Cuban guerrilla fighter, helped Fidel Castro and his brother Raul found modern Cuba.
How did a young Argentinian doctor become the image of world revolution — and the face that launched a million T-shirts? I must say I approached a book about Che Guevara by his brother Juan Martin, assisted by French journalist Armelle Vincent, with some scepticism, fearing hagiography. It is a eulogy but also an interesting family history and an account of the brother’s own political activities in Argentina in the stormy period of the 1970s.
Che Guevara’s career is, of course, the stuff of legend. Born in 1928 into an Argentinian family of chiefly Spanish descent and, as his brother makes clear, part of the haute bourgeoisie, Ernesto — not yet Che — studied medicine at the University of Buenos Aires.
He seems to have had no need to earn an income and in 1951 took a nine-month motorcycle journey through South America that resulted in the later famous book and movie, The Motorcycle Diaries. Soon afterwards Che settled in Guatemala, but his support of the existing regime meant he had to flee the country for Mexico when that government was overthrown by a coup in May 1954.
In 1955 he met Fidel Castro in Mexico City and joined Castro’s long-range plan to destroy the Batista government of Cuba. When they landed in Cuba in November 1956 almost all the members of their small force were killed but the others, including Castro and Che, retreated into the mountains.
Che no doubt agreed with Mao Zedong that a revolution is not a dinner party. After personally executing an informer in the group, he made the note, clinical as befits a medical practitioner, that he had given him “a shot with a .32 pistol in the right side of the brain, with exit orifice in the right temporal lobe”.
Batista fled Havana on New Year’s Day 1959 and Che became a key figure in the new regime. Initially he was in charge of the main prison and responsible for the execution of former officials convicted by a revolutionary tribunal. At various times he held the positions of finance minister, president of the national bank, minister of industries and ambassador at large.
The regime comprehensively defeated the American-supported invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 but felt betrayed by the Soviet Union when it withdrew its nuclear-armed ballistic missiles from Cuba in October 1962 after a tense confrontation with the US. Like Castro, Che was not averse to world nuclear war and argued that resistance to imperialist aggression was worth the possibility of “millions of atomic war victims”.
In 1965 Che disappeared from Cuba and spent a brief and unsuccessful period conducting guerilla activities in the Congo. In late 1966 he joined a guerilla campaign against the Bolivian regime but was captured and killed by government troops in October 1967.
Che’s brother quotes from a farewell letter that Che wrote earlier to his parents: “This letter might be the last. I do not seek death but it is part of the logical calculus of probabilities. If so, may this letter be a last embrace.”
Che, My Brother is in part a family history, going back several generations, and contains many photos from Che’s childhood and adolescence. His brother was 15 years younger and obviously idolised Che, although he is on stronger ground when dealing with the facts than in setting up his sibling as a political philosopher: “The Marxist beacon of the 21st century will be Che. He identified and signalled the events that have since occurred, the current unresolved calamities. He is a thinker of the future despite the fact that he died in 1967.” Not so, as it turns out.
This book is naturally hostile to the US but it must be acknowledged that the policies of successive US administrations towards the Castro regime were hardly models of common sense, and is not surprising Castro resented a series of attempts to have him assassinated during the John F. Kennedy period.
One interesting part of the book concerns the author’s imprisonment for eight years in Argentina from the mid-1970s.
After the military coup in March 1976 there was in effect a civil war, albeit a rather one-sided one, with somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people killed by members of the armed forces. Martin and his wife, who was also in prison for the same period, were lucky to survive; her parents did not.
MICHAEL SEXTON The Australian12:00AM May 6, 2017 Che Guevara remembered in brother’s memoir;
Have you taken a DNA test? If so, login to add it. If not, see our friends at Ancestry DNA.