Cuban Filmmaker Stonewalled in Trying to Tell the True Story of ‘Che’
Agustin Blazquez has produced a compelling film that demolishes the radical heartthrob’s reputation as a brave guerrilla fighting on behalf of the oppressed.
February 17, 2011 - 12:00 am
The Argentinean-born Che’s contemptuous attitudes towards Cubans, blacks, and peasants are revealed by those who knew him and are backed up in his own writings. Wheelchair-bound Margot Menendez, whose brother was executed, describes the treatment she and other women received as they waited futilely to visit relatives in prison. Strip searches and arbitrary cancellations are recalled. So are the beatings by guards when the women rushed “Che’s” car as it entered the prison yard. Blanca Rojas recalls learning of her father’s execution by seeing it on television the same night she gave birth to her son. The dramatic footage is shown of Col. Cornelio Rojas — made an “example” — who stands tall and defiant up to the point when the gun shots in the head bring him down.
Journalist Humberto Fontova recounts Che’s 1962 terrorist bomb plot that would have likely exceeded the devastation of 9/11. It was planned to explode in New York City’s shopping district on the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year. The plan was foiled by the FBI.
Fontova exposes “Che” not only as a sadistic killer but as an incompetent revolutionary. Che, who had inherited his father’s social and ethnic pretensions as an Argentinean of mixed European heritage, as well as his mentally unstable mother’s radical tendencies, had severely bungled his work as the head of banking and as minister of industries in collectivizing farms. It was then that Castro sent him to what he knew would be his death in Bolivia, for Che could not even “put compass to map.”
Nevertheless, the narrative put out in a press release by the AFI for the 2008 film by Steven Soderbergh simply titled Che, describes Che “galvanizing poor peasants into a military force that can take on trained professionals.” The same AFI turned down Blazquez’s third film on Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban refugee who was forcibly sent back to Cuba under President Clinton after his mother had drowned during their escape.
Contrary to AFI’s depiction, Che’s delight was in shooting 240 defenseless victims, some as young as 15. Political prisoners say the real number is much higher. Che also delighted in having people and their children rounded up off the street and forced to watch executions.
Such facts and testimonies presented in a straightforward manner show the real “Che.” One sees the horror melded over the decades into a resigned sadness in the faces of family members of his victims. Such understated testimony should make any Che-t-shirt-clad student pause.
But to get an airing on a college campus is no easy task. The dissenting intellectual on today’s campus, if he gets past the gatekeepers, is met with stonewalling. Dead silence is what mostly greeted Blazquez when he contacted over 100 campuses for the screening of his first film. Subtle impediments in the form of last-minute room changes and announcements torn off walls were placed in his path at the two campuses where he did manage to get permission to air his documentary.
Nor could he make headway with PBS that has a division for “educational media.” The late Reed Irvine in 1996 recounted Blazquez writing directly to 65 public television stations after getting nowhere with PBS, but getting only four responses — all rejections.
Blazquez then testified at a hearing before a House of Representatives appropriations committee about PBS. Still, the censorship and bias continue. In 2007, Blazquez charged PBS with airing the documentaries of Castro-collaborator Estela Bravo, a native New Yorker, who has lived in Cuba since 1983 as a member of the pro-Castro privileged elite. He documented instances of PBS airing other documentaries that showed individuals maligning the Cuban exile community as “the right-wing fringe” and the “Miami mafia.”
Despite the hostility, Blazquez is working on his eighth documentary. It’s about an exiled Cuban-American ballad singer who has similarly found American TV and show business doors closed to her.