Friday, August 30, 2019

First Impressions of the Che Exhibition at Karpleles Manuscript Library Museum

Tuesday morning I visited the new Che Guevara exhibition now on display at Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. My very first thought was how powerful it feels to be inches away from history.

The Che exhibition is quite informative regarding events that occurred in my lifetime to which I--like many Americans--was fairly oblivious as regards what was really going on. Like many people and places, we have too readily assigned labels to things without doing any deeper research, without investigating beyond the surface explanations we've been spoon fed by our media and our government.

Who was Che Guevara? Wikipedia begins with this explanation.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara (June 14, 1928– October 9, 1967) was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist. A major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his stylized visage has become a ubiquitous countercultural symbol of rebellion (Italics mine) and global insignia in popular culture.

As a young medical student, Guevara traveled throughout South America and was radicalized by the poverty, hunger and disease he witnessed. His burgeoning desire to help overturn what he saw as the capitalist exploitation of Latin America by the United States prompted his involvement in Guatemala's social reforms under President Jacobo Árbenz, whose eventual CIA-assisted overthrow at the behest of the United Fruit Company solidified Guevara's political ideology. (See Related Links at the bottom of this page.)

The Karpeles Che exhibition makes the revolution in Cuba quite tangible. You'll see Che's birth certificate, fingerprints, and a variety of unexpected original documents. You'll even see Fidel Castro's high school yearbook. (Last month we saw Bob Dylan's high school yearbook here.)

As you enter the museum you will want to begin on the left, which has a picture of Fidel Castro and some information about him.

The next case features information about Fulgencio Batista, the despotic dictator whom the U.S. supported before he was overthrown in 1959. While Americans were all home enjoying Father Knows Best and the first golden age of television, Batista was enabling U.S. corporations to take over 70% of the arable land and milk the country of its natural resources for profit. Power was maintained by force and an estimated 1000 to 20,000 were killed.

In response, a peoples' resistance arose and after a final battle, led by Che Guevara, Bautista fled the island and Castro took over.

Che immediately became a CIA target as he sought to help other countries free themselves from being under the thumb of U.S. corporate interests.

On display next is a notebook belonging to CIA agent Ross Crozier and his handwritten description of Che Guevara, which begins: "Physical:-- 5' 11" -- 170 lbs. Med. well proportioned build. Well shaped head, oval face, clear white complexion under sun tan. Med. high forehead, slightly furrowed when concentrating. Large, expressive brown eyes."

The next section appears to be a sidetrack here, with numerous newspapers from around the country announcing the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was perplexed by these until one of the displays had this front page story: "Fidel Castro Sympathizer Held In Dallas."

Next we see a display titled The Execution of Che Guevara which features details of his murder in Bolivia and a staged photo of Bolivian soldiers pointing rifles at the guerrilla leader.

This was followed by a memorandum from CIA Director Dick Helms to President Johnson regarding the death of "Che" Guevara. "SENSITIVE. Eyes Only" and a 2017 Newsweek article about how the CIA helped Bolivia "Kill the Marxist Revolutionary" using the newly released documents, partially redacted.

Here is Che's military registration, filled out by Che himself.

Numerous other original official documents are presented as well.

It's an impressive collection of original documents and an opportunity to take a mentally stimulating look at a portion of history that occurred in many of our lifetimes.

In closing, here are a handful of quotes from the guerrilla leader. The last of these is from a speech given at the United Nations. It implies--or declares--that the era of Colonialism has ended, and is an appeal to allow nations to have self-determination. The problem was, the United States corporations (and their shareholders) were benefiting from this current arrangement, where our puppet government leaders allowed our country to rape and pillage their resources and economies.

"I knew that the moment the great governing spirit strikes the blow to divide all humanity into just two opposing factions, I would be on the side of the common people."
--Becoming Che

"If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine."
--The Quotable Rebel

"Words that do not match deeds are unimportant."
--Seeds of Revolution: A Collection of Axioms, Passages and Proverbs 

"The final hour of colonialism has struck, and millions of inhabitants of Africa, Asia and Latin America rise to meet a new life and demand their unrestricted right to self-determination."
--Address to the United Nations

If you have never been to the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, this is an invitation to take advantage of another opportunity to see unusual, rare and historical documents. 902 East 1st Street, Duluth. Admission is free.

Related Links
CIA and Assassinations: The Guatemala 1954 Documents

A Country for a Company – The 1954 US Backed Guatemalan Coup To Support United Fruit Company

An Apology for a Guatemalan Coup, 57 Years Later


Phil said...

The day I watched the film The Motorcycle Diaries, I vowed to learn more about this man. I have failed to follow through on the vow. Thanks for the encouragement to view this exhibit. And, I plan to watch the film again. It is a fascinating glimpse into Che's early, pre-revolutionary life.

Ed Newman said...

Yes, that is a pretty powerful film and when I saw the exhibit I was thinking the same--time to see it again.
Thanks for the note. and the reminder.

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