“I dream of Che a lot. I dream he is alive, in his uniform, I dream that we talk.” So said Fidel Castro, long after his friend and comrade Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s death.
As Reid-Henry (History/Queen Mary, Univ. of London) demonstrates at many points in his debut, Castro and Guevara completed each other. Ironically, both came from wealthy and influential families, the very people they would mount revolutions against. The author notes that Guevara’s father was the grandson of one of the wealthiest men in South America, his mother the descendant of a Spanish viceroy, and Castro’s landlord family was conspicuous in its affluence. Initially, Guevara was the more skilled theoretician, well versed in Marxist theory; Castro took time catching up. In the early days of their friendship, though, dating to the mid-’50s, Castro concocted a kind of revolutionary nationalism that “gave Che the voice, finally, to articulate his own vision of resisting American imperialism.” When Guevara left Cuba to export the revolution in battles around the world, accumulating expertise in guerrilla warfare, he lost his place in the Fidelista hierarchy. This fact has suggested to some historians that Guevara lost favor, but Reid-Henry writes that “a revolutionary partnership is different from most other political double acts,” and shifts in role were not unexpected. Of course, Guevara’s adventures abroad did not turn out well. He was badly defeated in Africa and eventually rooted out and killed in Bolivia, providing that ghost of Castro’s dreams. Reid-Henry writes with circumstantial detail, yielding, among other things, a touching inventory of the things Guevara carried: a photograph of his wife, copies of Marx and Lenin and an inhaler for asthma.
Illuminates unexplored corners in the revolutionary history of Latin America and gives a sympathetic but not uncritical view of a genuine friendship.