The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries is a 2004 film that outlines two Argentinean young people who traveled throughout South America medically helping the indigenous people.  Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado (who incidentally died on March 5 at age 88) were two medical students on a voyage through South America, offering their medical assistance throughout the rural areas they visited.  The film depicts them as being very understanding and compassionate with the indigenous people, often putting themselves on the same level as their patients.  For instance, one scene in the film shows the two medical students refusing to wear gloves to treat people suffering from leprosy.  Even though this caused a dispute with the nuns running the hospital, they felt they could better relate to the patients without wearing gloves, and gain their trust for medical treatment.  One young girl refused medical treatment before talking with Guevara, and soon after, took the treatment.  This was the filmmaker’s way of showing how Guevara was able to influence people and gain their trust.

However, many Historians argue that the real life Guevara was not as compassionate as the film depicts.  For example, Paulo Drinot explains that even though Guevara felt sympathy for these people, he shared the same prejudices as any other person did.  First, Drinot says, “Guevara felt genuine empathy for the indigenous he encountered, and he was clearly overwhelmed by what he understood to be a racist and violent social order that barely recognized the humanity of the indigenous.”  The film shows Guevara looking passed many prejudices to help these people.  Drinot continues by saying that “Guevara reproduced most of the prejudices of ‘the Indian’ expressed by many travelers and by man non-indigenous Peruvians of the time.”  Drinot argues that even though Guevara did help many people during his motorcycle voyage, he was not the perfect humanitarian that the film depicts.

Drinot is not the only historian to notice this fallacy depicted by the film.  Ann Zulawski supports Drinot’s theory on Guevara.  She feels that Guevara shared the same prejudices that “almost all writers, whether Bolivian or foreign, succumbed to about indigenous Bolivians’ temperament, intelligence, physical fortitude, work capacity, emotional life and integration into the nation.”  Guevara saw the oppression that dictatorships did in fact inflict on the people; however, he thought natives were oblivious to outside political dealings.  He felt the indigenous were stuck in old world living, and couldn’t understand what was going on around them.  In his “Motorcycle Diaries” Guevara wrote that “the people are not the same proud race that time after time rose up against the Inca rule and forced them to maintain a permanent army on their borders; these people who watch us walk through the town streets are a defeated race.  They look at us meekly, almost fearfully, completely indifferent to the outside world.”

It is very apparent that Guevara’s bias towards the indigenous people was not accurately represented in The Motorcycle Diaries.