Célia em Movimento

an E-CHANGER volunteer for 7 years, celia worked until june 2007 for the 'gender sector' of the MST/BA - the rural landless workers movement in the northeastern brazilian state of bahia. from then until june 2010 she worked at the international secretariat of the world march of women in são paulo. although she is no longer a volunteer, she still works in brazil with the WMW and E-CHANGER and will therefore continue to share her professional and personal experiences... enjoy!

22 July 2009

A really interesting interview with Aleida Guevara, one of Che's children... I heard her speak in Cuba last year, it was one of the most inspirational, moving speeches I've ever listened to... And she's so 'normal', nothing of the superstar about her at all, instead she continues the struggle for the Cuba and world her father believed possible...

Che Guevara's daugther recalls her revolutionary father

Aleida Guevara talks about having to share her 'Papi' with the world - and her dislike of the commercialisation of his image

The Guardian, Libby Brooks, 22nd July 2009

Aleida Guevara was four and a half when her father left Cuba. Ernesto "Che" Guevara, iconic Argentine guerrilla leader, Marxist theorist and second-in-command of the Cuban revolution, departed the island for Africa in 1965 after falling out of political favour with Fidel Castro. She saw him only once again, before his execution by the CIA-backed Bolivian government two years later.

Castro granted the visit on condition that it was clandestine. Guevara, concerned the children's chatter about "Papi's" reappearance might endanger his family, arrived back in Havana heavily disguised. He was introduced at supper as a friend of their father.

"After supper, I fell and hit my head," Aleida recalls. "He was a doctor, of course, so he treated me, but then he picked me up and cuddled me. I remember a feeling of complete protection and tenderness. Later I said to my mother, 'I believe that this man is in love with me." She laughs at her childish grandiloquence. "I was only five. But I knew that this man loved me in a very special way. I didn't know it was my father, though, and he couldn't tell me."

Aleida, now 49 and with two daughters of her own, has come to Britain as a guest of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign to promote a year-long festival of Cuban culture. A committed Marxist and medical doctor, just as her father was, the thick, bobbed hair, broad features and deep-set eyes are immediately reminiscent of the face without which no student common room is complete. "When I see [his face] commercialised, or used for advertising, " Aleida intones sharply, "I don't like it."

Ensconced in a functional committee room at Unison's north London headquarters, Aleida tugs a fine red shirt across her broad shoulders. She has inherited her father's charisma and mellifluous exposition, but exercises ir more intimately. Talking about politics, she employs the language of emotion rather than that of arid ideology.

Guevara's legacy, she tells me, is his life. "My father knew how to love, and that was the most beautiful feaure of him - his capacity to love." She touches my arm. "To be a proper revolutionary, you have to be a romantic. His capacity to give himself to the cause of others was at the centre of his beliefs - if we could only follow his example, the world would be a much more beautiful place."

So why is it that Cuba, an island that throughout its history has been coveted, bulliled and demonised by mightier nations, continues to draw worldwide fascination? Her answer may seem simplistic, but it is instant: "Because of Cuban men and women. We're a cultured, educated people - and possibly one of the only ones in the world to say no to the United States."

That "no", of course - regardless of whether it was dictated by an iron regime, as some would argue, or articulated by the populace - has manifested devastating consequences. The vicious embargo imposed on Cuba by the US the year after its revolution continues to suffocate the country. And as a practising paediatrician, Aleida is all too familiar with the daily realities of the blockade.

"there was a case of girl, six months old," she says. "She had a condition where the digestive system would flood with blood, and the only treatment available is patented by the US. Cuba had the money to pay, but not one company in the whole global medicine market would offer it." She presses together her thumb and forefinger in a gesture of frustration. "Any pharmacological disributor daring to deal with Cuba would be investigated by the FBI. The government can pull out investment or boycott their goods. We couldn't get the medicine and the baby was dying. The only sin of that girl was the fact that she was born in Cuba."

There has been much speculation about how Barak Obama intends to alter US policy towards Cuba, following his announcement of "a new beginning" to their relationship at a recent Americas summit, and his easing of travel restrictions on Cuban Americans wishing to visit their homeland. Aleida is sceptical. "What Obama has done is to return to the policy that existed under the Clinton administration. There's nothing new here. He promised to close Guantanamo, but that hasn't been done. There is a lack of continuity between what he says and what he does. So far we haven't seen anything that would indicate a change of course.

"If the blockade was lifted, things would change immeasurably. The Cuban economy would flower. That's the missing link."

Coincidentally, in advance of Aleida's visit, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign unearthed what are believed to be the earliest colour photographs of her father, taken by a British international brigade volunteer who travelled to the island in 1960, the summer before Aleida was born. The elderly woman unearthed her slides in a shoebox full of mementoes, never having realised the significance of the man she snapped on her colour camera. So how did Aleida feel when she first saw the photographs? "It was beautiful," she says. "The woman who took the photos actually worked in Cuba building a school. So even in the old days there were people giving their solidarity. That's the value of the photos to me."

Her father looks like he always did, she says; natural and with people surrounding him. "I'm very grateful to this woman for giving me a piece of him that I knew existed but had never seen. But what I am most grateful for is that she remains in solidarity with Cuba."

Her mother will be pleased to see them too, she adds. Aleida March was a member of Castro's guerrilla army when she met her future husband in the Cuban bush, and impressed him with her knowledge of the local terrain (Guevara was previously married to exiled Peruvian revolutionary Hilda Gadea). Now in her 70s, March has published a memoir about her life with Guevara, and how she raised their four children after his death. "You can buy it in any language you want except English," her daughter teases. "Do you read Turkish?"

The ideals of both parents inevitably influenced Aleida's own consciousness, but you can't impose ideals on children, she cautions. "You can only show by example."

It sounds far-fetched that a man intent on fomenting leftwing revolution in post-colonial Congo would find the time to make up animal stories for his faraway children, but Aleida says he did just that.

"My father didn't have the opportunity to enjoy our childhoods. But when he was away, which was most of the time, he would send us stories and drawings on postcards. My brother Camilo was told off at nursery school for using swearwords, and my mother confronted Che because he had a habit of swearing - as all Argentinians do," she notes archly. "He was in Africa and he wrote to Camilo tellling him that he couldn't swear at school or Pépé the Caiman [a reptile character invented by Guevara] would bite off Che's leg." She grabs my calf. "So he had to stop swearing to protect his father."

Domestic as these reminiscences are, Che has, of course, never been solely Aleida's Papi or property. Alberto Korda's iconic portrait, taken at a funeral service in 1960 - jaw clenched, eyes to the horizon, unkempt locks under a red-star beret - has been reproduced on posters, T-shirts and advertising hoardings ever since. His image, if not his ideals, has entered the lexicons of adolescent rebellion and creative subversion. Last weekend, I spotted a teenager swinging a Che bag down Oxford Street and asked him why he'd bought it. Che was this cool guy who talked about revolution, he said. What revolution meant, he found harder to articulate.

"When you see a child carrying his image on a march and the child says to you, 'I want to be like Che and fight until final victory', then you feel elated," Aleida says. "But the most surprising thing is that this event happend in Portugal, not in Cuba."

But how does she feel about the use of his image in the El Commandante pub in Holloway, London, and the Che memorabilia crowding every proto-conscious market stall? She frowns, "I saw him used to advertise an optician's in Berlin. A fashion designer showed his underwear designs in New York reprinting his face." The thumb and forefinger connect once again. It all depends on the context. "But if a young person wears the T-shirt and starts to understand who this person was, then that's fine."

Aleida is similiarly ambivalent about Hollywood's recent obsession with her father. Walter Salles's Motorcycle Diaries, which traced Guevara's early, transformative travels throughout Latin America, was a magnificant film, she enthusese, that showed a young person learning about poverty and refusing to turn his back on it. The more recent two-part biopic Che, starring Benicio del Torro, was disappointing. She had expected a more complete presentation of the revolution.

The vocabulary of struggle, consciousness and sacrifice that Aleida uses may feel anachronistic to a British audience versed in the minor political narratives of personality conflict and fiddled expenses. But there is another stroy about Cuba, still to be told. As the west waits eagerly for further dispatches about Castro's failing health, for Aleida, his demise can only usher in a new beginning.

"The US propaganda machine has dedicated itself to telling everybody that the revolution depends on just one person. But there is an inner conviction among the Cuban people. So, when the time comes when Fidel isn't with us physically any more, they will find a way forward. And if they can't do that, they will disappear. Pablo Milans said once it is preferable to sink in the sea than to betray the glory that once lived. And for us that rings true."

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign is an NGO that campaigns for an end to the US blockade of Cuba (cuba-solidarity.org.uk)


Aleida Guevara at the IV Meeting of Caribean Peoples, La Havana, Cuba, June 2008

Editorial, World March of Women (WMW) International Newsletter, Vol 12, No 2, July 2009

Dear sisters,

For the last few years we have been in agreement that our movement should aim to act as a rapid response network, showing and acting out our solidarity with women and men around the world in emergency situations, sharing information between our National Coordinating Bodies (NCBs), Participating Groups and allies, and mobilising for demonstrations and other actions (petitions, vigils in front of embassies in our countries, boycotting of transnational companies, etc) that aim to pressurise governments or companies that threaten the rights of those who organise themselves and who live in dignity.

In the last month we've unfortunately had to put our aspiration for such a network into practice several times: to demand the release of Turkish activists, the majority of whom are trade-unionists, illegally arrested at the end of May (22 of whom remain in prison, including 4 WMW sisters); to protest against the extreme violence and repression perpetrated by Alan García's government against Indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon; and to support the Haitian people's struggle for a fair minimum wage and against the violence perpetrated by the UN 'peacekeeping' forces in their country.

In addition to these periods in which we need to express our solidarity in an agile and pertinent way, we also recognise the need to struggle alongside our allies against the criminalisation and violent repression of social movements. During our 2010 International Actions, as well as affirming out demands and commitments assumed at international and national levels, we can also express our solidarity by denouncing concrete cases of women's and people's rights violations, and by demanding that the governments and parliaments in our countries and regions are held responsible.

We have also been closely following the situation in Iran and Honduras, via the reports we have been receiving from activists and friends of the World March of Women. As a consequence of different factors and political processes, our sisters are living through critical moments in their countries, moments in which our solidarity and our capacity to disseminate the information and analyses of those who are struggling for justice and freedom, is crucial.

Women on the March until we are All Free!

To read the whole newsletter, please go to: http://www.worldmarchofwomen.org/bulletin_liaison/2009/200902/en