In an interview, Aleida Guevara remembered Che Guevara and his book Bolivian Diary and time spent with Fidel Castro.
6 min read
Aleida Guevara was named after her mother Aleida March de la Torres, by her father and Argentinian Communist leader Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. “He named me after my mother because of his love for her,” said Aleida Guevara, as she remembered her father and the time she spent with him.
Aleida was just four years of age when Che Guevara, the leader of Communist guerilla warfare, left for Congo. In 1967, when Che was assassinated in Bolivia, Aleida was nearly seven years of age. Now a physician and human rights advocate in Cuba, Aleida is on a visit to India; she has already visited Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal and is now touring Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Che Guevara was born in Argentina in 1928 and fought guerilla war in Cuba. In Cuba under Premier Fidel Castro, Che served as the chief of the Industrial Department of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform and as president of the National Bank of Cuba.
On a whirlwind tour in Hyderabad, organised by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Communist Party of India, Aleida spoke to The Quint, during an interview given to a select group of journalists:
“My father was a revolutionary. He had only one principle: If you are a leader, you need to set an example for others. He used to work 24X7 each day…Through his voluntary work, he generated social consciousness among people. Through his work, he communicated to others that only if each person works hard will everyone be able to earn a living.”
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Riding Che’s Back as a Child, Reading His Work as a Teen
Recollecting flashing moments from his brief life with her, Aleida said, Che spent time with their family as he worked at the sugarcane plantations. She remembered him waking her up at 5 am each morning to cut sugarcane. “He would spend time with me as we cut sugarcane…I remember sitting around chewing sugarcane trunks and listening to him as he spoke to others,” she said
The image imprinted on her psyche is that of Che walking into their home, sweaty and tired after a day’s work.
“He would then discard his clothes, except for his knickers. I remember riding on his back as he walked on all fours to pretend to be a horse for me.”
For her, Che is now a graphic image because Aleida's mother had kept Che’s memory alive. “She was an exceptional mother. She loved us immensely. She taught us how to love my father even when his was physically absent,” Aleida said.
Aleida March was a teacher who fought as a guerrilla combatant who fought along with Che. She later married him and they had four children. Aleida Guevara is their eldest daughter.
Aleida remembered her mother handing her a handwritten notebook when she turned 16 years of age.
“I kept reading the book and liked it. I kept reading the prose and could identify with it and feel the writing. But my mother had not told me whose writing it was. As I finished reading, I realised it was my Papa’s writing.”
Slowly, her mother kept introducing Aleida to other works of Che.
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‘For Me, Bolivian Diary Was a Difficult Book To Read’
When The Quint asked her which of Che’s books did she like the most, she answered, “His travel notes (Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey that was posthumously published) is my favourite.” In one of her own books, she has referred to Che's Man and Socialism in Cuba, she said.
Aleida is now working on a book on Che Guevara’s thoughts on medicine by referring to his archived work.
“To work on this book, I have had to read all his books. I wanted to cull excerpts of his thoughts on medicine from all his work. In this quest, the last book I read was The Bolivian Diary.”
Che was a trained physician before he abandoned his profession to become a guerrilla commander.
But for Aleida, reading The Bolivian Diary, which details Che’s work and life during his final years in Latin America, was a trying experience. “It was very difficult to read The Bolivian Diary because the last page of the book was written on the final day of his life – the day he was assassinated," she said.
But Aleida called the book “a fighter’s diary.” The diary of a man who never gave up hope despite the varied trials and tribulations that he faced. “But it was difficult for me to read those pages.”
Despite the personal loss she suffered as a child when Che died, Aleida did have a father figure in her life – Fidel Castro, Cuban Communist leader, former Commander of Cuban armed forces and former Premier and President of Cuba.
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Aleida had spent more time with Fidel Castro than with her father. Castro was a father figure for her.
At the time of her marriage, in 1987, a young Aleida waited patiently for Castro to arrive at her home.
“It was 10.30 at night and he still had not arrived. I refused to get married till he came over,” Aleida said. Castro reached at 11.30 pm and the marriage took place soon after.
When Aleida was pregnant with her eldest daughter, Castro suggested that she name her ‘Victoria.’
“My husband and I had already decided on another name – Estephania – when Fidel was not in Cuba and we stuck to it. Fidel was not pleased with this.” When he went to visit the newborn and Aleida at the hospital, he expressed his displeasure.
“He whispered to my daughter, ‘Don’t grow up to be stubborn like your mother',” Aleida laughed. Estephania has accompanied her mother to India.
True to the legacies of her father and Fidel Castro she lashed out at “American imperialism.” “The moment Cuba stops being a Socialist country, the US will destroy it,” she said, as she condemned US sanctions on Cuba. “For the US, Cuba was like a Casino where money was laundered. Cuba was won back…Now Cuba is ours; it is our society. We have dedicated our lives to our country.”
Having lived an illustrious life, Aleida is in India to popularise Cuba’s health measures.
She said the country has invested heavily on healthcare and has reduced infant and maternal mortality rate. Cuban doctors work everywhere in South America.
But now, Che’s iconic photograph is one of the most commercialised faces on the planet – his face remain printed on T-shirts and other merchandise bulk-produced by multi-national companies. Has Aleida accepted this sea change?
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‘Che Was a Communist Through and Through’
For Aleida, Che was a Communist who influenced the entire world. “There are supporters of Che in Iran and Iraq, but they do not know that Che was a Communist. Why this contradiction, I have always wondered,” she said. As ‘Che’ merchandise floods the world and several political parties claim his legacy, Aleida stressed the fact that Communism cannot be erased from Che’s legacy.
“From Che Guevara, people imbibe that which is useful for them. But the truth cannot be erased. The truth is that Che was a Communist. His ideology was Communism. He lived and died a Communist. This fact cannot be changed.”
Aleida Guevara is expected to tour through Andhra Pradesh this week.
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