Carrying on her father's fight for socialism

 

Dr Aleida Guevara March shows in the course of a visit to Ireland that the name of her famous father still has appeal. She talks to David Shanks

Ohe of Dr Aleida Guevara March's few memories of her iconoclastic father "Che", was of being by his side when he gave her her first book. Now aged 41, she recalled in this "flash of memory" that it was not a children's book but it had photos and images. She was three or four then and cannot recall the title or its subject matter.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara's only surviving daughter chose, like her Argentinian father, to be a doctor and is now a consultant on paediatric allergology at a children's hospital in Havana. She cannot deny that her father's choice of medicine had some influence on her.

Aleida's final decision to study medicine was because it was "very humanistic" allowing her to be close to people. "I was always loved by the people because of the mere fact of being Che's daughter and there is no way to pay back love but with love," she said this week in Dublin. In Ireland, a turn-out of more than 2,000 people at different venues showed that the Guevara name, and Cuban socialism, still have appeal.

Her father left for the Congo campaign when she was 4½ and in 1967, he was killed in Bolivia. She was seven. While she does not accept the idea of Che as "an icon", as a seven-year-old member of the Pioneer youth movement, "I realised he was an example of what a man should be." The movement's slogan was: "Pioneers for Communism. We will be like Che."

Her mother, Aleida, loved Che and still shared his ideology, she said. Aleida snr was still very much "head of the family", though her daughter said she did not know her age.

Che's father was Ernesto Guevara Lynch but the younger Aleida does not know much about the Irish connection except that Anna Lynch, born in the US, was Che's grandmother. Her father was the Argentine consul in the US. Che's father, who died in Cuba in 1987, had two marriages and eight children. He was "very Irish".

In Ireland as guest of the Cuba Support Group, Dr Guevara was accompanied by Sergio Corrieri Hernandez, a senior figure in the Cuban political system.

He is president of Cuba's international friendship and solidarity body, ICAP, a member of the central committee of the Cuban Communist Party and of Cuba's Council of State.

Mr Hernandez (63) said the September 11th attacks had a very negative effect on Cuba's economy, which had been enjoying a "modest but stable recovery" since "touching bottom in 1995".

But did they make a difference to Havana's fraught relationship with Washington?

"Well, it is not Cuba that is being threatened now, it is the whole world," he said, adding that "Fidel" had coincidentally made a speech on September 11th condemning terrorism.

After the attacks, Cuba offered doctors and blood and opened its air space. Mr Hernandez, who met Department of Foreign Affairs officials during his visit to Ireland, reiterated Cuba's view that "the only way to fight terrorism is through the UN with the support and participation of all the countries of the world co-ordinated."

Why did Cuba not protest at the use of the disputed Guantanamo naval base in Cuba for al-Qaeda prisoners? "The fact is it is their base. They own it - against our will . . . a protest from Cuba would not have made any difference," he said.

He denied vehemently that there had been a quid pro quo: food aid from the US after Hurricane Michel for Cuban acquiescence over the prisoners. There was "no relationship". In any case it wasn't aid; Cuba had bought the food - $35 million in the first shipment and another $35 million under negotiation.

The causes of the attacks could be attributed to "the despair and poverty of people" but that did not justify them. Aleida Guevara intervened to say: "The US government is not consistent in its policy on terrorism." It had not adduced a single proof to justify a war against "a whole nation", Afghanistan.

She went on to make a very Cuban comparison: "The US condemns terrorism but it allows its nation to be used as a base for acts of terrorism against Cuba."

In turn, the Cuban visitors went on to condemn el bloqueo (the blockade) by the US against their communist country. It was one of the most criminal things in the 20th century, they said, and it was the longest embargo "in history".

On globalisation, Mr Hernandez used "Fidel's own words" that it was "an unavoidable development". The pity was not globalisation itself but that it used the neo-liberal model.

"It is looting, exploitation and inequality that is being globalised. We would have no problem if solidarity was being globalised."

Che's daughter agreed with "Uncle Fidel", as he is known to her, saying that the people of Latin-America were 20 years suffering under globalisation and the numbers under the poverty line had multiplied four times.