"MOTORCYCLE DIARIES" and the real Che Guevara

Last night I saw the film "MOTORCYCLE DIARIES." I have to admit I hesitated seeing the flick because it celebrated the life of leftist icon Che Guevara, a man who, in his prime, was a brutal revolutionary, responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands. Yet, numerous friends and acquaintances touted the film and well, I was lured by the chance to see once again the fetching Gael García Bernal on screen.

Not only is that man a treat for the eyes, he's also quite an accomplished actor, totally believable playing a character quite different than the one who he played to great effect in Almodóvar's excellent "BAD EDUCATION." This film, "MOTORCYCLE DIARIES" shows the young Guevara taking a trip with an older friend across South America and seeing firsthand the suffering of many of the people with whom he shared a continent. The poverty and injustice he witnessed caused him to reevaluate his life, to abandon his prior career path to become a doctor, and to choose instead the path of violent revolution.

What struck me about the movie (beyond Bernal's good looks) was the real suffering of many poor Latin Americans, particularly the indigenous population. Bernal as the young Guevara showed a genuine sensitivity to their plight. It reminded me that most revolutionaries (of the left) were motivated by legitimate grievances, the injustices inflicted upon them by a corrupt ruling class. While they called this capitalism, they were rebelling against a corrupt form of capitalism where the state used its might to help powerful corporations, many of them, alas, American, while abusing the rights of their citizens, even those who owned land. Those Latin American regimes failed to respect the rights of the individual, particularly property rights, essential to true capitalism.

I had hesitated to see the movie because I did not want to see a piece of propaganda, celebrating the life of a violent revolutionary. Instead I saw a movie which showed the compassion which drove the young Guevara to action. It was his later choices -- and the ideology (Communism) from which he would draw inspiration and find direction -- that turned his initial noble sentiments, his feeling for his fellow Latin Americans, into violent actions and support for a repressive regime (Castro's Cuba).

The movie thus reminded me that Communism, indeed many failed ideologies, began with a noble vision, a concern for the suffering of one's fellow man. While we recognize that while many revolutionaries become like the pigs in George Orwell's "ANIMAL FARM," who, once in power, ape the repression of the repressive regimes they overthrew, they do respond (at least initially) to genuine concerns of the people they claim to represent. They have may have lofty visions, but their means are why we oppose them.

While this movie reminds us that communism did begin with a such a noble vision, we can never forget that the means to carry it out relegated it to the "ash heap of history."

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