The revolution lives on in the child of Che Guevara
The blockade of Cuba by the US strikes at the heart of Aleida Guevara, whose country’s potential has been sytmied, and whose father ‘had a great capacity to love’
IT IS HARD to know whether Aleida Guevara, the daughter of one of the 20th century’s most iconic revolutionaries, is absolutely right or utterly deluded when she talks about Cuba in the 21st century, perhaps because she seems to be a little of both.
When discussing the ongoing blockade of her country by the US, by any measure a cruel, crude and anachronistic policy that has been condemned by virtually every other country, she is lucid and impassioned. On issues of civil liberties and freedom of expression in Cuba she is less convincing, and her thoughts are quickly clouded by rhetoric.
Few countries exemplify the benefits of social solidarity better than Cuba. The state puts people’s health, education and general wellbeing to the fore, at the expense of individualism. It is not perfect, but most Cubans can read and write, have access to good healthcare and have somewhere to live. Everyone might be hungry sometimes, but no one starves.
The child of Che is in Ireland this week to launch a book about her father, written by her mother. She is also attending a festival in Kilkee, Co Clare, in honour of her father, who once spent a night in the town after bad weather caused his plane, which was en route to Cuba from Moscow, to divert to Shannon.
Aleida was six years old when her father died at the hands of a Bolivian government death squad in 1967. She still mourns his passing. “I still miss him, and sometimes I dream of him, and I would love my daughters to know him.” She pauses for a moment.
“But if he had lived, if he had not been prepared to sacrifice his life for the revolution, then he would not have been my father.”
She shares his unswerving commitment to Marxist ideals and says if she were forced to chose between her two daughters and the revolution there would be no contest. “I will always want to defend the revolution.”
How strange it must be to for her to see her father’s face popping up in the unlikeliest of places as she travels the world defending that revolution. “In a capitalist world anything can become a business, even my father’s image.” When the controversy surrounding a proposed monument to Che Guevara in Galway arose, he was described as a murderous psychopath and compared to Adolf Hitler. When she hears this, her eyebrows arch. “I think these people need to search for more information and not repeat the propaganda of some small minority in Miami.” Rather than being a murderous psychopath, she insists, her father was a man with “a great capacity to love”.
The blockade is always to the fore. “Without the blockade we would be much happier.” She cites the example of powdered milk. “We need this for our children, but no neighbour will sell it to us, so we get it from New Zealand. The price rises because it is so far away. And we need boats, but the owner of the boat company charges us three times what [he charges] others because if he goes to Cuba then he can’t call into a US port for six months after that.
“Imagine if we did not have that problem. Imagine if we could buy the milk from the US, 90 miles away. Imagine how much money we could save and what we could do with that money.” She believes the embargo remains because her country “demonstrated that we could live in another manner, but to live in that manner people need to own what they produce, and for the US this was our great sin, our great crime”.
But what about restrictions on freedom of expression and movement in Cuba, and the absence of a free press or free elections? This question is, she says, “ridiculous”. Why? “Every time I come to Europe it is ridiculous for me. I have done thousands of interviews, but only a few journalists say what I actually say. Some have said to me that if they did not change my words they would not be able to publish the interviews”, because the newspaper owners would not allow her dissenting voice to be heard.
In Cuba every newspaper is owned by the state. She accepts this but claims they “respond to the needs of the people. We don’t have gossip in our papers and our people don’t care who slept with who or who shot who. People want to read only about social and economic issues. The state represents us because it is chosen by the people. It is not imposed on anyone.”
She returns to the blockade. “If America does not want to do business with us then that is its right, but what right does it have to stop other countries doing business with us? It is not only us who suffers. Cuba has created many vaccines, for cancer, meningitis and hepatitis, but we can not share them with the rest of the world because of the blockade.”