December 13, 2008
Che rides again in HollywoodBy Humberto Fontova
"Che" film gets thumbs up in Cuba," ran the headline from CNN's Havana Bureau on Dec. 8. Benicio Del Toro, who stars as Che, was in the Cuban capital at the Havana Film Festival this week-end presenting the movie he co-produced. "Che the movie met Che the myth in Cuba this weekend," starts the CNN report, "and the lengthy biopic of the Argentinean revolutionary won acclaim from among those who know his story best. "
Indeed, but the acclaim came because those "who knew his story best" (Castro and his Stalinist henchmen, the film's chief mentors) saw that their directives had been followed slavishly, that Che's (genuine) story was completely absent from the movie.
The Stalinist regime that co-produced this film and now fetes the star -- employing the midnight knock and the dawn raid among other devices by its KGB-mentored secret police- rounded up and jailed more political prisoners as a percentage of population than Stalin's and executed more people (out of a population of 6.4 million) in its first three years in power than Hitler's executed (out of a population of 70 million) in it's first six. Ernesto "Che" Guevara initiated this bloodbath and mass-jailing under the direction of Soviet GRU agent Angel Ciutah, who was Che's chief mentor and houseguest (in the most luxurious mansion in Cuba, by the way) only weeks after Che entered Havana and stole it from it's owner, threatening him with a firing squad.
The figures for the Che/Castro murders and jailings do not issue from Cuban-American sources. They're available from the Human Rights group Freedom House and from the Black Book of Communism, authored by French scholars and translated into English by Harvard University Press, not exactly headquarters for "the vast-right wing conspiracy" much less "right-wing Cuban crackpots."
Del Toro and Soderbergh's movie provides no hint of any of the above, while proving that that Castro has lost none of his touch at snookering the MSM and Hollywood. "This is Cuban history," gushed Del Toro at his Havana press conference, "there's an audience in here that that could be the biggest critics and the most knowledgeable critics of the historical accuracy of the film."
Yes, but if these criticized the historical accuracy of the film they'd likely find themselves instantly and involuntarily enrolling in the Castro regime's free (though somewhat cramped) lodging, it's foolproof weight-loss regimen, and get free electroshock treatments to boot. Many who interacted with Che Guevara at close range now live outside Stalinist Cuba, primarily in south Florida, and could have provided accounts of Che's "story" without fear of torture chambers if they deviated from the Castroite party-line.
Instead, as seems mandatory when any "scholar" or documentarian researches Cuban history, only the propaganda ministry of a Stalinist regime qualifies as a reliable source. Back in May while accepting the "best actor" award at the Cannes Film Festival for his Che role, Benicio del Toro gushed: "I'd like to dedicate this to the man himself, Che Guevara!" as the crowd erupted in a thunderous ovation."I wouldn't be here without Che Guevara, and through all the awards the movie gets you'll have to pay your respects to the man!" In a flurry of subsequent interviews in Europe del Toro equated Che Guevara with Jesus Christ and again told a Spanish interviewer, "Ideologically I feel very close to Che."
"Che" was billed as the highlight of the Havana Film Festival and the Stalinist regime rolled out the carpet for their honored guest, and A+ pupil, Benicio del Toro. "It's a privilege to be here!" gushed del Toro to his Stalinist hosts. "I'm grateful that the Cuban people can see this movie!"
And why shouldn't Castro's subjects be allowed to view his movie? Weren't Stalin's subjects allowed to watch The Battleship Potemkin? Weren't Hitler's subjects allowed to watch Leni Reifenstahls Triumph of Will? Both were produced at the direction of the propaganda ministries of totalitarian regimes-as was Soderbergh's and del Toro's, "Che."
The screenplay was based on Che Guevara's diaries which were published by Cuba's propaganda ministry with the forward written by Fidel Castro himself. The film includes several Communist Cuban actors and the other Latin American actors spent months in Cuba being prepped for their roles by members of Cuba's "Che Guevara Institute."
A proclamation from Castro's own press dated 12/7/08 actually boasts of their role: "Actor Benicio del Toro presented the film (at Havana's Karl Marx Theater) as he thanked the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) for its assistance during the shooting of the film, which was the result of a seven-year research work in Cuba." The Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) is an arm of Stalinist Cuba's propaganda ministry.
Soderbergh and Benicio Del Toro actually had an intriguing and immensely amusing theme if only they'd known how to plumb it. Soderbergh hails Guevara as "one of the most fascinating lives in the last century." Almost all who actually interacted with Ernesto Guevara (and are now free to express their views without fear of firing squads or torture chambers) know that the The Big Question regarding Ernesto, the most genuinely fascinating aspect of his life, is:
How did such a dreadful bore, incurable doofus, sadist and epic idiot attain such iconic status?
The answer is that this psychotic and thoroughly unimposing vagrant named Ernesto Guevara had the magnificent fortune of linking up with modern history's top press agent, Fidel Castro, who for going on half a century now, has had the mainstream media anxiously scurrying to his every beck and call and eating out of his hand like trained pigeons. Had Ernesto Guevara De La Serna y Lynch not linked up with Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico city that fateful summer of 1955 -- had he not linked up with a Cuban exile named Nico Lopez in Guatemala the year before who later introduced him to Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico City -- everything points to Ernesto continuing his life of a traveling hobo, panhandling, mooching off women, staying in flophouses and scribbling unreadable poetry.
While making their film, Soderbergh and Del Toro were not outdone in the trained pigeon department, repeatedly visiting Havana to coo and peck away as anxiously as Herbert Matthews, Dan Rather or Barbara Walters while the regime tossed out its propaganda crumbs.
"I'm here in Cuba's hills thirsting for blood," Che wrote his abandoned wife in 1957. "Dear Papa, today I discovered I really like killing," he wrote shortly afterwards. Alas, this killing very rarely involved combat; it come from the close-range murder of bound and blindfolded men and boys.
"When you saw the beaming look on Che's face as the victims were tied to the stake and blasted apart," said a former political prisoner to this writer, "you knew there was something seriously, seriously wrong with Che Guevara." In fact the one genuine accomplishment in Che Guevara's life was the mass-murder of defenseless men and boys. Under his own gun dozens died. Under his orders thousands crumpled. At everything else Che Guevara failed abysmally, even comically. Yet Soderbergh and Del Toro skip over these fascinating quotes and Che's one genuine accomplishment as a revolutionary.
He's lauded as the century's most celebrated guerrilla fighter but he never fought in a guerrilla war. "The Guerrilla war in Cuba was notable for the marked lack of military skills or offensive spirit in the soldiers of either side," that's military historian Arthur Campbell, in his authoritative, Guerrillas; A History and Analysis, "The Fidelistas were completely lacking in the basic military arts or in any experience of fighting."
"In all essentials Castro's battle for Cuba was a public relations campaign, fought in New York and Washington." That's British historian Sir Hugh Thomas, who initially sympathized with the Castro/Che regime.
Yet Soderbergh and Del Toro, obsessively wary of lapsing into the slightest "historical inaccuracy," relied on the Castro regime as primary source -- and came up with a shoot-'em up war movie!
Woody Allen or Quentin Tarantino might have rolled up their sleeves and made this material interesting, if not the character himself, then perhaps whatever malfunction in brain synapses animate his fans.
Alas, taking on Fidel Castro as agent has it's drawbacks, as former colleagues all attest: "Fidel only praises the dead." So prior to whooping up his revolutionary sidekick, Fidel Castro sent him "to sleep with the fishes."
Too bad Soderbergh and Del Toro didn't interview the former CIA officers who revealed to this writer how Fidel Castro himself, via the Bolivian Communist party, constantly fed the CIA info on Che's whereabouts in Bolivia. Including Fidel Castro's directive to the Bolivian Communists regarding Che and his merry band might have also added drama. "Not even an aspirin," instructed Cuba's Maximum Leader to his Bolivian comrades, meaning that Bolivia's Communists were not to assist Che in any way -- "not even with an aspirin," if Che complained of a headache.
But utterly starstruck by their subject and slavishly compliant to Fidel Castro's script and casting calls, all these fascinating plots and subplots flew right over Soderbergh and Del Toro's heads. To the immense gratification of his recent Cuban hosts.
Humberto Fontova is the author of four books including Exposing the Real Che Guevara. Visit hfontova.com.