“Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.” – Ernesto “Che” Guevara
A visit to Havana means seeing evidence of Che’s existence pretty much everywhere. However, if you want more substance than just the usual victorious revolution slogans, you should visit the little museum that’s located near Morro Castle dedicated to Che and his revolutionary life. Getting there can be a bit of an adventure – first you have to find a taxi that will actually take you. Some won’t as the trip involves going through a tunnel and apparently, there are rules about what kind of taxi can go through it. I ended up on the best taxi ever – a motorcycle with a side car!
Visiting the little Che museum is a way to escape the tourist hordes that descend on Havana either on day trips from resorts or on land excursions from the cruise ships. It is off the tourist trail so you may get to wander the area being the only tourist like we were when I went with a friend of mine. A visit to the museum won’t take you that long – 20 minutes tops. It essentially covers Che’s life from the 26th of July Movement and beyond. What’s interesting about it is that there are a number items that belonged to Che (so they say) and photos of the man himself. You can see his camera, his coat, his gas mask, his plate and mug, etc. The most entertaining thing for me was seeing just how deified the man is these days. Che is practically Jesus, as much as one can be Jesus in a communist society.
From the roof of the museum, you can get quite a fantastic view of Havana. And continuing the deification theme, just around the corner from the museum is the giant white statue of Jesus. While it is probably (I hope) a coincidence that the statue is by the Che museum, it certainly does imply certain things!
What I find interesting about the whole Che mythology is how many people fall into two extreme camps – they either think he’s a savior or they think he’s a terrorist. People love him or they hate him. Taking into consideration the nature of mankind and historical memory, I think he was probably in the middle somewhere. But that’s my own opinion and it is up to everyone to make up their own mind! Below are some pictures of what to expect at the museum – apologies for some blurry photos!
26 Facts about Che
- Ernesto “Che” Guevara was born in Argentina to a half Irish family.
- In school, he was nicknamed Chancho (pig) because of his lack of hygiene habits.
- He traveled throughout South America during his medical school years and many point to this time period as when became radicalized by the poverty, hunger, and disease he saw.
- He received his medical degree in 1953.
- He dabbled in many things in his life: doctor, author, guerrilla, diplomat, Marxist revolutionary, military theorist.
- Che loved chess and poetry.
- He was fluent in French.
- He had five children from two marriages.
- Che was asthmatic.
- Che got his nickname because he used the word a lot. “Che” is apparently an Argentine casual speech filler, very much like the Canadian “eh”.
- In 1955, Che met Raúl and Fidel Castro in Mexico City and joined their 26th of July Movement to help overthrow U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
- A declassified CIA ‘biographical and personality report’ said that “Che is fairly intellectual for a Latino.”
- Che believed in a borderless, united Hispanic America.
- He believed in “el Hombre Nuevo” (the New Man): “selfless and cooperative, obedient and hardworking, gender-blind, incorruptible, non-materialistic, and anti-imperialist.”
- He believed atomic war, if necessary to secure liberation, was okay.
- Che believed the Northern Hemisphere, led by the USA and the Soviet Union, was the exploiter of the Southern Hemisphere.
- He wanted to see the complete elimination of money, interest, the market economy, commodity production, and mercantile relationships. To me, this is why it is highly ironic that his image is so popular on tourist crap people buy – Che must be seriously pissed off, wherever he is…
- As a guerrilla leader, he was known as a harsh disciplinarian. Che apparently would generally shoot those accused of being spies, deserters, or informers.
- During the revolutionary war, Che was busy besides leading the guerrilla forces. He also set up grenade factories, built ovens to make food, taught tactics to recruits, developed health clinics, started a newspaper, and organized schools to spread literacy.
- After the Cuban Revolution, Che was very instrumental in Castro’s government. He organized firing squads for those convicted at revolutionary tribunals, he developed agrarian land reform and instituted a successful nationwide literacy campaign (raised the national literacy rate to 96%), he acted as the national bank president, and he travelled the world as a diplomat on behalf of Cuban socialism.
- In 1965, Che tried to encourage revolution abroad, first in Congo-Kinshasa and then in Bolivia.
- He had an allergy to mosquito bites which resulted in walnut-sized cysts on his body which would have seriously sucked when he was in hiding in the Bolivian jungle. Eventually he was captured by a mix of Bolivian and CIA forces. Che was executed in 1967.
- His hands were amputated upon his execution for fingerprint verification – they were sent back to Argentina to do that.
- His body was found in July 1997 and he was buried with military honours in Santa Clara, Cuba.
- Guevara’s motto: “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until Victory, Forever).
- Che’s image is on the $3 Cuban peso and school kids begin each morning by pledging “We will be like Che.”