Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Motorcycle Diaries

(Diarios de motocicleta, Spain, 2004)

I am not an admirer of Che Guevara. In fact, I don’t like him at all. Like so many revolutionaries he probably started out with his heart in the right place, and then lost his heart entirely. He was apparently an enthusiastic torturer of political enemies. He was a Maoist, which is synonymous with murdering madman in my lexicon. He wore a Rolex to the Bolivian “revolution,” where he got his just desserts. This movie shows him as a young man taking a long, Quixotic trip across the Spanish-speaking parts of South America with his best friend (who is still a doctor in Cuba), getting laid, having asthmatic attacks, seeing injustices, doing some good here and there. Having his consciousness raised as we’d put it today. They end up volunteering at a leper colony in Peru, then back home to become radicalized, one assumes.

Along the way they see a lot of social injustice. I found myself wondering what it would be like to re-trace their route, 50 years later. I concluded we’d see even more social injustice, with appalling violence bequeathed by people like Che and the Shining Path added into the mix. We’d see 5-star “jungle” hotels, eco-tourists out the wazoo. We’d see a lot less rain forest and a lot more squalid cities. We’d see hordes of evil, grasping peasants earning $300 per year doing their evil work to force cocaine up the noses of innocent Americans who earn $300,000 per year, and Americans soldiers in helicopter gunships shooting at them to make sure the mighty flowing Amazon of dope money keeps flowing and the price remains high.

What have we learned? I’ve learned that 99% of revolutions involve nothing more than replacing one set of rat bastards with another set of rat bastards, often even worse rat bastards. Does that mean we should stop fighting against injustice? No, but we sure have to be careful how we do it, and who we follow. I’d follow this young man on the screen. And he would have led me to the one-man dictatorship and authoritarian fascism that is Cuba today. I hope I would have had the sense to leave before the truncheons were brought out.

The film is very pretty — my, there are some interesting corners of the world I’ll certainly never have the time to see — and sometimes funny, but you know it would never have been made if Che hadn’t turned out to be such an important historical figure. There just isn’t enough happening here for that, and on the other hand, not enough real connection with this young innocent and the man he became to be of real interest.