Aleida Guevara: "I’ve always been very proud of my father"
Aleida Guevara was approaching her fifth birthday when Che left Cuba, and was almost seven years old when he was killed in the Bolivian jungle. Growing up without her father meant adjusting to his status as a legendary guerrilla fighter and global icon of revolution. A legacy she has gradually learned to cherish and protect.
She looks like Che – the same wide, brooding eyes – and talks with the passion of a true believer in the Marxist cause. “In Cuba we are all political,” she says.
In Britain, on the 50th anniversary of the US blockade of the island, the 51-year-old doctor, a paediatrician who also helps run homes for disabled children in Cuba, is happy to talk about childhood memories of her “Papi”.
Sitting outside a central London cafe, she recalls the postcards full of stories and drawings Che sent to his children (Aleida has two brothers and one sister) when on his extraordinary travels, and a series of clandestine trips back home (strained relations with Fidel Castro and Soviet backers had temporarily made Che persona non grata).
She can remember the cuddles after a fall and a bump on the head. “I was still very young when he left Cuba,” she explains. “So it has been through conversations with my mother and his comrades, and reading his writings, that I really got to know him.
"I’ve never stopped having the desire of having Che Guevara next to me. I’ve always wanted him to be next to me. But I’ve always been very proud of my father.”
The Guevara family has tried to restrain any “disrespectful” use of Che’s image, a tough task considering the ubiquity of the man with the beard and the beret. While they didn’t manage to stop a recent catwalk outing of a Che bikini, they did prevent the emergence of a Che vodka brand, with the help of the UK Cuba Solidarity Campaign.
What does she think of all the posters and T-shirts? “If I see a young person using the image of Che Guevara, I know he or she will at some moment stop to think, ‘Who was this person, Che? What did he do?’ If they seek an adequate answer I am happy. But if the image is used only to make money, then we are very much against it.”
But carrying the revolutionary fire means immersion in the politics of the present. Aleida has no love for President Obama. The now 50-year-old trade embargo is as firm and crippling as ever.
“We are very disappointed in him,” she says. “He was the first president of African-American origin in a country which has racism, so we thought he was going to be sensitive enough to understand the issues, but it hasn’t happened.
"US presidents are like figureheads – they only serve the interests of big economic powers. We have a saying, ‘It’s the same dog, just with a different collar.'”
Aleida joined Cuban sympathisers in the UK at a candlelit vigil outside the American embassy in London last week to mark the 14th year of the imprisonment of the ‘Miami Five’ – Cuban men convicted of espionage against the US. She runs through the various ways she believes a fair trial was denied to the men in a city where fiercely anti-Castro Cuban-Americans wield huge political clout.
“We are not looking for any special treatment, only for the United States to abide by its own laws,” Aleida points out. “Their treatment is not a matter of justice or law, it is something against the Cuban people… It would be a very long story to tell you about all the actions against the Cuban people by the United States.”
Yet history never stands still and Cuba has found itself with a few new friends of late. The revolutionary’s daughter takes some hope from the emerging alliance of leftist governments in Latin America.
“These are very important moments for Latin America… People are realising how much power is in their hands. Che is one of the heroes in Latin America but there are many other men like him – people who realise that it is only the unity of the people that will make us strong enough