The "CHE": Cubano, Hermano, Ejemplo"*
• (Cuban, Brother, Example)
The most Argentinean of Cubans
A veritable icon of the Cuban population, one comes across the spangled face of Che Guevara at every turn, displayed in every home. But are you aware that Ernesto Guevara Lynch de La Serna was born in Argentina (oh yes!), the 14th of June 1928, in Rosario, to a middle-class family? Little Ernesto was a fragile child, but with unequaled will. Asthmatic in his youth, he affronts his disease head-on, excelling in many sports, such as tennis, soccer, rugby and Basque pelote. But, as he crosses into adolescence, a new passion takes the forefront - literature. The works of Marx, Jung and Lenin have taken their place at his bedside, as well as French poetry, which he devours. He is so inspired by his readings of the French poet Voltaire, that he writes his first philosophical essay.
"French Doctor," but also "Traveler"…
Very soon, he becomes concerned by the fates of those around him. He embraces the study of medicine, and at the dawn of his 20's, he spends his vacation time dedicated to taking care of those afflicted by leprosy. But the young Ernesto is also a traveler… Accompanied by a friend, he explores a large part of Latin America on his motorcycle (nicknamed "the vigorous one"). Rich with images and meetings made during his stopovers in Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, he returns to Argentina and completes his medical studies. Diploma in hand, he has one sole idea - to get back on the road and meet up with his destiny, which he does during a pass through Guatemala, finding the two loves of his life – his wife, and the revolution (or should it be the other way 'round?). Quickly identified as an activist, he leaves for Mexico, where he would make a decisive encounter with Fidel Castro. The story of the "revolucion" is under way. Castro integrates Che into his troops as a doctor, and involves him in the planning of the liberation of Cuba, which he says has become "the brothel of America."
Havana – a little Las Vegas…
The gangrene of luxury, gambling, prostitution, and the American mafia, asphyxiate the Cubans little by little. During this time, Cuba lives to the "sound" of Benny More, undoubtedly the most popular of all Cuban singers. This musical genre descends from the Cuban mountains of the Sierra Maestra, and its African roots color its rhythms. Ancestor of the "salsa", the popularity of the "sound" - linked to the emergence of the radio – will, however, be confronted not only by the forceful return of the "bolero," but also by a fashionable new style – the Jazz Band. Incarnation of the American dream, it is considered good taste for the "in crowd" (social club) to invite a Jazz Band to their parties. While the roulettes turn in the casinos, and the sequins sparkle in the palaces, the weight of misery and unemployment – the "grief of the greenback," as would say Zoé Valdés - overpowers the population.
At this time, the revolution is neither socialist, nor communist. Its sole ambition is to overthrow the dictature of Batista, political puppet at the boot of the American giant. In the shadows, the guerilleros organize. El Commandante Guevara becomes the "Che." The nickname is given by his companions, as he had the habit of punctuating his phrases with "Che," a familiar Argentinean interjection. The legend of the "Che" will be inscribed in Santa Clara (Cuba), in 1958, following a resounding victory, which opened the way to a revolution toward the capital. Fidel Castro entered Havana on the 8th of January 1959, carrying a white dove on his shoulder. With Cuba liberated, he is vested with power, and decrees strict reforms.
Courage, let us flee!
Radio, television and music are nationalized, causing a massive exodus of musicians. The biggest stars pack their bags…direction – Puerto Rico, Miami, or New York. The better part of these artists (including La Lupe, famous singer of "Fever.") Celia Cruse, (the "queen of salsa") prefer to get away to a foreign country, and observe from afar the turns taken by the events. "Black lists" circulate forbidding the diffusion of their music. Perez Prado, the father of Mambo (whose "Mambo Number 5" had become famous) would take exile permanently, and become "persona non grata" on the island. One musical wave drives out another. In spite of the frustrations of the new regime, new rhythms take hold – the cha cha cha (created in 1947) takes flight, and passes beyond the borders. The more Cuba closes upon itself, the more the stewing pot of rhythms boils. The revolution would equally see the emergence of the "filin" (from the English "feeling"), fruit of the influences of North American jazz.
The "Che," ambassador of the revolution becomes a “citizen of Cuban birth.”
At the same time, politically, the "Che" becomes the representative of the revolution around the world. Named President of the Bank and Minister of Industry, he nonetheless loses faith little by little. The sleeping soldier inside him awakens, and the revolutionary flame is reborn. April 1st, 1965, he pens the famous "Carta a Fidel," and leaves Cuba for Bolivia. Carlos Puebla, influenced by the current of the Nueva Trova (New song for the committed) composes "Hasta Siempre," a vibrant tribute. This ultimate struggle in which the Che engages will, however, put a premature end to his destiny.
Death of the "Che" – Birth of a legend.
Captured by the Bolivian army, the Che is executed on the 9th of October 1967, by agents of the CIA. His tragic end leaves place for the birth of a legend. Icon of all revolutions, he commands respect by his moral integrity and charisma.
In 1997, 30 years after his death, his remains are found in Bolivia, and repatriated to Cuba amid a climate of popular enthusiasm. His body now rests in peace at the Memorial Mausoleum of Santa Clara.
The popular passion for the "Che" has remained intact. His motto "Hasta la victoria siempre (all the away to victory without weakness) and his face, with eyes fixed towards the Eternal Revolution, will continue to inspire the most beautiful conviction – to die for one's ideals.