– Two documentaries about Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, respectively, were screened before her talk
– This was the last date of her UK tour, marking the 50th anniversary of her father´s death
Can you imagine being in the same room as Che Guevara’s eldest daughter? We can, because we were there. TheHavana Glasgow Film Festival has made this possible and last Saturday, the 11th of November, Aleida Guevara shared her visions, thoughts and energy with a warm audience at the Scottish Trade Union Congress.
She speaks and time stops. It doesn’t matter if she only does it in Spanish: an assertive but paused speech, full of positivism and ideological conviction floods the room.
Aleida stresses that in 1959, when the Revolution succeeded and Batista was ousted, 40% of the Cuban population did not know how to read or write. “We are now a much educated people, and that is one of the biggest achievements of the Revolution, because for a people to be really free, it has to be educated so that no one can manipulate it”, says Aleida, emphasizing that this would not have been possible without a system where education is free and universal. She also points to the same conditions for the Cuban health service, free and accessible for everyone in the country.
At some point, someone asks that question: What memories does Aleida keep of her father? Despite claiming that she gets this question all the time, she patiently answers, and shares with us a beautiful and heartbreaking story about one of the last times she saw Ernesto Guevara: disguised as another man -”daddy’s friend”, her mother would tell her- so his whereabouts were not innocently revealed by his children. On one occasion, they attended a car race with “this man” and Aleida fell over hurting her head. He ran to check her and, because the way he was doing it, Aleida felt that “the man” was in love with her” and so she told her mother. That man was her father, and although she did not know at the time, she did feel that love and care for her.
SAN ERNESTO NACE EN LA HIGUERA
These vivid memories of the Che as a father are very different to those of the inhabitants of La Higuera, the Bolivian town where he was killed. ‘San Ernesto nace en La Higuera’ (Isabel Santos & Rafael Solís, 2007), was the first documentary to be screened last Saturday in the double feature proposed by the Havana Glasgow Film Festival. The film, although humble in its audiovisual technique, does offer a powerful story made out of testimonies about the last hours of Ernesto Che Guevara’s life, when captured by the Bolivian army and held for few hours before his killing, as well as what happened after his death. Perhaps because it was unclear who gave that fatal order; or maybe because his corpse was displayed showing his open eyes -”like Jesus Christ”, some interviewees point out in the documentary-; it also may be that the place where he was buried was kept secret. The fact is that Saint Ernesto has gained his own place in La Higuera inhabitants’ bedside tables and prayers, who even use an individual sentence opening to ask Che for things they wish: “almita del Che” – which literally means “Little soul of Che”. What comes after that depends on each one: older people will ask for good health, whereas one of the kids in the film asks the little soul of Che to bring him a new bike.
The image of Che Guevara is being both sanctified and at the same time massively exploited for merchandising purposes, but Fidel Castro’s fate still awaits: Will history absolve him?
FIDEL CASTRO – THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH
Mass media in the Western World generally follows a predictable narrative. This is the case with Cuba’s Revolution andFidel Castro, about which barely nothing good could be found before the Internet era. The documentary Fidel Castro – The man behind the myth gives us that other perspective thanks to the testimonials of his inner circle: family, friends, colleagues and photographers speak about Cuba’s former president from a personal point of view. Castro, was stubborn, a bad loser, intellectual, persuasive, romantic, lone, fair. He mastered words and was able to convince almost everyone with his strong arguments, according to his loved ones. Aleida Guevara, who used to call Fidel Castro her “tío” (uncle), is one of the interviewees in this documentary produced by the Canadian CBC.
After the feature, during the talk with the audience, Aleida admitted that despite all the good things the Revolution has given to Cuba, there are still flaws, and identifies public transport and lack of technology as two of the problems that need to be addressed in her country.
We listen, laugh and applaud. She even sings for us ‘Una rosa blanca’, a poem by Cuban writer José Martí which has been turned into a song, to prove how music can unite people and countries – and it does. Just like initiatives such as the Havana Glasgow Film Festival do, she claims.
Aleida is charismatic, inspiring, powerful and an immediate witness of the recent history of Cuba. Well, she is part of that history herself, and that is why we should listen and react when she says that “we [Cubans] cannot tell you what you have to do. But we can tell you that it is possible to live in other way. The decision is only yours”.