Boston College students were invited this past Monday to hear a different viewpoint about one of recent history’s most polarizing figures: Che Guevara. Hosted in Gasson’s Irish Hall, the Cuban-American Student Association’s (CASA) event aimed to help students “learn about the truths and myths of Che Guevara” from author, columnist and public speaker Humberto Fontova.
Born in Havana, Fontova immigrated to the United States in 1961 and has been a prominent speaker against the Cuban regime, writing several books including Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant.
President of CASA, Brenda Rojas, A&S ‘14, coordinated the event after Thais Menendez, A&S ‘14, read Fontova’s book, Exposing the Real Che Guevara. Rojas, whose grandfather was a political prisoner under the regime for fifteen years, said the topic was “close to heart” as she introduced Fontova.
Fontova began his speech by telling the audience that Che Guevara is the “Kim Kardashian of revolutionaries,” famous for being famous. Although Guevara is glorified as a freedom fighter, adorning everything from mugs to posters and hipsteresque t-shirts, Fontova’s stated purpose in this forum was to expose what he identified as the falsehood behind the façade.
Fontova admits to saving extra scorn for those that wear their Che shirts. “The very people who wear his T-shirts should be appalled by what he did,” he says.
In Fontava’s experience, most people who idolize Guevara do not understand the violence, racism and anti-feminism that Fontova associates with his ascent to power.
Fontova’s discussion centered on those executed under Cuba’s communist rule, especially when Guevara served as second in command to Fidel Castro. The Black Book of Communism, written by several European academics, estimates that about 16,000 Cuban men, boys and women were murdered by firing squad in the 1960s and ‘70s, most of which occurred under Guevara’s watchful eye in the early 1960s.
Throughout the event, Fontova cited specific interviews and gave detailed information about the horrors political prisoners faced in La Cabaña, the prison where Guevara oversaw the torture and execution of thousands of Cubans.
He also cited the importance of media propaganda in promoting communism in Cuba, particularly an excerpt from Guevara’s 1957 diary: “Much more valuable than rural recruits for our guerrilla force, were American media recruits to export our propaganda.”
According to Fontova, much of the information in the “respectable mainstream” media about the Cuban regime comes from former totalitarian leaders and cohorts. Fontova points to the language barrier contributing to the difficulty in sharing first-hand experiences, as most of these issues are discussed in Spanish.
“I am not mainstream, and I am not respectable, so I am happy to interview these people (Cuban exiles)," Fontova asserted.
On the other side of the ongoing debate, Fontova is often portrayed as a radical right-wing conspiracy theorist by researchers who do not share his view on Che and the Cuban regime. Indeed, Che Guevara's portrayal varies significantly depending on the historian or biography in question.
In light of this, CASA aimed to expose the BC community to one side of a contentious debate. “I think that it’s important to educate people on a different perspective,” says Maria Vasquez, Lynch and A&S ‘16. “It wasn’t meant to indoctrinate people; just to espouse another view.”