Aleida Guevera, daughter of legendary Argentine revolutionary “Che” Guevara, was just four-and-a-half-years-old when her father left Cuba to support a revolution in the Congo. But she grew up hearing stories about Che from his colleagues and friends. Just like her father, Aleida is also a medical doctor and has worked in countries like Angola, Ecuador and Nicaragua. She is also an author and an ardent advocate of human rights.
In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Aleida shares her memories about her father, and her observations about Latin American politics and leftist movements.
1. All of the seven most populous countries in Latin America have left-of-centre governments now. Some saw this as a fundamental change, likening it to the “pink tide” of the early 2000s, in which Lula and Hugo Chávez were prominent. But many believe that these left-wing triumphs in Latin America may prove short-lived. What is your viewpoint on this?
A/ In order for these new left-leaning governments to govern and, most importantly, to achieve significant changes for their peoples, they have to create a new Constitution together with the people. Most of these magna cartas are made by the traditional parties that have always been very right-wing and conservative, which prevents profound and long-lasting changes both in the economy and in society. Until these changes to the current laws are achieved, it will be very difficult for these governments to move forward. It is urgent to clean up the armies, almost all of them trained in schools in the United States of America and therefore very manageable by the gringos, so that there is always a constant threat of a coup d'état if these governments dare to harm US interests, which on the other hand, becomes essential to be able to create a more just society for all. Let's take a simple example:
In order to produce food, it is necessary to exploit the fertile lands, but most of these lands are in the hands of a few very rich families. Sso it is very necessary to carry out a profound agrarian reform. I think we all agree on this, right? But whose interests do we affect by doing so? That is the problem, that is why it is necessary to change Constitutions where the land is owned by the people and not by private companies, which are often foreign. Well, let's do this and we will begin to own what we produce. Let's nationalize oil, our natural resources and then we will be ensuring a different future for our people.
2. Your father is revered as a revolutionary figure all over the world. Armed struggle and guerrilla warfare had crucial roles in his revolutionary philosophy. However, he also claimed that in a certain context, armed struggle has no place, so peaceful mechanisms such as participation within representative democracy can be employed. Are you a supporter of armed struggles by armies and groups that claim Communist legacy around the world?
A/ I personally reject wars, I have been in the middle of wars on two occasions, one in Nicaragua, another in Angola and I know first-hand what this entails for people. But it all depends on what those people decide. No person, who does not live these realities has the right to judge, or you would be able to tell the Palestinian people not to defend themselves against all the crimes that the Israelis commit against them every day. Would you be able to ask the Saharawi not to fight for their rights? What do we say to each one of the people that are still exploited and discriminated against today? I really don't think we can do anything other than respect and support them to the last consequences. My father said a long time ago that the last word belongs to the people and we hope that this will be that of victory.
3. You are a doctor of medicine. How much influence your father had on you to choose this profession?
A/ From a very young age I have admired my father, he was for me always the best example to follow and at the early age of 4, I decided that I would be a children's doctor. Surely my father's influence was great, but over time the decision was more because of the need to give back to my people a little of all the love they have always given me and I am convinced that I was right. You know that medicine in Cuba is completely free for everyone, without any kind of distinction, which allows me to return a little of all the love received.
4. You were just four-and-a-half years old when your father left Cuba to participate in the revolution in Congo. What was the kind of stories you heard of your father during your childhood and later in adolescence?
A/ I will try to explain something that is very common for us Cubans and Latinos in general. My father was a very complete revolutionary leader and he left many friends in Cuba. Many of his co-workers still love and respect him, so we grew up surrounded by those friends who behaved like family and whom we ended up calling uncles and aunties. Every time we met, they tried to tell us something about my father, so that we could get to know him better through their stories. But the main factor in getting to know him was my mother. In a very subtle way she taught us to love him, to respect him, and admire him and that's how we grew up. There are many stories, one can make a whole book out of them. But as we grew older we read what he had written in his life and that was the best culmination to discover who our father is and try to practice it in the day to day. That is what I advise you, try to read Che for yourself. The Che Guevara Study Center in Havana, Cuba, has dedicated itself to publishing everything or almost everything that he left written from his earliest age. I really recommend it, it is the best way to get to know Che.
5. Being Che’s daughter is a big legacy. Do you think you had to carry a lot of weight of that legacy? Could you please share an anecdote where you received so much love from people because you are Che’s daughter?
A/ Being the daughter of a man like Che Guevara entails a commitment, but above all with my people. My father said that he did not want his children to be special. He wanted his children to be worthy children of the country where they lived and we have all complied in that sense. We have done everything that most of our people have done, but I really recognize that I am a privileged person. From a very young age I have received the love of my people and that is undoubtedly the greatest privilege that can be enjoyed. Of course it also entails a commitment, you have to give back what you receive. I am a pediatric allergist and I have been working at the William Soler hospital for 31 years. In the early days I was on call duty, the emergency, and there I have thousands of anecdotes. For example, one day when I was on call, a boy about 12 years old arrived with bacterial tonsillitis, for which I indicated the use of intramuscular penicillin. Since the child was very afraid of injections, I asked him if he wanted me to give him the first one and we did so. When he was preparing the region for the injection, the mother looked at my face and saw the image of my father on a T-shirt that I was wearing that day. She identified me and almost in a shout asked me if I was the daughter of him. I answered affirmatively and then she wanted to give me a kiss, but had forgotten that her son was among us. So I had to hurry to answer her that I would give her a kiss without a problem, but only after I finished giving her son the medicine. It was very funny and very sweet of her.
6. India is currently ruled by a right-wing government. The ruling party at the centre, BJP, have the money power and cadre strength and support of a Hindu-nationalist organisation named RSS. The country’s opposition parties are yet to achieve unity against BJP. What is one thing the left-leaning or centre-left parties in India can learn from Latin America to fight an ultra-right government in elections?
A/ We all always have a lot to learn, but each country has its culture, its own identity and therefore different ways of seeking solutions. There are no recipes, but yes, there exist inviolable principles and one of those principles is unity, without it there is no strength. Ah! But to achieve that unity, we first have to respect each other and be aware that there is no one better than another, that all human beings have the same rights and the same needs. We have to seek common goals to fight for. What do we want to achieve for the people? What do people need and something very important? Do the people know that we exist?
Those of us who identify ourselves as left-wing thinkers need to join forces. When we achieve that we will begin to walk together for the same ideal. Education, public health, as rights of all human beings, decent work without exploitation, decent housing for all, perhaps could be some of the common goals. Always remember that people are tired of hearing promises, the only thing they still believe without seeing is religion, the rest has to be felt. So if we talk about solidarity, people should feel it when they need it. Those who make up leftist parties have to practise it all the time. If a person is evicted, the party member has to be there to try to help those people. It is the only way that we will be recognized by those people. Look for examples in your own history, surely there will be many men and women whom we can take as guides in the struggle for the emancipation of our peoples.