But it makes no films about the Cuban resistance movement.
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
The Wall Street Journal, December 29,2008
Hollywood hotshot Benicio Del Toro is not a stand-up comic, but he seemed to be playing one earlier this month when he said he found the role of Cuban Revolution hero Ernesto Guevara, in the new film "Che," like Jesus Christ. "Only Jesus would turn the other cheek. Che wouldn't," Mr. Del Toro explained. Right. And Bernie Madoff is Mother Teresa, only she wasn't into fraud. With next month marking the 50th anniversary of the Castro dictatorship, it's no surprise that the film industry is trying to cash in by celebrating pop-culture icon Guevara. As one of Fidel Castro's lieutenants in the Sierra Maestra and a Castro enforcer in the years following the rebel victory, his name is synonymous with the Cuban Revolution.
Interesting films are hard to come by these days and "Che" is a good example of the problem. Rebel glamour sells T-shirts and coffee mugs so why not another airbrushed rerun of Guevara's life? Or, more precisely, some mythical version of it, sanitized for the mass market. Meanwhile the real marvel of the past 50 years in Cuba -- the steady stream of heroic nonconformists who have risked all in their aspiration to think, speak and act freely -- remains the untold epic of our time. If Mr. Del Toro's "Christ" comment is foolish, it's nothing compared to film director Steven Soderbergh's explanation of why we should care about Che. Bad things happen in society when "you make profit the point of everything," the movie director told Politico.com. Che's "dream of a classless society, a society that isn't built on the profit motive, is still relevant. The arguments still going on are about his methodology."
Putting aside for a moment the hilarity of Mr. Soderbergh's personal revulsion with profits, the "methodology" that he suggests is debatable is otherwise known as murder. Che had a "homicidal idea of justice," Alvaro Vargas Llosa explained in The New Republic in 2005, after researching his life. In his April 1967 "Message to the Tricontinental," Che spoke these words: "hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective and cold-blooded killing machine."
The results of Che's utopian agenda aren't much to admire either. As author Paul Berman explained in 2004 in Slate, "The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster."
The miserable Argentine was killed in 1967 in the Bolivian Andes while trying to spread revolution in South America. But his vision of how to govern lives on in the Cuba of today. It is a slave plantation, where a handful of wealthy white men impose their "morality" on the masses, most of whom are black and who suffer unspeakable privation with zero civil liberties.
There is something rich about the supposedly hip, countercultural Hollywood elite making common cause with Cuba's privileged establishment in 2008. Its victims -- artists, musicians, human-rights activists, journalists, bloggers, writers, poets and others deprived of freedom of conscience -- would seem to deserve solidarity from their brethren living in freedom. Instead, the ever-so avant-garde Soderberghs side with the politburo. The Cuban regime loves its apologists. They give cover and deflect international criticism while at home the regime brutalizes its people. Reports from the island are that since Raúl took over from Fidel in 2006, the repression has gotten worse.
Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Varela Project, which collected more than 11,000 signatures calling for free elections and civil liberties in 2002, says that in recent months there has been a crackdown, "with a fierce persecution against Varela Project activists, other members of the opposition, and the ongoing scandal of not freeing the prisoners of conscience."
Among Castro's captives is Oscar Elias Biscet, an Afro-Cuban doctor who is renowned for his commitment to peaceful resistance and is serving a 25-year sentence. Fifty-eight journalists, writers and democracy advocates rounded up in March 2003 also languish in Fidel's deplorable jails. The total number of political prisoners is not known but is undoubtedly much higher.
State security and rapid-response brigades -- aka thugs paid to rough up dissidents -- have been fully employed this year. But, despite the terror and the threat of imprisonment, the Cuban spirit still struggles for freedom.
At least five resistance publications now circulate in eastern Cuba. Thirty-two-year-old blogger Yoani Sánchez has been warned to keep quiet, but she still chronicles the ridiculousness of Che economics, giving a voice to ordinary Cubans who live lives of desperation. The Ladies in White -- wives, sisters and mothers of prisoners of conscience -- still walk quietly in Havana on Sundays. Rock bands mock the old dictator. This is the wonder of the revolution: Fifty years of state terror hasn't silenced the resistance. Maybe one day Hollywood will make a film about it.
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