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Ron Radosh

Benicio del Toro: Che Guevara’s Useful Idiot

January 27th, 2009 - 7:04 pm

We all know that Benicio del Toro is a great actor, and that in Steven Soderbergh’s new film “Che,” del Toro sounds and looks exactly like Che Guevara. Most of us- at least readers of this website-also know the truth about the real Che Guevara. The man was the prototype of a ruthless and vicious Stalinist killer; a man who exulted in repressing political dissenters,  and who personally set up and ran the mass firing squad executions that took place immediately after Castro’s victory in 1959.

The facts are easy to obtain. First, read any of the articles by Cuban exile Humberto Fontova, such as this one in which Fontova notes that when the movie made its Miami premier, “protestors outside the Carlyle Theater brandished pictures of relatives murdered by Che Guevara, [while] del Toro paid tribute to their murderer.” Fontova rightfully calls del Toro “Che’s Useful Idiot.”

It is hardly surprising that del Toro’s reception in Cuba was quite different. Appearing  at the Havana Film Festival, he was treated as an honored guest, and  the regime is featuring the film as a truthful depiction of Che that they want all the people to see.   This is a regime, Fontova writes, that “has jailed more political prisoners as a percentage of population than Stalin’s and executed more people (out of a population of 6.4 million) in its first three years in power than Hitler’s executed (out of a population of  70 million) in its first six.” For those who want more information they can purchase his pamphlet Monster from www.frontpagemag.com or buy his book, Exposing The Real Che Guevara. Readers can also buy Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s The Che Guevara Myth for another unvarnished and truthful picture of the real Che.

The individual who should read these, of course, is Benicio del Toro. Last week, Del Toro walked out of an interview on the film with Sonny Bunch, a reporter for The Washington Times. Bunch made the inexcusable mistake of challenging del Toro about the depiction of Che’s life in the movie. As he so gingerly puts it, del Toro “seems ill at ease on the hot seat.” Celebrities are not used to being challenged. How dare a reporter intimate that the film “Che” is not particularly truthful when Del Toro believes that Che’s message was one of love.

Bunch confronted the actor by quoting Che’s famous “Message to the Tricontinental” conference held in Havana, when Che espoused “hatred as an element of the struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective and cold-blooded killing machine.”  Evidently such an easy to find source never got on del Toro’s reading list. The most he could admit to Bunch is that Guevara favored “capital punishment.”  He does not seem to realize that most of those who received this sentence did not have what any of us in the West would call trials. And while the film shows Che scolding those of this troops who wanted to desert for being cowards, it does not depict what Che did to deserters—shoot them in close range through the temple. Evidently this was too much for del Toro who walked out telling the reporter to go “make your own movie.”

Del Toro has less trouble when he appears on television with friendly interviewers who treat him deferentially. A few weeks ago, the actor was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” which often has intelligent free-ranging discussions with guests.  Not this time. When they had del Toro on, they treated him with kid gloves. You can watch the entire interview with the program’s Willie Geist here.

Del Toro’s display of ignorance was something to behold, especially since he claims that he spent seven years studying Che Guevara’s life before filming!  Even if he read a few recent biographies, he would have found enough material to indicate something accurate about the man’s brutal record.  Yet del Toro tells the program that he wanted to stay true to the real events and to do that, he actually traveled to Cuba legally, where among other things, he met Fidel Castro. Now that’s the way to find out the truth about Che Guevara. I guess we should be thankful he wasn’t researching a film about Josef Stalin.

Che, del Toro continues, is a “symbol of many things,”and a “complex” man.  Did he meet his objectives before his death, the interviewer Willie Geist asks?  His goal, del Toro explains, was that he wanted to build societies that “will help the majority,” in an area of the world where no middle class existed. (Despite his travels in Cuba, he somehow never learned that unlike many other countries in the region, before the Castro Revolution Cuba had a middle class, and its per capita income was among the highest in Central America.)  Of course, he adds after pausing, “Communism doesn’t completely work,” and del Toro acknowledges that Guevara sought his goals through espousing Communism. I assume in his mind, it partially works. That is why it somehow is a good idea to portray Che sympathetically as a hero of our times, so that today’s youth can understand something about the man whose photo they wear on T-shirts and which still hangs in many dorm rooms.

This time Benicio del Toro did not cut off his interview on “Morning Joe.”  Rather, he beamed as Geist called it a great film and urged viewers to see it .  Willie, stick to politics. You seem like a really nice guy, but next time you interview a star about his depiction of a totalitarian killer—-get some courage and ask some tough questions. It would have made great TV to see Benicio del Toro walk out on “Morning Joe.”

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