Che: A Graphic Biography

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I’ve never really read much about Che Guevara, but have always been curious about his life and politics. I’ve been interested due both to his iconic status–his image is everywhere–as well as his influence on the so-called “New Left” in the United States in the 1960s. Spain Rodriguez’s Che: A Graphic Biography provides a quick-and-easy introduction to Guevara’s life that gives biographical details, historical context, and political analysis.

Che: A Graphic Biography helps to explain why Guevara has become a world renowned figure. Ultimately, Rodriguez concludes that Guevara’s celebrity status owes to his life becoming a symbol of standing up to U.S. imperialism. Before presenting that conclusion, Rodriguez describes the important chapters of Guevara’s life, discussing his tour of Latin America and the influence it had on his political development, his involvement in the Cuban revolution, his work spreading revolutionary politics in Africa and Latin America following the Cuban revolution, and his death while attempting to organize a revolution in Bolivia. Throughout this history, the book inevitably discusses the tension between Guevara and Cuba’s Marxism and the free-market capitalist ideology of the United States. It does a good job talking about how the United States sought to suppress revolutionary movements in Cuba and Latin America generally while also touching on Cuba’s attempts to forge alliances with Marxist governments around the world. If there is one downfall of the book, it is that Marxism is receives relatively little detailed exploration and that there is only limited critical assessment of Guevara’s politics.

While the book is short at around 100 pages and can’t get into all of the details of Guevara’s life and times, it more than makes up in it for its readability. For someone not terribly well versed in Latin American politics and history, the book successfully presents enough information to give a sense of what was happening while at the same time keeping the narrative flowing. Moreover, the brilliant illustrations present Guevara in a compelling light, making it easy to follow and breaking up the text for less than frequent readers.

The book also contains an essay by Sarah Seidman and Paul Buhle titled “Che Guevara, Image and Reality” that looks at the commodification of Guevara’s influence and his relationship to revolutionary politics. It looks at how Guevara influenced and was used by a variety of anti-imperialist movements while also providing a critical look at how his image has been used outside of its political context on a range of consumer products.

Overall, Che: A Graphic Biography is well worth reading for those curious about why Guevara has become such an iconic figure and for those interested in learning about revolutionary movements.

Spain Rodriguez, Che: A Graphic Biography, (Verso Books, 2008).

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Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba

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On January 1, the Cuban revolution celebrated the fifty year anniversary of its toppling of the Batista regime. The US media coverage of that anniversary was limited and when coverage did appear it either presented the revolution as repressive or centered around the personalities of Fidel or Raul Castro.

This kind of US media coverage has been consistent for decades and was reflected in a six-month study that the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy conducted in 2007 on Latin America. This type of media representation of Cuba has contributed greatly to the lack of understanding amongst those living in the US about the reality of life in that Caribbean nation for the past fifty years.

Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba is an important new book that can serve as a counter to the biased US media coverage. Author and journalist, Reese Erlich, provides readers with an excellent overview of US policy towards Cuba since 1959. Erlich has traveled to Cuba numerous times since his initial visit in 1968, when he went as a member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). These visits not only helped the author to develop relationships with Cubans over the past 40 years, it provided him with some insight into the evolution of the revolutionary experiment in Cuba.

Not an Apologist for the Cuban Government

Another important aspect of Dateline Havana is that the author does not act as an apologist for the Cuban government. While Erlich’s investigation of US policy towards Cuba does acknowledge how Washington has punished and marginalized the revolutionary government, he doesn’t shy away from pointing out the many shortcomings. Erlich shares the stories of many Cubans who feel that the Cuban government has not lived up to the stated goals of the revolution, such as providing adequate food, work opportunities, and the right to dissent. Erlich even devotes chapters to the discussion of racism in Cuba, whether or not Cuban women are better off since the revolution, and how the government treats the gay community.

The author’s critique of Cuba is balanced by his ability to present us with information on US policy that will not overwhelm readers. Erlich looks at the harsh realities of US attempts to overthrow the Cuban government, the use of biological warfare, assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, a propaganda war through radio and TV Marti, and the decades long embargo that has attempted to strangle the tiny Caribbean island.

One of the most revealing chapters deals with the issue of artistic expression in Cuba with a focus on the international acclaim of the late 1990’s musical phenomenon known as the Buena Vista Social Club. Erlich interviews several musicians who participated in that project, most of whom have been supporters of the Cuban government. However, the interviews also reveal that many of those same musicians were frustrated with how film maker Wim Wenders depicted Cuba in his highly acclaimed film about the Buena Vista Social Club.

A Good Book for Understanding US-Cuba Relations

Dateline Havana concludes with a look into the future of US/Cuban relations in a post-Castro era. The author raises many questions about the resiliency of the five-decades long revolution and whether or not the US will ever be willing to have open relations with the island nation as long as it maintains a commitment to what was started in 1959. Reese Erlich’s book is an important contribution for anyone who cares about understanding US policy and its future with Cuba.

Reese Erlich, Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba, (Polipoint Press, 2008).

Superpower Principles: U.S. Terrorism Against Cuba

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So which country has endured more years of state terrorism than any other since WWII? The answer might surprise most, since the country in question in on the current US government list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The answer is Cuba. According to this new collection of essays edited by Salim Lamrani, the US government has engaged in over 40 years of terrorism against the island of Cuba and its people.

The book is divided into two sections, beginning with a series of essays that provide an overview of US policy since the first Cuban revolution at the end of the 19th century. The bulk of the terrorism against Cuba however, has been committed since the 1959 revolution. Several articles detail the kinds of terrorism employed by the US and its proxy forces; tactics like assassination, bombings, kidnapping, chemical and biological warfare. The US government has attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro, financed the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 killing Cuban athletes and infecting livestock with swine fever resulting in the slaughter of 500,000 pigs unsuitable for human consumption. Despite this well documented legacy of state terrorism you won’t find it much in official history or in current media discourse on the War on Terrorism. The fact that this history is little known in the US demonstrates how the media in this country has become little more than a cheerleader for the government.

The last half of the book looks at a more recent aspect of US terrorism against Cuba, the arrest and bogus trial of what have become known as the Cuban Five. Arrested for conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism against the US in 2001, these Cubans were actually gathering intelligence in order to alert their government of future US efforts to undermine their country. Some of those charged have a long history of heroism, particularly fighting in many of the liberation wars in Africa in the 1970’s and 1980’s. As of this writing the Cuban Five have been granted a new trial, but you are not likely to hear about it from the corporate media. Unfortunately these Cuban patriots are not Michael Jackson or Martha Stewart. To get the background on their case the last few essays include comments from the lawyers defending them and perspectives from international journalists who have been following the proceedings. A great resource for debunking the US government myth that our foreign policy is committed to preventing acts of terrorism.

Salim Lamrani, ed., Superpower Principles: U.S. Terrorism Against Cuba, (Common Courage Press, 2005).