Wednesday 10 November 2010

Images and Icons

"The people have turned him [Che Guevara] into a myth, a great figure. But what has he actually achieved? Absolutely nothing"
Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, murderer of 44 Jewish children.

Last night they were showing a doco about the iconic Che Guevara photo, taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, professionally known as Alberto Korda. You know the photo:
Alberto Korda's photo
During the film, pretty much the whole political spectrum had the opportunity to  speak about Che: from his Sierra Maestra companions to Gerry Adams and Jean Paul Sartre (all of which said good things about him), to rabid anti-Communist exiles in Florida (who said bad things about him).

As the opinions were quite predictable, only two commentators made an impression in me.

One was a young American. You know the kind: young guy, early twenties (probably a student), articulate, good-looking in a slightly effete way; the kind that never had to pick fruits in Texas a single fucking day in his life. For whom “hunger”, “poverty” and “disease” are merely abstract bullshit they read about in books; that is, if he actually ever read about them, because he looked like the abstract "liberty" kind of guy. Picture a young Liberal here and you are seeing the guy.

And, boy, did he express himself properly! You know, oozing self-confidence and knowledge.

The other was from some Bolivian Indians. Let's not fool ourselves, you also know the kind, so I don’t need to waste time: they simply looked miserable. I’d be surprised they actually could read and write.  

Basically they were grateful, because for them Ernesto "Che" Guevara died trying to help them. And to show their gratitude, they pray to San Ernesto de La Higuera (Saint Ernesto of La Higuera). Some also make those kitsch saint images of him, for sale. So I guess in at least that way he does help them.
San Ernesto de La Higuera.
Frankly, I don’t know whether Che was a saint or a tyrant, a hero or a fraud. Perhaps a bit of each. Maybe he was wrong. I’m neither his advocate nor his judge. And what does my opinion matter, anyway? You, of course, are free to form your own opinion about him.

But, for me, the gratitude of those poor wretches weights infinitely more than any rational speeches memorized from a book by some American student, because it is those Bolivian Indians who, in their ignorance and naivete, in their misery, have earned the right to judge.
Bolivian girl at Che's monument, La Higuera, Bolivia.
I allowed Klaus Barbie to express his opinion about Ernesto "Che" Guevara. As Guevara never had the chance to return Barbie's regards, I'll let someone else speak about Barbie and his achievements:

"After 19 days of interrogation, they put me in a cell. They would carry by the bodies of tortured people. With the point of a boot, Barbie would turn their heads to look at their faces, and if he saw someone he believed to be a Jew, he would crush it with his heel." Lise Lesevre
"..pale eyes, extraordinarily mobile, like those of an animal in a cage". Lise Lesevre
  • Alberto Korda took the iconic photo of Che Guevara, known as "Guerrillero Heroico" opening this blog. 
  • The last photo, "Olhos Azuis" (Blue eyes) was found at WikiQuote together with the caption. Its author is Jose Rocha.
  • I believe the other photos are public domain: they had no attribution.
  • If any photo is copyrighted, please let me know and attribution will be made or the photo will be retired, at your discretion.

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