And no, it isn’t Bill Ayers this time, but someone much like him.
Yes, our old buddy Ernesto “Che” Guevara has been resurrected (again) in the newest adaptation of his life in Steven Soderbergh’s “Che.” And yes, I use the term “adaptation” quite purposely.
Apparently Benicio del Toro, who stars as Che, isn’t getting quite the reception here he got in Cuba (where the film received a standing ovation). He recently walked out of an interview after being asked tough questions. It appears his portrayal of Che is coming under attack. It seems some believe, rightfully so in my estimation, that he’s glorifying a murderer.
So Mr. del Toro, how did you decide to portray Che the way you did?
“Not knowing much about the history of Cuba, the history of Che, not being taught anything about it,” Mr. del Toro says of his motivation for helping to bring the picture to fruition. “The image that I have or what has been told to me about this character is that he’s kind of a cowboy – a bloodthirsty cowboy.”
In doing research for the picture, Mr. del Toro was drawn to the writings of Guevara. “First, you start with what he wrote. What Che Guevara wrote. And he was a great writer, he wrote for years, so you start with that,” he said.
And starting with that, Mr. del Toro concluded:
“We have to omit a lot of stuff about his life,” he said, “but we’re not omitting the fact that he’s for capital punishment, which is the essence of that.”
Ah moral relevance, where is thy sting?
When confronted with facts like these:
In January 1957, as his diary from the Sierra Maestra indicates, Guevara shot Eutimio Guerra because he suspected him of passing on information: “I ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain…. His belongings were now mine.” Later he shot Aristidio, a peasant who expressed the desire to leave whenever the rebels moved on. While he wondered whether this particular victim “was really guilty enough to deserve death,” he had no qualms about ordering the death of Echevarría, a brother of one of his comrades, because of unspecified crimes: “He had to pay the price.” At other times he would simulate executions without carrying them out, as a method of psychological torture.
Luis Guardia and Pedro Corzo, two researchers in Florida who are working on a documentary about Guevara, have obtained the testimony of Jaime Costa Vázquez, a former commander in the revolutionary army known as “El Catalán,” who maintains that many of the executions attributed to Ramiro Valdés, a future interior minister of Cuba, were Guevara’s direct responsibility, because Valdés was under his orders in the mountains. “If in doubt, kill him” were Che’s instructions. On the eve of victory, according to Costa, Che ordered the execution of a couple dozen people in Santa Clara, in central Cuba, where his column had gone as part of a final assault on the island. Some of them were shot in a hotel, as Marcelo Fernándes-Zayas, another former revolutionary who later became a journalist, has written–adding that among those executed, known as casquitos, were peasants who had joined the army simply to escape unemployment.
Mr. del Toro responded by saying:
“They didn’t do it blindly; they had trials,” Mr. del Toro said. “They found them guilty, and they executed them – that’s capital punishment.”
Oh trials. Of course:
Che was in charge of the Comisión Depuradora. The process followed the law of the Sierra: there was a military court and Che’s guidelines to us were that we should act with conviction, meaning that they were all murderers and the revolutionary way to proceed was to be implacable. My direct superior was Miguel Duque Estrada. My duty was to legalize the files before they were sent on to the Ministry. Executions took place from Monday to Friday, in the middle of the night, just after the sentence was given and automatically confirmed by the appellate body. On the most gruesome night I remember, seven men were executed.
And when concentration camps were brought up, it appeared that Mr. del Torro might have skipped that part of his research, or perhaps concluded that such institutions were really benign locations where happy peasants were gathered together to learn the joys of revolutionary communism:
Mr. del Toro grew agitated when these prisons were described as “concentration camps,” a phrase that Mr. Valladares freely employs.
Reality is a bear, isn’t it and poor Mr. del Toro, who claims to have painstakingly researched his character just wasn’t prepared to discuss this aspect of the real Che:
Guevara was instrumental in the creation of Cuba’s forced labor camps, which were used to imprison and extract work from those who had committed no crimes but were thought to be insufficiently revolutionary.
The policy of extrajudicial imprisonment that Guevara favored would later expand to include political activists of all stripes, musicians, artists, homosexuals and others deemed to be dangerous to the maintenance of the Stalinist regime.
“I’m a survivor of those concentration camps. And I stand firm by my belief that they were concentration camps,” he said. “The forced labor camps where I also worked, where dozens and dozens of political prisoners were murdered, where thousands were tortured, that’s something that even the most ardent believers in Castro´s tyranny can’t deny.”
By the way, the man quoted above as a survivor of those camps is Armando Valladares, the Cuban dissident imprisoned by the Castro regime in 1960.
Named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, Mr. Valladares is the author of “Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag” and a board member of the Human Rights Foundation.
And Mr. del Toro’s response?
“We can’t cover it all,” Mr. del Toro said. “You can make your own movie. You know? You can make your own movie. And let’s see. Do the research.”
Heh … you know, you just can’t make this sort of stuff up.
[Crossposted at QandO]