Chris Lingle Visits Che's Legacy...
Yesterday, I returned from spending a long weekend in Havana…this was a place I had always wanted to see…the interest was sparked by the fact that in my youth in the 1950s, before the revolution, many of my friends and their families told tales of visits to this magic city….
It is a pity that it has been made so hard for Americans to visit there and that our foreign policy keeps us from being able to engage our neighbors just a few miles south of Miami….
One big surprise was the mild weather …I had expected it to be heavy and hot but it was quite comfortable, both day and night….
And what a beautiful city Havana must have been in its heyday…!
But what a tragedy that it has been allowed to fall so far…I cannot imagine another city with so much interesting architecture in this hemisphere…now so much of it has been ruined from neglect and abuse over the past 45 years….
One of the best things was the music…at a recital in a colonial-era church, four lovely female students began with Bach and a few other classical pieces before turning their oboe, bassoon, flute and clarinet to some clever arrangements of modern music that ended with Mambo #5…! And jazz was being played even more ubiquitously than in New Orleans with many cafés and restaurants offering live entertainment….
One thing that struck me were the idols and images of Che Guevara that were everywhere…indeed, many tourists were sporting expensive t-shirts they bought at the Museum of the Cuban Revolution along with postcards that carried the visages of other brave heroes of the proletariat….
And so I thought I might share some insights from article I read recently that compared Che Guevara with General Augusto Pinochet, former dictator of Chile….
While my generation remembers romanticized posters of a bearded Che in a rakish beret, younger people probably only know Che from the recent film, Motorcycle Diaries…therein, he is depicted as a handsome dreamer with his own sense of social justice…it is not evident in that flick that it morphed into a deadly dedication to the use of violence….
After his forays in Guatemala and with the funds funneled in by the Soviets, a civil war raged here for nearly 30 years…many of my colleagues at the university had family members that were kidnapped and ransomed off by the guerillas…but some of them were also tortured and killed by them….
And so it is that Che, no less than Pinochet, was a murderer and supported a dictatorship…idolatry has swamped any introspection into Che’s executions of counter-revolutionaries or his other murderous activities….
Meanwhile, Pinochet is openly (and rightly) reviled for his misdeeds. But this breathtaking sense of double standards remains one of the great lies and gross injustices of Latin America’s recent history…if one should be condemned, the other deserves equal treatment…but this is not new with much more scorn being heaped onto Hitler than onto Stalin or Mao, even though the latter two oversaw many more deaths with their ill-fated policies…while in Rosario, Argentina I saw that Che’s birthplace is being preserved…it is unimaginable that a similar shrine would be raised to Hitler or Pinochet….
In my humble view, all despots should be condemned regardless of their political hue…but one considers the outcome of the despotism, it is chimerical that Pinochet comes off much less the villain…?
For his part, Che helped install a dictatorship that done little to mitigate mass poverty or oppression as evidenced by the recent arrest of a band of outspoken journalists….oh, and when Che’s buddy Fidel took over the reins of power, Cuba’s per capita income being about the same as Italy’s…!
For his part, Pinochet ran a dictatorship that brought wealth and stability to Chile. Chile’s GDP per capita rose from a bit over $1,300 in 1975 to just over $10,200 in 2003 so that the average income of Chileans rose by a multiple of eight in 28 years. Chile has a stable democratic system (with a socialist president) and is the most prosperous country in South America. By the way, Chile's economic growth has put it well beyond Cuba’s ranking the UNDP Human Development Index….
Following Che’s connivance with empowering El Jefe, Castro has overseen a massive destruction of physical wealth (as seen in the deterioration of the once-splendid architectural gems of Havana)….
Despite his much-acclaimed improvement in health and education for the masses, most of this progress has been squandered…although they live in the relatively prosperous capital, many people in Havana appeared not to be well fed and were foraging in the garbage of the plush hotels inhabited by rich tourists….
Since there is little economic growth, there are few jobs…a young woman offered to me as an “escort” by the eager concierge at my hotel studied to be an accountant but found no other source of income….
Indeed, there were hookers everywhere…almost every place I went, doormen were pimping and offering women…(In a tragic bit of irony and hypocrisy, a display in the Museum of the Cuban Revolution justified revolting against the old regime and tossing out the Gringo was that some women were then so poor that were driven to sell their bodies in prostitution…!!!)
I am instinctively opposed to restrictions on commerce whether as red-baiting embargos or trade union induced protectionism…but the embargo explains very little of the cause of Cuba’s suffering…even if it gives the old windbag a stick to beat the Yanqui with….
It turns out that Castro received more aid from the Soviets than the US gave to all of Western Europe under the Marshall Plan and 3 times more than we gave to all of Latin America under the Alliance for Progress…he simply squandered it all…Cubans lost considerable ground since the mid-1950s when they were enjoying a standard of living equivalent to Italians….
In all events, I oppose the embargo and think it is a stupid and counter-productive policy…indeed all our policies towards Castro have been wrong since the Kennedy years when they caved in to pressures from Mafiosi that painted Fidel as a commie for taking over their casinos….
In the end, it was a pleasant experience…I was living in much the same comfort as I do when I am anywhere else in the world…but the lively and lovely people I left behind remain impoverished under the heel of an egomaniac that has taken away more than he has given or promised…and so, the revolution has continued the bifurcation of the community into sharp contrasts of haves and have-nots….
“La plus ca change; la plus c’est meme chose…”
Dr. Christopher LINGLE
ESEADE – Universidad Francisco Marroquín
Guatemala City, GUATEMALA