Debunking the “CHE GUEVARA WAS RACIST!” Lie

CheInCongo1965

Che in the African Congo, where he led an all-black force of Cuban and Congolese soldiers against white South African mercenaries of apartheid, 1965

Issue #1 in a series of articles correcting misinformation on El Che

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“The life of Che is an inspiration to all human beings who cherish freedom.
We will always honour his memory.”

— Nelson Mandela, while visiting Cuba in 1991 {1}

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One of the favorite libelous smears by right-wing hacks is that Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (1928-1967) was RACIST against blacks. Being shameless, they usually attack where they think left-wing icons or heroes are strongest. However, when you understand the full depth to which the forces of reaction LIE, then you realize why they can’t be trusted for information generally and especially on leftist figures! Hopefully, this article will operate as a mini case study displaying that reality.

Their “evidence” for this often-parroted internet falsehood is Che’s youthful diary passage where he visits a Venezuelan slum and offensively opines that the blacks he encounters there are “indolent and lazy”, waste their money on booze, and don’t save money like Europeans. He also compares the “racial purity” of the blacks in Caracas to the Portuguese. However, these lines are always deceptively and disingenuously culled from the larger historical context of his later life … so what is the truth?

That quote was written by Guevara in 1952 when he was 24 and encountered blacks for basically the first time in his life, during his Motorcycle trip around South America (as told in his memoir ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’). ** The full context of this statement is addressed by biographer Jon Lee Anderson on page 92 of ‘Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life’, and Anderson notes they were “stereotypical of white Argentine arrogance and condescension.” ** However, months later at the end of his continental trip, Guevara announced himself a transformed man and even denounced the racism he encountered while living in Miami, USA for a month, while awaiting his return to Argentina. Essentially, the quote was before he was “Che”, in both literal nickname and political beliefs.

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From then on and throughout his life, Che showed he was ANTI-RACIST through his ACTIONS:

- The following year in 1953, while travelling through Bolivia with his friend Carlos “Calica” Ferrer, Guevara became indignant when he observed that all the dark-skinned indigenous Indians had to be sprayed with DDT (ostensibly to kill lice) before being allowed to enter the Ministry of Peasant Affairs.

- Che’s very first student in 1957 as a guerrilla fighter was a 45-year-old illiterate black guajiro named Julio Zenon Acosta, whom he was teaching the alphabet. After Acosta was killed in an ambush by Batista’s forces, Che exalted him as “my first pupil” and the kind of “noble peasant” that made up the heart of the Cuban Revolution.

- During the Cuban guerrilla campaign, Che’s girlfriend (for all intents and purposes) for the first half of 1958 was Zoila Rodríguez García, a black/mulatto woman. Moreover, his first wife Hilda Gadea whom he married in 1955 was a dark-skinned indigenous Peruvian.

- In 1959, Che pushed for racially integrating the schools and universities in Cuba, years before they were racially integrated in the southern United States. For context, the Alabama National Guard was needed to force Governor George Wallace aside at the University of Alabama in 1963 and forced school busing wasn’t enacted in the U.S. until 1971.

- In 1959, Fidel & Che pushed through “Law 270″, which declared all beaches and other public facilities open to all races. For the first time in Cuban history, clubs, businesses, and other establishments that refused equal access and service to blacks were shut down.

- In August 1961, (9 years after his “indolent” remark), Guevara attacked the U.S. for discrimination against blacks and the actions of the KKK, which matched his declarations in 1964 before the United Nations (12 years after his “indolent” remark), where Guevara denounced the U.S. policy towards their black population. It was around this same time, that the black anti-colonial philosopher Frantz Fanon proclaimed Che to be “the world symbol of the possibilities of one man.”

- Che’s friend and personal bodyguard from 1959 till his death in 1967 was Harry “Pombo” Villegas, who was Afro-Cuban (black). Pombo accompanied Che everywhere in Cuba, then to the Congo and to Bolivia, where he survived and escaped the final battle where Che was wounded and captured. He resides in Cuba and wrote his own diary about his time in Bolivia entitled ‘Pombo: A Man of Che’s Guerrilla, With Che Guevara in Bolivia 1966-68′ and speaks positively of Guevara to this day.

- In 1964, when Che addressed the U.N., he spoke out in favor of black musician Paul Robeson, in support of slain Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba (who he heralded as one of his heroes), against white segregation in the Southern U.S. (which still unfortunately existed), and against the white South African apartheid regime (long before it became the Western ’cause de jour’). Nelson Mandela later remarked that while he was imprisoned Che’s “revolutionary exploits, including on our own continent, were too powerful for any prison censors to hide from us.” {1}

- Che was heralded by Malcolm X during this trip to NYC and in contact with his associates to whom he sent a letter. On behalf of his actions in Africa, Che would also later be praised by the Black Panther’s Stokely Carmichael. The Black Panther’s even adopted their black berets in honor of Guevara iconic headwear.

- In 1965, Che toured and met anti-colonial leaders from the African nations of Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Tanzania, Congo Brazzaville and Benin. This led to Che assisting and befriending Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella, Egyptian leader Abdel Nasser, Angolan independence leader Agostinho Neto of the MPLA, Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, and Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. Che also established Cuban collaboration through supplies and military support for Amilcar Cabral’s PAIGC in Guinea Bissau, Alphonse Massamba-Débat in Congo Brazzaville, and Laurent-Désiré Kabila in Congo Leopoldville. Later Guevara offered assistance to fight alongside the (black) FRELIMO in Mozambique, for their independence from the white Portuguese.

- When Guevara ventured to the African Congo in 1965, he fought with a Cuban force of 130 Afro-Cubans (blacks) alongside all-black Congolese fighters — they then battled against a force comprised partly of white South African mercenaries and white Cuban exiles backed by the CIA. This resembled the fight in Cuba, where Che’s units were made up of many poor rural mulattos and blacks, against a Cuban army staffed at the top by whites with connections to the upper class. Of note, nearly all Cuban exiles who fled Che’s economic reforms to Miami throughout the early 1960’s were white, despite the island being 1/3 mulatto & black.

- Che’s Congolese teenage Swahili interpreter for his African expedition named Freddy Ilanga lived until 2006 in Cuba, and his dying wish was to erect a lighthouse memorial to Guevara in Africa. In 2005 he told the BBC that Che “showed the same respect to black people as he did to whites.” {2}

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[CHE QUOTES REGARDING RACIAL JUSTICE]

On EDUCATION …

“The university should color itself black and color itself mulatto—not just as regards students but also professors… Today the people stand at the door of the university, and it is the university that must be flexible. It must color itself black, mulatto, worker, peasant, or else be left without doors. And then the people will tear it apart and paint it with the colors they see fit.”

— Che Guevara, to the University of Las Villas on December 28, 1959 {3}
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On U.S. RACISM …

“Democracy is not compatible with financial oligarchy, with discrimination against Blacks and outrages by the Ku Klux Klan.”

— Che Guevara, to the OAS on August 8, 1961 {4}

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On U.S. HYPOCRISY …

“Those who kill their own children and discriminate daily against them because of the color of their skin; those who let the murderers of blacks remain free, protecting them, and furthermore punishing the black population because they demand their legitimate rights as free men — how can those who do this consider themselves guardians of freedom?”

— Che Guevara, to the U.N. on December 11, 1964 {5}
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On SOUTH AFRICAN APARTHEID …

“We speak out to put the world on guard against what is happening in South Africa. The brutal policy of apartheid is applied before the eyes of the nations of the world. The peoples of Africa are compelled to endure the fact that on the African continent the superiority of one race over another remains official policy, and that in the name of this racial superiority murder is committed with impunity. Can the United Nations do nothing to stop this?”

— Che Guevara to the U.N. on December 11, 1964 {5}

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On PATRICE LUMUMBA …

“We must move forward, striking out tirelessly against imperialism. From all over the world we have to learn lessons which events afford. Lumumba’s murder should be a lesson for all of us.”

— Che Guevara, in 1964

* U.S. imperialism would similarly help murder Che 3 years later.

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[RELEVANT IMAGES]

gal_cheguevara_4

Che with his bodyguard Pombo, after Guevara’s wedding in 1959

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pombo2

Che beside Pombo in Bolivia in 1966

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pombo

Pombo in 2008

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tumblr_lv6pxacLB31qgfbgio1_500

Che meeting with Kwame Nkrumah and Kojo Botsio in Ghana in 1965

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Che visita escritorio do MPLA146

Che visiting Agostinho Neto of the MPLA in Angola in 1965

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123

Che in disguise on his way to Tanzania in 1965

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Che aiding Congolese national liberation fighters in 1965

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tumblr_mg0m47VAjO1r84pkto1_500

Che in Mozambique offering to assist the FRELIMO against the Portuguese

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Freddy

Che’s Congolese Swahili translator Freddy Ilanga, he went on to be a paediatric neurosurgeon in Cuba

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CheinBolivia1

Che in Bolivia with indigenous Indian children in 1967, shortly before his capture & execution

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Pionniers_de_la_révolution

Children “Pioneers” of the Revolution in Burkina Faso donned starred berets honoring Guevara in 1987

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[TO CONCLUDE]

Only to someone completely uninformed, could Che –(a man who fought shoulder to shoulder with African national liberationists against white supremacist South African mercenaries of Apartheid, and later died while attempting to galvanize dark-skinned Bolivian Indians to revolution against a U.S.-backed dictatorship)– be seen as “racist” for a single diary paragraph he wrote in his youth 15 years earlier.

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“Che Guevara taught us we could dare to have confidence in ourselves, confidence in our abilities. He instilled in us the conviction that struggle is our only recourse. He, was a citizen of the free world that together we are in the process of building. That is why we say that Che Guevara is also African and Burkinabe.”

— Thomas Sankara, commonly referred to as ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’

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“The death of Che Guevara places a responsibility on all revolutionaries of the World to redouble their decision to fight on to the final defeat of Imperialism. That is why in essence Che Guevara is not dead, his ideas are with us.”

— Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Ture), ‘Black Power’ leader, 1967

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P.S. If you want a dose of rich irony, nearly all of the people who criticize Che for his supposed imaginary racism, also then support his arch-nemesis the CIA, i.e. the same group who made the racist remark in their February 13, 1958 declassified ‘biographical and personality report’ that Guevara was “quite well read”, while adding in apparent amazement that “Che is fairly intellectual for a Latino.”

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Links to primary web sources for selected quotes (others are books):

{1} http://db.nelsonmandela.org/speeches/pub_view.asp?pg=item&ItemID=NMS1526

{2} http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4522526.stm

{3} http://www.themilitant.com/2000/6401/640158.html

{4} http://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/1961/08/08.htm

{5} http://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/1964/12/11.htm

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