Nobody’s Hero: 9 Inconvenient Truths about Che Guevara

Guevara in the Congo. Jacobinmag

6 – He Was Possibly a Racist

According to Jean Paul Sartre, Guevara was: “the most complete human being of our time.” Presumably, Sartre was unaware of the guerrilla’s homophobia and racism. Guevara was open about his contempt and hatred of capitalism and the United States in particular. He pointed out that America couldn’t claim to be a democracy when there was discrimination against black people and because the KKK existed.

The problem is, Guevara was possibly a racist himself. After the victorious Cuban Revolution in 1959, he said: “We’re going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing.” During his first journey through Latin America, he wrote that Africans had maintained their racial purity because of their “lack of affinity with bathing”; an ironic statement given his notoriously poor personal hygiene. He also said: “The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink.” His attitude is very similar to that of slaveholders in the United States.

Guevara also referred to Mexicans as “a band of illiterate Indians.” One might try to excuse his comments as being borne out of frustration for his failure in the Congo. However, these comments were made long before he campaigned in Africa. Indeed, the fiasco in the Congo showed how little he really understood the people he campaigned with.

He surmised that the Congolese were not revolutionary and were satisfied with their lot. He continually whined about the lack of leadership amongst the Congolese along with their apparent incompetence. One issue was that the black Cubans perceived themselves as superior to the Congolese and treated them with contempt. It is hardly surprising that relations between the two groups of people were soon strained to breaking point. Some commentators believe Che’s comments should be taken in the context of the time which meant he was not racist.