The Empty Chair Left by ’Che’ Guevara

An article published by the newspaper ’Juventude Rebelde’ (Rebel Youth) on 9 October 1967 with an article by Reinaldo Escobar: “Here part of the story was forged.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 October 2019 — I have my personal past with Ernesto Guevara. A brief written text for the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, published on 9 October 1987, was included, among others, in the record of accusations that ended with my expulsion from that newspaper and with the express prohibition of my exercising my profession in the official media.

Many times I have been obliged to explain that in order for a Cuban journalist to be separated from their work, it is not necessary to criticize the public system; it is enough that, when clapping, one does not show the necessary enthusiasm.

The reference text appears on page 12 of that day’s paper and is titled Here part of the story was forged. It refers to the inauguration of a museum room which had been the office of the then Minister of Industry. In none of the five paragraphs did this journalist have the insight to place some type of qualifying adjective to highlight the heroism of the character. The closest thing to a compliment was to say: “It does not seem that Che could fit between these walls,” but the “negative” was discovered by the ideological detectives in the last paragraph, which I quote here:

“Each one will receive his own impression upon becoming acquainted with it (the office), but I think that in the end everyone who enters here will be equally overwhelmed and will forever keep in their memory the impressive image of an empty armchair.”

“What is he trying to say with that of an empty armchair? Is it that Che is dead, that his presence can never be replaced by anyone?” My inquisitors must have asked.

Just below my review a colleague was more accommodating and appealing to the use and abuse of the second person, he spoke to the dead: “You will be missing only when the future is out of sight, and that is so absurd that it is not worth questioning.”

Thirty-two years have passed and the Granma of this 8 October speaks of the anniversary of the death of Che Guevara with the same devotion that was offered at that time by my colleague who, by the way, today lives and works as a journalist in Miami.

The official newspaper onTuesday awarded four pearls for the tribute that the event requires. I don’t quote them because unlike those pages of the Juventud Rebelde newspaper, these can be visited online. There you will see two excited chronicles, the often parodied song of Carlos Puebla and a text that Eduardo Galeano published in the mid-80s in his book Memories of Fire.

In spite of the laudatory texts published by the official press this day, the perception of Che Guevara has changed considerably. This has had a significant influence on access to a vast material on social networks where testimonies of his captors in Bolivia and those of his numerous victims appear.

The epithet of The Butcher of the Cabaña referred to the role played by Commander Guevara during the 1959 executions has forced many to reconsider the sanctity of the character. The same goes for the uncovering of all the occasions, while being a guerrilla or minister, he was homophobic, macho, intolerant and, above all, ruthless.

Today, unlike the 60s, violence is very poorly looked on and that is why these words of his message to the Tricontinental Conference are no longer so congenial: “Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. Our soldiers have to be like that; a people without hatred cannot triumph over a brutal enemy.”

But what has convinced me most that the perception has changed was the dialogue of a Cuban student with a young Canadian who was touring the Plaza Ignacio Agramonte (formerly the Plaza Cadenas) of the University of Havana. The visitor wore a newly purchased shirt with the image of Guevara reproduced a thousand times. The Cuban simply said, in his best English, something disconcerting to the young tourist: “Nice your shirt. I have one with Charles Manson.

Never again have I heard anything about that museum located on the sixth floor of the building that today is occupied by the Ministry of Interior. If, as I said then, visiting it will be considered a very special distinction, it seems that there have been few deserving of it. I hope they haven’t closed it because of me.


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