New Internationalist

Guevara on development

August 1974

Che Guevara played a leading role in the final military defeat of the Cuban dictator, Batista, and became one of the foremost troubleshooting ministers in Fidel Castro’s new government.

At the age of 38, a serious asthmatic and with a miserable allergy to mosquito bites, he left the Cuban government offices and began the revolutionary struggle again in the inhospitable jungles of Bolivia.

He is one of the few historical examples of a man who, after considerable privation, illness and wounds, was successful in his aims, and yet resigned from high office to start all over again.

As a revolutionary ‘cult’ figure, he is as much in danger of being obscured by the clichés of the Left as by the hostility of the Right. The following quotations are glimpses of the breadth of Guevara’s thinking on development issues.

I wanted to help

‘Because of the circumstances in which I travelled, first as a student and later as a doctor, I came into close contact with poverty, hunger and disease; with the inability to treat a child because of lack of money; with the stupefaction provoked by continual hunger and punishment, to the point that a father can accept the loss of a son as an unimportant accident, as occurs often in the downtrodden classes of our American homeland. And I began to realize, at that time, that there were things that were almost as important to me as becoming a famous scientist or making a significant contribution to medical science. I wanted to help those people.’

What is underdevelopment?

‘A dwarf with an enormous head and a swollen chest is “underdeveloped”, to the degree that his weak legs or his short arms do not co-ordinated with the rest of his body… We are countries with economies distorted by the action of imperialism, which has abnormally developed the industrial or agricultural resources necessary to complement its complex economy. “Underdevelopment” or distorted development carries with it a dangerous specialization in raw materials, containing a threat of hunger for all our people. We, “the underdeveloped”, are those of the single crop, the single produce and the single market. A single product, with an uncertain sale which depends upon a single market that imposes and sets conditions – this is the great formula of imperial economic domination which is combined with the old, and always useful, Roman formula: Divide and Rule.’

Defence expenditure

‘Although we know of latent danger and are preparing ourselves to repel the aggression which still exists in the atmosphere, we must stop thinking about it. If we make war preparations the centre of our concern, we will not be able to devote ourselves to creative work. All the work and all the capital invested in preparing for a military action is wasted work and wasted money. Unfortunately, we have to do it, because there are others who are preparing themselves. But it is – and I say this in all honesty, on my honour as a soldier – the truth is that the outgoing money which most saddens me as I watch it leave the vault of the National Bank is the money that is going to pay for some weapon.’

Farewell letter to his family

‘Once again I feel Rocinante’s bony ribs beneath my legs. Again I begin my journey, carrying my shield.

‘Many will call me an adventurer, and I am, but of a different kind – one who risks his skin in order to prove his convictions.

‘Perhaps this will be my last letter. It is not my intention, but it is within the realm of logical probability.

‘I have loved you very much, only I have not known how to express this love; I am extremely set in my ways, and I think at times you have not understood me.

‘My will, which I have perfected with an artist’s care, will now hold up my shaky legs and exhausted lungs. I will do it.’

On Sunday 8 October 1967 Che Guevara was wounded and captured in Bolivia by government troops. The following day he was summarily executed.

This feature was published in the August 1974 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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