By Dr Saulat Nagi
Che Guevara — Jo Chale Toh Jaan se Guzar Gaye
Fiction House; Pp 272; Rs 240
29 Jul, 2010
The first chapter begins with Faiz’s couplet, “Na raha junoon-e-rukh-e-wafa ye rasan ye daar karo gey kya/Jinhain jurm-e-ishq pe naaz tha woh gunehgaar chaley gaye.” The verse essentially conveys that individuals who take pride in committing crimes for the purpose of justice are no longer to be seen and expresses disappointment with the existing system. Che’s struggle against imperialism invited enemies not only from North America but from Latin America as well. One such person was the Bolivian Mario Monje, who was directly under the Soviet Union’s influence. Along with Chile, Bolivia was amongst the poorest nations of the world despite enormous deposits of minerals like tin. In his youth, Che began to travel through Latin America on a motorbike with his friend Alberto Granado (recorded and published as his Motorcycle Diaries, now also a film). Through these travels, Che discovered himself as a Marxist revolutionary and assessed the greatness of what he believed to be a nation (mestizo — a Latin American who has both Spanish and native American ancestors) that extended from Mexico to Argentina. He sought to end the regime of exploitation by the imperialists and desired to transfer all the riches of the continent to its rightful owners — the people.
Dr Nagi writes that Che, who had entered Bolivia to struggle against the system, was cold-bloodedly murdered by Bolivian agents of the US on October 9, 1967 after being captured, wounded but alive. To emphasise the poignancy of the murder, the author quotes a powerful couplet: “Jis sajh dhaj sey koi maqtal sey gaya woh shaan salamat rehti hei/Yeh jaan to aani jaani hei, is jaan ki koi baat nahin.” The couplet reflects the heroism of the sacrifice of one’s life for an ideal — a feat that Che achieved by struggling for his ideas until the very end. After the events of 9/11, there were claims that Che’s revolutionary legacy was bound to fade. However, Dr Nagi has pertinently observed that the opposite has happened. The way the US has massacred people in Iraq and Afghanistan is similar to what it did in the mountains in another continent. The author concludes by quoting Isaac Deutscher, who said that imperialism is gradually treading towards its coffin.
In Chapter Two, Che’s mission in Cuba is discussed in detail. When Che reached Mexico, he came across a small expatriate community from Cuba led by 27-year-old Fidel Castro. The aim was to revolutionise Cuba by overthrowing dictator Fulgencio Batista’s regime. Hence, for the following year, Che acclimatised his body to sustain physical pain through acts like fasting (he suffered since childhood from severe asthma). Apart from being a doctor, Che was also a revolutionary leader and a guerrilla fighter. The initial landing in Cuba of a guerrilla force under Fidel’s command from the sea in 1956 to remove Batista from power failed because of a surprise ambush. Of the 62 guerrillas who embarked on a boat, the Granma, from Mexico, only 12 survived this devastating early setback. They then retreated into the mountains of the Sierra Maestra to continue their struggle in the face of overwhelming odds. With peasants increasingly flocking to the cause, Guevara rose to prominence among the insurgents and was promoted to second-in-command. Two years of guerrilla warfare against Batista’s army (armed and financed by the US) yielded success by 1958, when Batista fled the country in the face of a growing guerrilla force and the outbreak of urban resistance. Che played a pivotal role in the fight, with his taking of the major city of Santa Clara tolling the death knell of the hated Batista regime. After the success of the Cuban revolution, Che performed key roles in the new government such as reviewing appeals against death sentences imposed by revolutionary tribunals on war criminals. As minister of industries, he instituted agrarian reform and served as president of the National Bank.
Furthermore, he held the title of the instructional director for Cuba’s armed forces and represented Cuba throughout the globe.
The third chapter of the book discusses Che and Congo. Before even Cuba, Che’s beliefs prompted his involvement in Guatemala’s progressive social reforms under President Jacobo Árbenz, whose eventual CIA-assisted overthrow in 1954 solidified Che’s radical ideology. All through his struggles, Che wanted the people to reform themselves and become what he called The New Man (El Hombre Nuevo). Having resigned from all high office and renounced his Cuban citizenship to spare his adopted country any embarrassment, Che travelled secretly through a circuitous route to the Congo to assist the anti-imperialist guerrilla struggle led by Laurent Kabila. That effort proved abortive, after which, on November 6, 1966, he arrived at Lopez Airport in Bolivia under the name of Adolfo Mena González, escaping everybody’s notice. His plan was to spark off a revolution in Bolivia. Dr Nagi discusses this mission in Chapter Four in a very comprehensive fashion. Che was martyred 11 months after his landing.
The rest of the chapters reproduce Che’s letters, texts to his fellow doctors, interviews to the press and his Bolivian Diary that records the events from November 1966 to October 1967. The ending chapter comprises the tributes paid to Che by his girlfriend Tita Infante and other supporters. Many publications have covered Che, but according to Dr Nagi, the most authentic ones are those by John Lee Anderson, Jorge G Castañeda and Paco Ignacio Taibo II.
This book is extremely relevant in our present world where the worship of money and capitalist markets has become the norm. To conclude, let us ponder for a moment upon the words of Gustavo Machin Gomez, the Cuban ambassador to Pakistan. He said that we are already in the 21st century and injustices still prevail, and there is no better time than today to implement Che’s idea of The New Man.
The reviewer is based in Lahore and can be reached at email@example.com
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan