31 May 2023

"The 'Che Myth' Has Been the Most Successful Marketing Campaign of Modern Times": An Interview With María Werlau

Che was a cold-blooded killer. He lacked the technology to reach the body counts of his heroes, Stalin and Mao, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

From The European Conservative

By Álvaro Peñas

"It has been the most successful marketing campaign of modern times because there is no country where the image of Che Guevara has not been seen. Even in Poland, a country that has suffered so much from communism, I have seen images of Che.

María Werlau is the co-founder and executive director of Cuba Archive, a non-profit think tank that defends human rights, and author of numerous books in English and Spanish on diverse topics related to Cuba. Her published works include Cuba’s intervention in Venezuela and The forgotten victims of Che Guevara. She has a bachelor’s degree in foreign service from the University of Georgetown and a master’s degree in international studies from the University of Chile. 

“Yes, we have shot, we shot and we will continue to shoot,” said Che at the United Nations. Is this the phrase that best portrays Che Guevara?

Yes, because he enjoyed killing. I have spoken to many people who knew him, including the parish priest of La Cabaña, the fortress that was the prison where Che was in charge of revolutionary justice. He liked it and told the priest so, a man who couldn’t stand it any longer and had to leave after six months and after accompanying 55 people to the wall. Che wrote about this and was very clear about it. 

He didn’t deceive anyone.

Not about this, but he did deceive when he went on television and said that he was not a communist, although I give him credit for being consistent and for having become a guerrilla for his ideals. The unusual thing is how propaganda has turned him into a myth. It was a deliberate campaign to cleanse the image of the Cuban revolution and turn both it and Che into romantic myths. To carry it out, Cuban intelligence enlisted the help of the KGB and its satellites. This is told by Ion Pacepa, former director of the Romanian Securitate, who recounts how they were asked for their help to turn Che into a martyr. I think it has been the most successful marketing campaign of modern times because there is no country where the image of Che Guevara has not been seen. Even in Poland, a country that has suffered so much from communism, I have seen images of Che. And that was the reason for writing this book, because there is a huge bibliography devoted to Che, but nothing about his victims.

Maybe because the bibliography is really about the myth.

Not necessarily, but what happens is that the best known biographers of Che Guevara, such as Lee Anderson or Castañeda do a very poor job with respect to the victims, they dedicate barely two lines to them.

Could it be that this is due precisely to the weight of propaganda, to the power of the myth?

The myth weighs heavily. I have met both of [the authors] and corresponded with Castañeda because of a photo of the golf club in Argentina where Che’s family used to go and where he would have learned to play while he was a caddy. The reality is that he was a member of the club like the rest of his family. I’ve also talked to Lee Anderson, who has also bought into the myth. And I suppose the advantage of preserving the Che myth also allows access to the archives in Cuba and sells more books. It’s still a question of capitalism and the reason why many young people wear a Che t-shirt, young people that Che would have sent to a concentration camp.

An example of this lack of knowledge was the interview with the actor Benicio del Toro, who played Che. When the interviewer asked him about Che’s crimes, he didn’t know what to say. 

I went to the premiere of that film [Che (2008)] in New York, and the room was full of Latin American communists. The myth sells a lot, and so the issues that can tarnish it are ignored. Either they don’t talk about those killed or they say that they deserved it because they were Batista’s executioners. But it wasn’t like that: of all the cases investigated, none of them were Batista’s thugs. What the revolutionaries wanted was to spread terror and that was the plan of the Castro brothers and Che Guevara in Mexico—terror in order to be able to exercise control more easily. There is a case of a young man who had just joined the police, and Che says that he doesn’t care if he is innocent or not: “If he was wearing Batista’s blue uniform, he should be shot.” The truth is that the vast majority of the thugs who committed Batista’s murders managed to flee the country. 

Terror as a revolutionary weapon is an element of Bolshevism.

Yes, that’s what the man who trained them in Mexico says, that they had this plan to achieve absolute power. And, of course, they get all this inheritance from the KGB and its satellite secret services. There is a very interesting book, El soviet caribeño, by César Reynal Aguilera, which argues that it was all a plan prepared by these services so that Fidel Castro could take over the resistance movement against Batista, which was not a communist movement. My parents belonged to that movement and were profoundly anti-communist. The truth is that without that support Castro could not have taken power, and once he had the island in his hands, he organised a secret and counter-intelligence service along the lines of the KGB. They no longer shot people but sentenced them to exile and long prison sentences—there are still more than a thousand political prisoners—and maintained absolute control of an island where nothing works. 

Che has become a symbol of rebellion, a t-shirt. Is it possible to put an end to that?

Not as long as t-shirts continue to be sold—but the incredible thing is that the Che Guevara campaign, which was born with the aim of giving a romantic image of the Cuban revolution, has managed to make it frowned upon to criticise Cuba. It has surpassed those initial expectations and has created other myths of social justice or a great quality of life in a paradisiacal place.

Or the famous Cuban healthcare. 

This is another myth. I have done a lot of work on this issue, and it is really unheard of [in Cuba]. If you go to a local hospital, not to the centres for foreigners, the situation is indescribable: filth, lack of water and medicines, no air conditioning, etc. But this is a myth repeated publicly even by the likes of Obama and Colin Powell. We have done extensive work on this issue in which we denounced how the Pan American Health Organisation, which represents the WHO in the area, is a machine completely co-opted by Cuba and helps to hide the reality. 

Not to mention more thorny issues such as the Cuban biotechnology programme that has been running since the 1980s and has received huge investments. In 2001, I published a paper on the possible biological weapons programme that caused a great stir in the US, because Cuba had a level four laboratory. Among the testimonies I presented, the most important was that of Ken Alibeck, a scientist who headed the Soviet biological weapons programme. Alibek claimed to be convinced of the existence of a Cuban biological programme. But, in 2002, Jimmy Carter and a US delegation were taken on a tour of the Cuban facilities and the matter was never discussed again. It is possible that the Cubans abandoned the military programme when they saw what happened in Iraq, but with the arrival of Chávez’s money they may well have rescued it.  

Venezuela’s ‘Chavismo’ has been a good student of the Cuban regime.

Yes, and that is due to the work of the Cuban intelligence services, which have created a huge network of Cuba solidarity associations all over the world—I think there are about 1,900—from which they recruit people of all kinds to promote Cuba’s work. That’s why they got involved with Venezuela.

I lived in Venezuela for almost three years, and I warned my acquaintances there of the steps Chávez was going to take, because it was very clear to me that he was following a model, but they told me that I was obsessed with Cuba. Unfortunately, Venezuela is now a satellite of Cuba.

Is this importance of Cuba also a consequence of all these myths?

Yes, but to understand what has happened in Cuba you have to look at a series of factors that explain why the model has been so successful. The importance of propaganda is clear, but clandestine work is fundamental, because these are regimes that are not subject to any morals or ethics. Anything goes. The Cuban secret services are the only ones in the former Soviet bloc, along with the KGB, that had and still have a programme of illegals—officers who train for years to assume a false identity. It is estimated that there are about 500 illegal agents around the world. In our files we have recorded up to 5,000 intelligence operations in the US and 1,600 throughout South America. This gives an idea of how the Cuban regime works, and if this is hard for me, a Cuban, to believe, imagine a politician who has grown up with the idea of that beautiful Cuba, Che Guevara, social justice and his fantastic medicine. … He will not believe it, and that is the great victory of Cuban propaganda.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are subject to deletion if they are not germane. I have no problem with a bit of colourful language, but blasphemy or depraved profanity will not be allowed. Attacks on the Catholic Faith will not be tolerated. Comments will be deleted that are republican (Yanks! Note the lower case 'r'!), attacks on the legitimacy of Pope Francis as the Vicar of Christ (I know he's a material heretic and a Protector of Perverts, and I definitely want him gone yesterday! However, he is Pope, and I pray for him every day.), the legitimacy of the House of Windsor or of the claims of the Elder Line of the House of France, or attacks on the legitimacy of any of the currently ruling Houses of Europe.