Gopinath Delhi | HardNewsMedia.com
With the US and Latin America so much in the news, I am reminded of the man who embodied Simon Bolivar’s spirit of the liberation of the Americas. Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s short but eventful life of 39 was brutally terminated in Bolivia where he fell to government forces assisted by his bete noir the CIA, on October 9, 1967.
I had the fortune of meeting Che, “the most complete human being of our age”, according to Sartre, in the early 1960s when he visited Delhi as a state guest with some Cuban officials. During his two-day visit he met prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He was interested in establishing economic relations with India to break the economic stranglehold of the US. He was promised Indian cooperation in trade.
I met Che in Ashoka hotel in Delhi, where the Cuban delegation was put up, in my capacity as the long-distance correspondent of Cuba for the newsmagazine Link. Among the existing publications,Link had the most exhaustive coverage of the landing of the revolutionaries in Cuba and the Bay of Pigs invasion attempt.
The then Cuban representative Soler Alonso, who secretly opposed the Batista regime, was my best source of information. He also provided me access to the Spanish language daily, Granma, and arranged for my interview with Che.
Dressed in army fatigues and puffing on his Cuban cigar, Che welcomed me into his room and spoke to me with his asthmatic wheeze. He explained the situation in Cuba and the manner in which Batista had, with the help of the US, turned the island nation into a holiday resort for Americans. He said that Batista had handed over the meagre natural resources of the country to the US, squeezed the economy and impoverished the people. He said that this was what imperialism was doing not only to Cuba but to all the poorer nations.
Che then invited me to Cuba and, a year later, I was off on my first foreign trip, to Havana via Cairo, Rome, Milan and Madrid, flying over Canada. I was put up at one of Batista’s posh hotels, Hotel Haviana Revieira in room 1805 with periodistas (journalists) from around the world. We proceeded to the induction programme addressed by Che.
He spotted me in the group and called out to me. We spoke after the meeting and I indicated a wish to meet Fidel Castro. He arranged for me to go to the radio centre where Fidel was recording a speech. That was the nearest I got to Fidel.
The next day I was invited to a mammoth rally at Hav-ana’s Plaze de la Revolucion. Castro who is famous for his stentorian style launched into one of his long speeches which was punctuated time and again by lusty cheering by the huge gathering. As Fidel spoke, a blast marked an exiles’ terrorist attack. Fidel brushed that aside and went on with his speech. My presence on the occasion was noted by an American newspaper, I forget which, that an Indian journalist at the meeting had turned pale when the blast took place!
One of the most important measures taken by the revolutionary government was “Alphabetismos” under which young students of senior classes in Havana were expected to devote some part of their life to going into the countryside and teaching the poor populace to read and write. The young boys and girls were enthusiastic. Mariano Rodriguez, an artist I had met in Delhi, and his wife put me in touch with some of these young teachers.
Many strangers I met in the streets took me for a Cuban Black. Some of them would ask me directions and after my
halting Spanish answers, stare unbelievingly when I explained that I was from India. But most of them were happy to talkto an “Indo”.
My week-long visit to Cuba included a visit to Varadero beach and the Bay of Pigs. Havana had very little shopping for a foreigner to look forward to contrast to the rich countries of the world or even India. Taxis were few. Government offices were virtual military establishments.
Che had left Havana by the time I left the country. In 1965 in his globetrotting revolutionary jaunts he wrote to Fidel Castro: “I feel that I have fulfilled the part of my duty that tied me to the Cuban revolution in its territory… Other nations of the world call for my modest efforts. I can do that which is denied you because of your responsibility as the head of Cuba, and the time has come for us to part.”
The image of Che as the complete revolutionary has been appropriated by the very forces he opposed. But his legend lives on.