Friday, April 17, 2009

Che Guevara

I woke up at 5:30 AM, raced to the airport with Eric driving and Maya sleeping in the back seat, made it to Minneapolis and Edmonton without incident, rented a cherry red PT Cruiser and drove up to my parents' house to surprise my mother. No one was home. I drove to Starbucks to read and write and returned to the house just after my mother and father had parked the car in the garage. I jumped out of my car and advanced toward my mother and she looked at me without having a clue who I was. She asked me several times who and what I was doing in their driveway. She did not hear me when I repeated that I was Ruth, her daughter. She looked scared and horrified and prepared for battle. My father said nothing, but nodded in recognition. My mother finally smiled and acknowledged me and there were hugs all around. What a strange and terrifying experience.

I had told my father I was coming and wanted my arrival to be a surprise and he was not sure when I would show up. Clearly he kept the secret.

My parents go out nightly and had planned to go to a movie, so I agreed to join them for the second half of the Che Guevara movie by Steven Soderbergh. They had seen the first half last week. My father tried to fill me in on the details. He was impressed with the story of Ernesto Guevara, who grew up privileged in Argentina, became a medical doctor, and when he traveled throughout South America by motorcycle, h was transformed by the experience. His concern for the poor and the disadvantaged led him to Cuba and the revolution. He was a social democrat and a Marxist and Castro welcomed all who joined him in overthrowing the dictator Batista. My father expressed much admiration for Che. The first movie ( which I plan to see later) focused on Che's early experiences and how they shaped his political views. The second movie started with Che's disappearance from Cuba and his subsequent efforts to start a revolution in Bolivia. Knowing that he did not last a year in Bolivia, I was worried the whole two hours, waiting for him to be killed. Che's diaries were used to script the story, and the meandering style reflected that. The movie was not interested in showing the audience anything about what Che was thinking or feeling, which was frustrating for me. Clearly, he encountered many obstacles in his efforts to create a revolution, and the atmosphere became progressively more tragic and hopeless and then he was brutally murdered and mutilated and disappeared.

I remember Benny telling us that Che and his revolutionaries were not particularly good to the peasants. My impression from Benny was that the guerillas gave the peasants a choice to join them or die. The film did not portray it that way at all. Che was always talking to the locals and trying to convince them that the cause was right. His men paid for supplies and provided medical care when needed. Perhaps that is what Che wrote in his diary. Certainly I have always heard of Che Guevara as an idealized hero, bringing the revolution to Cuba and then Bolivia to free the oppressed, to overthrow the dictators. Of course as usual the Americans look bad, as they always do in South/Central American stories, with the CIA helping the Bolivian dictator organize a campaign to capture and murder Che. My experiences in South America always include some encounter when I am scolded about American foreign policy, or lectured about the history of exploitation and abuse by the Americans.

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