The tagline to Diarios de motorcicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries) is a message across the decades perhaps more critically received today than ever.
The Motorcycle Diaries is an amazing film, set in the early 1950's, and chronicling a cross-continental journey by a pair of young Argentine men, one of whom was Ernesto Guevara.
Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado are young medical students and decide to take a road trip from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Caracas, Venezuela. Ernesto is shown to be a very empathetic man who cares deeply for others. He had decided to become a doctor in order to find a cure for leprosy. At the beginning of the journey, Ernesto and Alberto are full of moxy and gusto, looking forward to their last great adventure before buckling down for their final medical exams.
Alberto has an old motorcycle the two friends cavalierly decide to use as their means of transportation for the over 13,000 kilometer trip. In a bit of foreshadowing, the bike spits black smoke and spins out of control as they leave their families behind in urban Buenos Aires. The two friends are undaunted, however, having both led rather charmed lives up to that point, with loving, stable families and bright futures, they felt invincible and very high spirited.
Their journey quickly teaches them that charm is not enough. As they ride but more often push their motorcycle across the Andes, they learn firsthand how fragile their social status is. They go from being treated as up-and-coming young doctors to being treated as vagabonds. Being put into this position allows them to see, for the first time, the world from the perspective of all the other people who have been displaced and forced to live at the edge of society.
Along this journey is when Che meets a displaced Indio couple who are forced to be migratory workers because their land was taken from them, due to their being Communists. As they travel together Che sees how these people and others like them are degraded and treated worse than animals.
This is probably the most political moment of the entire movie. In fact, if a viewer watching this film didn't know who Che Guevara was, she would not likely suspect this to be a film about a political figure.
The central character, Che, does not seem revolutionary at all. He is simply a compassionate young man who has dedicated his life to helping others in an open, loving and honest way (he is going to medical school to treat and find a cure for leprosy). I find a personal analogy in this story insofar as compassion for my fellow man and woman is what has led me to become a Socialist. The fundamental principles of the socialist international are all about compassion and striving to create a world in which all people have a place and can live as free members of a society of equals, without hatred or guns or borders.
Many critics of Che say he is a blood soaked murder. But in fact we continue to see that the true killers are the servants of Capital, who find, or more often create, their enemies as efficiently as they produce commodities. First the aristocracy, then the Church, then the Communists and now the Muslims (not to leave out the myriad other minority groups oppressed and murdered by Capital).
My point is simply that Che like many martyred comrades before him, had to fight for his ideals. He was constantly under attack by reactionaries. This is not an excuse for the battles he fought, it is a justification. He fought and killed for what he believed in, a right held sacred by all people in struggle, but one that Power reserves for itself. I reject the notion that Capital has a monopoly over this right and reject the definition of Che as a murderer. Miguel Ramirez, Cuban Ambassador to New Zealand made some clarifying comments about Che earlier this year, as follows:
[Che] was always very strict with discipline but he never tortured anyone, nor has he killed anyone except in military combat, and he was always a very humane leader. He just followed the ideals of the Cuban Revolution that was so humane with the Batista soldiers that they easily surrendered because they were sure what to expect, and that was an accelerating factor in the victory.In a world where Right-wing fundamentalists quote Stalin's most murderous phrases when discussing their political opponents, we on the radical Left do not have to apologize for the legitimate actions of our heroes.
At the beginning of the revolution he was in charge of the prisons where the murderers and torturers of the Batista dictatorship were detained until they were tried by the Cuban people through legitimate trials and found guilty and executed. They were not dissenters, as Calder* would want us believe, but murderers.
Full New Zealand Herald article here...
*: The article was written in response to another article by Peter Calder
Also of interest is how Ernesto got the monkier Che. The word "Che" is used in several South American countries, noteably Argentina, in the same way as "dude" or "mate" is used in the US and England. It is probably derived from use in native South American languages where the word variably means "man" or "people." Also, in many South American countries, Che is used as slang for someone from Argentina. Finally, throughout Latin America Che is known as "le Che", basically, "the Dude."