When she was four years old, she saw, in the gloom of Mom’s room, Dad caressing Ernesto’s head, as if he were saying goodbye to the youngest of the children. A month after turning five, she heard Fidel Castro on television and there, while he was reading a farewell letter, she discovered her mother in tears. At the age of six, Aleida Guevara learned that “daddy”, as she says to Che, had died. October is definitely a sad month.
She wears the same eyes and sometimes the smile gives her away more than the surnames, although Guevara is Guevara and comes from the very southern cone, from the roots of a continent.
At sixty years of age, Aleida – Che’s doctor, pediatrician and daughter – says that she inherited a love for photography from the guerrilla commander and clarifies, raising her index finger, that her brother Camilo is a better photographer than she. As her father called her, Aliucha is proud of her insularity, of a country that Ernesto Guevara loved like her own, where she made a Revolution and a family. From here the commander would have to leave, leaving her loved ones, because “other lands of the world demanded the assistance of her modest efforts.”
– This October 3 marks the 55th anniversary of Che’s farewell letter . How did you feel the first time you read it, especially when he says “I don’t leave my children and my wife anything material and it doesn’t make me sad: I’m glad it is so”?
The first time I heard it, it was very small and it struck me because I also saw my mother on television with my uncle Fidel who was reading that letter. I didn’t quite understand what it was about, but my mom was crying. She always educated us in the idea that we could be children of a very special man, but for that reason we should not receive anything special. The Revolution would give us what we need to develop as human beings, period. They have asked me in Argentina and various places “what my dad left me” and they give me fits of laughter because he had nothing material to leave behind, only his example.
– At one point in the farewell letter to Fidel, Che states: “I am also proud to have followed you without hesitation, identified with your way of thinking and seeing and appreciating the dangers and principles. How similar and, at the same time, different, were Ernesto Guevara and the Commander in Chief?
From a human point of view they are very similar. Che learns to respect Fidel as a true military leader, especially during his time in prison in Mexico. They all got freedom except for my father and another colleague because they are branded as communists and pro-Soviet. Fidel told me that anecdote years later: “I went to discuss with your father in jail because I had warned them not to say their political condition, but there I realized that Che did not know how to lie, not even if his life depended on him. that”. The Commander could have left on the Granma yacht without him, and he didn’t. He managed to get Daddy released and they left together for Cuba.
Che and Fidel, together with little Aleida. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.
–The letter is written as if Che knew that it was probable that he would never return …
All the guerrillas have to prepare this terrain and create awareness that it can happen. The bullets have no name. He says it in the letter: that the truth hit them all because in a true Revolution, either you win or you die. There is no other. His dream was a free, independent, united America, as one nation.
– When Che left Cuba, you were barely 4 and a half years old. What image with your father do you remember, do you have intact in your memory?
Two images. One is in my mom’s room. She has my brother Ernesto, a newborn, leaning on her shoulder and my dad is behind him, dressed in military clothing, with a very large hand touching the baby’s head. She is doing it with such tenderness that that moment is forever engraved on me. At that moment he had to have thought many things: “Will this little boy recognize me one day? Will he understand why I will not be by his side when he grows up? …” Perhaps in those thoughts lies the greatness of my father. Not all human beings have that strength and it must always be respected.
“And the other image is when he transforms into Ramón and welcomes us. My mother takes us to see a friend of my father, “old Ramón”, in a safe house in Pinar del Río. When we go to dinner he serves red wine on its own, but Daddy usually drank it with water. There I jumped like a spring and said: ‘you are not my father’s friend’ and I explained that Daddy drank red wine with water. I went to the end of the table where he was sitting and poured the water into his glass because ‘that’s how he was rich.’ Mommy says the man was excited about it.
“Afterwards, the four brothers continued playing and I slipped and hit my head on a marble table. Then ‘old Ramón’ took me in his arms, he felt me immediately, and I felt something that was not normal for me: a strange man, who would protect me like this? Then I spoke to my mother because I had to tell her a secret and I told her in full voice: ‘Mom, I think this man is in love with me.
“A long time later my mother told me that this man was my father, but it still had to be kept a secret. I grew up with the feeling that my dad loved me, they weren’t just papers, letters, they were gestures, feelings, because a child doesn’t lie. When a child feels these things it is for real ”.
–You tell in the documentary Absence Present that Che kissed her very hard …
Daddy squeezed me while he kissed me and that made me wake up. I got a little scared of the dark because I was looking at a guy I hardly saw, at night and giving me those squeezes … On one of her trips, Mommy tells her that in a book there is a story about a little lion that accompanies a child with fear until the little one gains strength and the lion leaves because the child loses his fear. She explains to him that I have received that reading very well. So one of my dad’s few expenses is buying me a stuffed lion.
-He was an austere man …
My father? Tremendously. And with good reason. He was leaving in the name of a people that did not have, as we say, where to tie the goat. How was he going to spend money on us? That was not logical, but also, he did not have time either. He traveled with the minutes counted and participated in one activity after another. Going to a store to buy something from us was impossible. However, Daddy buys me the little lion and it was extraordinary for me because my stuffed animal always accompanied me and I gradually lost my fear of the dark. And already in her last trips she brings me a doll.
–In his farewell letter to his children, Che tells them: “Always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone in any part of the world. It is the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary ”. Has Aleida Guevara taken it with her?
Most of us Cubans have taken it with one. At this point it pains me a little that our doctors do not talk about him because generations of Cuban doctors have been educated with the example of Che. He is the first revolutionary doctor. When I was studying the last year of Medicine, Fidel brought us together and suggested that Nicaragua needed doctors, the Sandinista Revolution had just triumphed, and he asked us how many of us wanted to do the internationalist internship. A lot of boys between 22 and 23 years old went there.
“Then the threat against that country begins and Fidel decides to get all the women out of there. We discussed that at one point because I felt I was failing my teammates. We were all together. Why are we leaving? It didn’t seem fair to me. I remember saying, ‘Man, don’t hurt me. I consider myself your daughter, and when the generals send their troops the first must be their children. ‘ Then, in the few things that Fidel wrote to me, he said: ‘I can never hurt you. Do not think that. It’s just to protect them. ‘ Then I go to Moa, in Holguín ”.
-From Managua to Moa …
Tremendous change. At that time, Moa was one of the richest cities in Cuba from an industrial point of view, but poorer in terms of social structure. This looked like an American West. I had several confrontations in Moa because, unfortunately, we as human beings tend to settle, sometimes in a certain position, to only receive the benefits, but not to give the sacrifices that a public position in this country entails. And I lived those things there, and they cost me my tears. But it is my country, and I am not silent about anything.
“After a year I return to Havana and the request for missions arrives again. I went to the Ministry of Public Health, I introduced myself as a doctor at the ‘Pedro Borrás’ hospital and they told me that Angola was where I should go. There I said: ‘No, I just left Nicaragua at war and Angola is my turn, at war!’ But I accepted. I remember I was leaving on October 6th, hear this: October 6th! When I got home my mom almost had seizures that day. She shut herself up to cry. But she had taught me to be socially useful.
Angola: “The two hardest years of my life”
“I have been working with children with tuberculosis. I remember Celson. I will never forget. He was waiting for me at the door of the tuberculosis ward and I tied the cloth around my back and gave him a walk around the perimeter of the hospital. Celson was happy with that. I remember that the director of the center, a Portuguese pichon, told me insulted that I was making fun. I replied: ‘You are wrong. Look at that kid’s face. Don’t you see her happy? For me that is the most important thing and what I need to face one day in this hospital: Celson’s smile. You can’t take it from me. ‘
“I remember another boy who slept in a naked doorway under some newspapers with which he covered himself. That day I was the guard in the building, and our boss kicked a bundle of papers and from there the boy came out. He got up, folded the newspapers, and tucked them under his arm. Look, boy, I still can’t talk about it. It was such a pain that I went upstairs and took off the olive green sweater I was wearing and it was hot. I went downstairs, called him and put it on him. That little boy looked at me and said ‘dad’.
“I tried to help him, I took him to the shelters, but he ran away again. Until he didn’t come back anymore. That is why I think that it is not possible that some people do not feel the enormous privilege we have of being Cubans and maintaining a society where the life of the human being is more important than any money in the world. That is the most beautiful thing that men like Che have left us ”.
– What would Che love today? What would make you angry?
I would be very proud of the Cuban doctors. Despite all the economic problems we have had, we have not lost the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary as he said in the letter: “to feel the injustice committed against anyone in any part of the world.” Our doctors do it every day with the Henry Reeve brigade , for example, or with the Latin American School of Medicine ( ELAM ).
“On the other hand, Che was always a very critical man, therefore, he would make us many remarks about today’s Cuba, especially regarding the self-employed. He would never understand. No way. That, in the long run, is a small cancer in our society, because people start to think only in their pockets. But sometimes you have to make decisions that, although they are not always the right ones, are the ones that are within our reach. And you have to learn to walk with them ”.
– And to you, does it not bother you that sometimes Che’s ideas are used opportunistically?
– That they put them as a slogan and don’t feel them, and don’t live them, of course it bothers me. The good thing is that at least they say them.
-But sometimes they say them without consciousness…
But he who has it listens to it. Perhaps whoever uses it did it to finish a beautiful speech, but the one who does have a conscience hears it and knows that it is not being practiced as it should be. Opportunists we can have everywhere and we must rescue many values that have been lost in the special periods lived.
– At what times have you said to yourself “if my father were here”?
A lot of times! When I brought my oldest daughter into the world and she was opening her eyes after the anesthesia for the cesarean section, I saw two men next to me: they were Ramiro Valdés and Oscar Fernández Mel. “What are you doing here?” I say to them, and they reply: “Since your father is not here, we are here.” Only! And of course I miss it. I wish I could have seen Daddy with his grandchildren on his knees, talking to them and teaching them much more than I can teach my daughters. Those things happen to you like a flash to your head.
Moments of the birth of Aleida Guevara’s eldest daughter. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.
– In one of his speeches, Che states that the goal of the new generations is that they forget him and the Commander in Chief. But perhaps in that he was wrong. What do you think?
That was in one of the last speeches he made to the young people of the Ministry of Industries, in which he told them that their goal one day is to forget Fidel, him … At first when I read it I said “but is my dad crazy? ” But he said it in the sense that, when we surpassed everything that they preached to us with their example, then it would not be necessary to have them so present. And that’s what he’s telling us: the goal is to overcome them and be better human beings than they are. But we have not yet been able.
– What has been the greatest affront that you have experienced from the people towards Che?
When you see people who are not able to move for a child who is dying, for example. My dad said that the life of a single child was worth more than all the gold on earth. And it is what I also feel as a doctor and a human being. To see someone who does not show indignation at seeing a child die hits me a lot.
– And the greatest gratitude?
I work with the Landless Movement in Brazil. And they practice Che every day. When you see men and women, sometimes with a cultural level that is not high, but capable of feeling that man and putting it into practice, then you say “he is multiplying”. Che returns again, with the shield over his arm. What to tell you about the Cuban doctors who went to fight Ebola without really knowing what they were going to face, risking their lives… Che is there. As a daughter, I really appreciate it. It’s seeing your dad again. In combat.
(By: Andy Jorge Blanco/Cubadebate)