplary leader who “had great moral authority over his troops.”[*] He also commented that Che took too many risks, and had a “tendency toward foolhardiness.” It was well known that Guevara’s behavior in combat earned him respect from both his own troops as well as the enemy. Che loved to teach and educate his troops, and had an affinity for the poor. He could be soft spoken, caring and gentle, and loved entertaining his men during breaks between engagements with readings from the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Miguel de Cervantes, and Spanish lyric poets. He was inspired by José Martí‘s principle of “literacy without borders”, and insisted that that the rebel fighters taught the uneducated campesinos with whom they lived and fought to read and write. It was Guevara who first termed the “battle against ignorance.”
It is easy to sing a man’s praises who was so brave and instrumental in Castro’s Revolution, even to idealize him with his handsome face and tender smile, but Che was also a harsh disciplinarian who sometimes shot and tortured defectors. Guevara was known to send squads to track those seeking to go AWOL. Che was loved, there is no doubt about it. He was also feared by many of the same people who loved him, for his brutality and ruthlessness. Guevara was responsible for the summary executions of a number of men accused of being informers, deserters or spies in the guerilla campaigns. He was assigned roles in the new leadership that put him in the position of deciding who died and who lived, and he was noted to have been equally as ruthless as he could be compassionate, sometimes pardoning people, sometimes killing them, seemingly depending on his mood more than other factors from some accounts. Over time with extreme conditions, difficult assignments and lots of bloodshed, Che was reported to have lost site of empathy and compassion when anything challenged his ideals and mission. Some reported him to have a casual detachment towards the violence and killings he became a part of, and even in his own writings, he claims that it didn’t bother him to kill those who stood in the way of his ideals to liberate humanity.
His story is fascinating, inspirational and filled with a mix of joy, courage and horror. Che played a monumental role in Castro’s revolution, and died after being captured in Bolivia on another campaign to instill revolution.
True to his beliefs, his life was a sacrifice to his ideals and he paid for it all with his soul and life. He was a noble man in origin and he represents rebellion against capitalism to millions around the world. Even when he turned dark with the stains of the bloodshed he became a part of, still and always, Che will be a hero of the Cuban people who adore him. When you travel to Cuba, before you buy that Che T-shirt, perhaps you’ll want to learn more about him and consider if he is one you want to revere or simply respect silently as yet another casualty of idealism and war. The following documentary is a full story and a very objective and well done movie that shares with you the man behind the myth.