Dr. Aleida Guevara was only seven years old when her father, famous Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, was executed. She laments that she was unable to spend much time with him, and has few stories about her childhood with him. But she does recall that, even while he was away, she and her siblings would receive anecdotal stories and drawings about animals that would bite off his leg if, for example, her little brother, Camilo, continued to swear in school.
Like many of us, Aleida Guevara grew up knowing her father through his writings and teachings. At the age of 51, she travels the globe making speeches that talk about her father’s ideals and mentions that his writing is full of “political insights and emotional maturity”.
She is a pediatrician in her own right just like her father, writer and author of Chavez, Venezuela and the New Latin America, and when she’s not participating in conferences around the world she is helping run two homes for disabled children in Cuba. She, alongside other Cuban scholars will be participating in this year’s 5th Annual International Che Guevara Conference from November 2–5.
We asked her to give us some insights on Cuban multiculturalism, the importance of her father’s ideals in our modern world and some of the issues that the conference aims to address.
At the time of his capture, he had been attempting to organize a Marxist takeover of Bolivia with his joint Cuban-Bolivian group, the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, but nearby Bolivian special forces were alerted of Guevara’s location, and he was taken prisoner on October 8, 1967. Very much outmatched in terms of numbers, Guevara wounded in the gunfight that preceded his capture; he surrendered and told his captors: “I am worth more to you alive than dead”.
He was taken prisoner and held in a small town called La Higuera until, on October 9, the soldiers received orders from the Bolivian President to carry out Guevara’s execution (a decision American officials later called “stupid”). His last words are disputed - he either declared “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, you are only going to kill a man”, or he said, according to General Ovando of the Bolivian Armed Forces: “I am Che Guevara and I have failed”. Guevara was shot multiple times, and his body was put on display briefly so that soldiers and locals could look upon the remains of the almost mythic revolutionary (some locals reportedly cut off locks of his hair for good luck). His hands were amputated and preserved in formaldehyde, and his hand-less body was moved to a different location. In Cuba, Fidel Castro declared three days of mourning and personally delivered a eulogy in Havana, in which he declared Guevara to be “the model of a man… who does not belong to our times but to the future”.
Woman posing and explaining the symbolism behind a statue of Che, found outside local communist party headquarters in Santa Clara, Cuba. A slot found in the back of the statue to accommodate the expanding and shrinking of the statue medium resembles that of a piggy bank. It adds a double entendre that regime has capitalized from the chic imagery of Che Guevara.
On January 8, 1959 Fidel Castro gave his first public speech in Havana after the triumph of the Revolution; he spoke from a small stage set up on the parade field at the Columbia military facilities. In the middle of his speech, several white doves started fluttering around him. One perched on his shoulder and sat there for several minutes, in a scene that enthralled the people in the audience and the hundreds of thousands who were watching the spectacle on TV. — Ignacio Ramonet in Fidel Castro: My Life
Cubans are a people with powerful religious and spiritistic superstitions, going back to the Afro-Cuban traditions of slavery, and that night in January confirmed their faith: The dove in Cuban myths represents life, and now Fidel had their protection. — Tad Szulc in Fidel: A Critical Portrait
Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín, far right, presenting Fidel Castro with his portrait in 1961. A life-long friend of Castro, Guayasamín completed a number of canvases featuring the likeness of the Cuban leader.