Did you catch Eric Burdon on the PBS special “The 60’s Experience” last week? Eric was “100 pounds of hipness in a ten-pound bag,” as Dave Barry used to say. His Che Guevara shirt shamed both Carlos Santana’s and Johnny Depp’s. This was no measly t-shirt, either. It was a collared shirt, very elegant, with a HUGE image of the gallant Che’s face on both front and back.
My entire family came rushing into the den when I exploded — not in rage — but in mirth. “WE GOTTA GET OUTTA THIS PLACE!” Eric was singing.
“EXACTLY, Eric!” I roared “You NAILED IT, amigo!” That was the exact refrain from 6.3 million Cubans (Cuba’s population in 1959) when Fidel and Che took over.
The fiendishly clever Cuban-American National Foundation itself might have produced the show, or slipped him the song list to expose Burdon as a jackass. Che provoked the biggest political exodus in the history of the western hemisphere. Yet the thundering irony was lost on Eric, not to mention the PBS producers.
When your professor calls Che a “guerrilla fighter” he’s correct, but unwittingly. The term “Indian fighter” was used for cowboys who fought against Indians right?
Well, did your history prof tell you that one of the bloodiest and longest guerrilla wars on this continent was fought — not by — but against Fidel and Che, and by landless peasants?
Didn’t think so. Farm collectivization was no more voluntary in Cuba than in the Ukraine. And Cuba’s Kulaks had guns, a few at first anyway. Had these rebels gotten a fraction of the aid the Afghan Mujahedeen got, the Viet Cong got — indeed that George Washington’s rebels got from the French — had these Cuban rebels gotten any help, my kids would speak Spanish and Miami’s jukeboxes today would carry Tanya Tucker rather than Gloria Estefan.
Che had a very bloody (and typically cowardly) hand in one of the major anti-insurgency wars on this continent. 80 per cent of these anti-communist guerrillas were executed on the spot upon capture, a Che specialty. For my book I interviewed several of the lucky former rebels who managed to escape the slaughter. “We fought with the fury of cornered beasts,” I titled the chapter, using the phrase one used to describe their desperate freedom fight against the Soviet occupation of Cuba through their proxies Fidel and Che.
In 1956 when Che linked up with Fidel, Raul, and their Cuban chums in Mexico city, one of them (now in exile) recalls Che railing against the Hungarian freedom-fighters as “Fascists!” and cheering their extermination by Soviet tanks.
In 1962 Che got a chance to do more than cheer from the sidelines. He had a hand in the following: “Cuban militia units commanded by Russian officers employed flame-throwers to burn the palm-thatched cottages in the Escambray countryside. The peasant occupants were accused of feeding the counterrevolutionaries and bandits.” At one point in 1962, one of every 17 Cubans was a political prisoner. Fidel himself admits that they faced 179 bands of “counter-revolutionaries” and “bandits.”
Mass murder was the order in Cuba’s countryside. It was the only way to decimate so many rebels. These country folk went after the Reds with a ferocity that saw Fidel and Che running to their Soviet sugar daddies and tugging their pants in panic. That commie bit about how “a guerrilla swims in the sea which is the people, etc.” fit Cuba’s anti-Fidel and Che rebellion to a T. So in a relocation and concentration campaign that shamed anything the Brits did to the Boers, the gallant Communists ripped hundreds of thousands of Cubans from their ancestral homes and herded them into concentration camps on the opposite side of Cuba. I interview several of these “relocated” families too.
One of these Cuban redneck wives refused to be relocated. After her husband, sons, and a few nephews were murdered by the Gallant Che and his minions, she grabbed a tommy gun herself, rammed in a clip and took to the hills. She became a rebel herself. Cubans know her as La Nia Del Escambray.
For a year she ran rings around the Communist armies sweeping the hills in her pursuit. Finally she ran out of ammo and supplies and the reds rounded her up. Amazingly, she wasn’t executed (Che must have taken that day off.) For years La Nia suffered horribly in Castro’s dungeons, but she lives in Miami today. Seems to me her tragic story makes ideal fodder for Oprah, for all those women’s magazines, for all those butch professorettes of “Women’s Studies,” for a Susan Sarandon role, for a little whooping up by Gloria Steinem, Dianne Feinstein and Hillary herself.
Think about it: here’s that favored theme for Hollywood producers and New York publishers — “the feisty woman.” Well, they don’t come much feistier than Zoila Aguila, her real name. Had she been fighting, say, Somoza or Pinochet, you can bet your last penny Hollywood and New York would be ALL OVER her story. Instead she fought the Left’s most picturesque poster boys. So, naturally, nobody’s heard of her.
Your professor, the fool, probably thinks Fidel and Che were guerrillas. Few fables get as much currency. Next week we’ll blow that fable sky high.
Humberto Fontova [send him mail] holds an M.A. in History from Tulane University. He’s the author of the newly-published Fidel; Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, as well as The Hellpig Hunt: A Hunting Adventure in the Wild Wetlands at the Mouth of the Mississippi River by Middle-Aged Lunatics Who Refuse to Grow Up and Helldiver’s Rodeo described as "Highly entertaining!" by Publisher’s Weekly, as "Terrific!" by Salon.com, and as "Just what the doctor ordered!" by Ted Nugent.