Che: Part 1, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Benicio del Toro presents a very different depiction of Che Guevara. In The Motorcycle Diaries, Guevara is portrayed as a young doctor traveling through South America in hopes of helping common people. The filmmakers wanted to show a more human side of the revolutionary, outlining his humanitarian efforts before he went to Cuba. In Soderbergh’s adaptation, there is no humanitarian part of Che Guevara. He is a ruthless revolutionary that will stop at nothing to achieve total victory for the Cuban rebels. Throughout the film the viewer sees Guevara’s cunning and ruthless leadership style that ultimately leads to victory. Our readings this week support this view of Guevara.
In Guevara’s book Guerilla Warfare, Guevara explains why he used the fighting style that he did. Instead of fighting on battlefields using more traditional units and tactics, he resorted to a style that proved beneficial to small revolutionary groups in the past, including the American Colonists. The guerilla style relies on sneak attacks that ambush traditional units when they least expect it. This can cripple a war machine and result in victory for a smaller force. Guevara wrote, “Violence is not the monopoly of the exploiters and as such the exploited can use it too and, moreover, ought to use it when the moment arrives.” (Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare) Here, Guevara explains that if rebels can use surprise and timing correctly, it can swing a fight their way.
Regarding traditional warfare, Guevara says, “those who want to undertake guerrilla warfare are criticized for forgetting mass struggle, implying that guerrilla warfare and mass struggle are opposed to each other…guerrilla warfare is a people’s warfare; an attempt to carry out this type of war without the population’s support is a prelude to inevitable disaster.” (Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare) Guerrilla warfare is only successful if the fighting force has the support of the people fighting. In other words, guerrilla fighters are actually fighting for something they believe in, and have a leader that they trust their lives with. These are the people Guevara had fighting in his regiments, and Guevara was the leader they respected and died for.
After fighting and winning the Cuban revolution, Guevara learned from these tactics and wished to use them in other parts of Latin America. He said, “First, people’s forces can win a war against the army. Second, it is not always necessary to wait for all conditions favorable to revolution to be present; the insurrection itself can create them. Third, in the underdeveloped parts of America, the battleground for armed struggle should in the main be the countryside.” (Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare) Guevara explains that he proved that a small rebel fighting force can win against a large army. It isn’t necessary for people to wait for an opportunity to rise up; they can create that on their own. Finally, guerilla warfare is most effective in the terrain that the rebels work in each day because they know the land better than the country’s soldiers.
Che wanted to take all that he learned in Cuba and use that in other areas of Latin America. After traveling across the United States, Africa and China, Guevara left Cuba to do just that. (Kornbluh, Death of Che Guevara: Declassified) Peter Kornbluh writes in Death of Che Guevara: Declassified that Guevara took the fight to Bolivia for multiple reasons. He says, “He enters [Bolivia] with forged Uruguayan passports to organize and lead a communist guerrilla movement. Che chooses Bolivia as the revolutionary base for various reasons. First, Bolivia is of lower priority than Caribbean Basin countries to US security interests and poses a less immediate threat. Second, Bolivia’s social conditions and poverty are such that Bolivia is considered susceptible to revolutionary ideology. Finally, Bolivia shares a border with five other countries, which would allow the revolution to spread easily if the guerrillas are successful.” (Kornbluh, Death of Che Guevara: Declassified) The revolutionary believed that he learned enough during the Cuban revolution to free other Latin American countries from oppression and tyranny. However, this ultimately led to his death.