February 05, 2023

WB: Aleida Strikes a Chord in People’s Hearts

Subinoy Moulik

TO think of Aleida Guevara as just the ‘heir’ to her father’s legacy, would be to underestimate her. In one of his last letters to his young children, Che Guevara advised them to “always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the best quality in a revolutionary.” His daughter Aleida, a physician, human rights advocate and an important Cuban political figure in her own right has throughout her life showed a remarkable eagerness to fulfill her father's wishes in every respect. It is no wonder then that during her recent brief tour through Bengal on January 20-21 at the invitation of the All India Peace and Solidarity Organisation (AIPSO) and National Committee for Solidarity with Cuba, many, both young and not so young, turned up in huge numbers to the public receptions hosted   by AIPSO and various other mass organisations. 

This was not her first visit to the state. She came 25 years ago and participated in big solidarity meetings and many still remember the warmth and energy she exudes. Aleida Guevara accompanied by her daughter Prof Estefania Machin Guevara felt the warmth of Kolkata when she stepped out of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Airport and saw the crowd. Starting from school students, many youth and activists of various Left organisations were present to welcome them. CPI(M) Central Committee member Shamik Lahiri and West Bengal state secretariat member Palash Das were also present. The airport area was full of slogans of peace, solidarity, harmony and friendship. After being overwhelmed by the public felicitation on the streets of Baranagar, at the Indian Statistical Institute and Jadavpur University, Aleida said, "I am very happy to see that Che Guevara lives in the hearts of   you all." At the reception at BT Road in Baranagar on this day, Aleida said, “There is infinite potential for solidarity between the people of India and Cuba. In response to your unimaginable love, I want to spread my love to everyone.”

Ernesto Che Guevara had visited India with a Cuban delegation and arrived at the Indian Statistical Institute at Baranagar on July 10, 1959. Retracing his footsteps, Che’s daughter arrived at the ISI at around one in the afternoon  and toured the sections that Che Guevara had visited, with daughter Estefania. A historical photograph taken at the time of Che Guevara's arrival at the ISI in 1959 and a set of photographs from that time were handed over to Estefania Guevara. AIPSO secretary Prof Anjan Bera, and teachers and students of the institution were present.

On this afternoon, in Jadavpur University the reception of Che Guevara's daughter and granddaughter proceeded in an atmosphere brimming with fervour and enthusiasm. The excitement, passion, and sincerity of the people reaffirmed once again that Che Guevara is much more than just an Argentine or a Cuban. He belongs to all continents. His revolutionary ideal is universal. The occasion was celebrated with   a cultural programme. The melodic voice of artists   like Lopamudra Mitra, Arko Mukherjee, Durnibar Saha, Akash Chakraborty,  Titumeer  Collective and many others enthralled the audience. There were gifts galore as every invited organisation came with bouquets and boxed gifts. On behalf of SFI,    its all India general secretary Mayukh Biswas and president WB state committee Prateek Ur Rahman handed over the book Education and Exclusion to Aleida.

Speaking to the enthused assembly Aleida said, “It is not enough to be the daughter of a world-renowned revolutionary, it is necessary to become a good person. I grew up in Cuba but I carry around the world in me. I am touched by your passion. I am inspired.  I grew up following José Martí's ideals of doing good to people. I grew up in Che Guevara's worldview. Che is not an image on a shirt. Che is a matter of the heart. His ideals are our guide. We have to carry forward his fight for human liberation. That is our future. Study more, fight more, and move forward. Be with the people. Work for people. Only by continuing to fight in this harsh world will Che's ideals be preserved.”


The next day   Aleida Guevara was taken to Uttarpara Gana Bhavan auditorium in Hooghly district through a huge and colourful procession from Balikhal along the GT Road. Aleida Guevara entered the Gana Bhavan amid great enthusiasm of various mass organisation activists and ordinary people including women, students-youth, working people and artists. Che's daughter was felicitated by AIPSO as well as Left parties including the CPI(M) and other mass organisations. At the beginning of the reception at Gana Bhavan, the famous song 'Guantanamera' was performed under the leadership of Hiranmoy Ghosal, state president of IPTA, and West Bengal.   Aleida came forward, stood next to the singers and joined them in their singing. 

In response to the felicitation, Aleida said, “I am a Cuban woman. Maybe I'm a little different from you. Maybe I have some features that you don't have. Again, just as I have some virtues, I also have some faults. Maybe I carry a legacy of vigour. But that's not all. Love other people, this is most necessary. It might not be that different. My mother was also a different person. I saw from a very young age that she loved people and wanted to share other people's sorrows. She instilled courage and vigour in me. She taught me that my job as a human being is to love people. This is the most necessary and important thing. Today's turnout has overwhelmed me. My father is alive here today because of those who came with my father's picture.

“The people of my country continue to face various kinds of blockades. ‘Blockade’ was the right word to refer to the US-imposed sanctions, which have been in effect for more than six decades. These past few years the pandemic has hurt the Cuban economy. Like the rest of the world, Cuba has been affected by the pandemic. The embargo around Cuba further aggravated the situation. Medicines and treatment should be delivered to the people. The US government is creating barriers to importing drugs or medical equipment from other countries. Through this blockade, the United States is trying to destroy Cuba's economic system.

“I recently spent a few days in Kerala. I saw the comrades of Kerala trying to improve the health system in their state against corona. We are trying to apply the traditional medicines used in Kerala for treatment in Cuba as well. In this case the experience and knowledge of Kerala will be useful to us. We are looking forward to learning new things, and applying new methods of human service. So, we want solidarity and unity between the people of the two countries. We want not only government unity, but unity among people. Governments come, governments go but the revolutionary people remain the same. That is why love, unity and harmony among people are very important. Yesterday we met with students at Jadavpur University. I told them to understand the real problems. Che is not just a face painted on a shirt. His ideals must be protected and carried forward. It is important to follow Che's philosophy in your life. You must not keep it only at the level of thought; this philosophy must be implemented in practice.

“This world must be made better. We need to do more by learning from Che's worldview. There are many problems which are still not solved. The State certainly has power but the power of the people is greater than that. Lack of unity is the biggest deficiency. Sometimes we are divided on the basis of skin colour, sometimes religion, sometimes gender. We have to unite to overcome them. In my experience, if we can be united, then the fight will be easier. So we have to break down the barriers that divide us. Because of these divisions, some people become passive in social conflict. We all have to be united. We need to hold each other's hands. This unity will give us strength to bring a new day.

“All of Che Guevara's words involved the people. Che says always move towards victory. We have a lot of work to do. People should be made more developed. José Martí said that if the people are to be truly liberated, they must be culturally equipped. There is no other way. 

“Now humanity is in deep crisis. There is no real connection between the people of one country and another country. Actual data exchange does not occur. India does not know exactly what is happening in Cuba, the same is true of India.  Slander is spread in the name of news. So, people's media should be developed from which real news can be delivered. It is impossible to destroy the people who know the real truth. 

“I wish you all the best for the love you have given me. Now I will sing you a song. We Cubans love music. I am a pediatrician. When a child comes to the hospital there is fear. I then break that fear by singing. I am not a good singer but I do it because it creates a cultural bond between us. I will sing you such a song.” She ended her speech with a song because “to express our bonding, we do it through song.” The whole assembly burst into applause. 


"The Cuban people believe in internationalism, believe in the idea of solidarity," said Aleida Guevara at the reception on College Street in front of Calcutta University that afternoon. “The Cuban people want to build a relationship with the people of all other countries in the world. Building solidarity is very important in today's world. I am proud to be Cuban. To be a good person, you need to mix with people. It is important to involve people in your work. I came to this university 24 years ago. The warmth and enthusiasm of the people of this city has remained the same over the years. We have to fight for a new world. There can be no compromise. We have a lot of work to do. Our fight continues. We are fighters, we are strugglers. We have to build a society that is for all.”

Her speech received praises from the students present on the occasion who shouted revolutionary slogans like ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido (The people united shall always be victorious)’.  She was felicitated by SFI state secretary Srijan Bhattacharya, president Pratikur Rahaman, DYFI state secretary Minakshi Mukherjee, president Dhrubojyoti Saha, AIDWA state secretary Kaninika Bose Ghosh and president Jahanara Begum. The place was decorated with colourful posters, huge portraits of Che and placards carrying quotations from Che’s writings. Thousands of young faces came forth to see her and bid her welcome. She was greeted by a choir produced by IPTA, West Bengal. Bengali translations of Cuban songs were performed including Jose Marti's iconic 'Guantanamera' and Carlos Puebla's 'Until Always'. Aleida even danced spontaneously when the song was presented. This part of the choir was directed by music composer Kalyan Sen Barat. Moreover, Aleida was visibly moved when young singer Saptak Sanai Das performed his song 'Commandante Che Guevara'. Popular singer Kazi Kamal Nasser rendered a song specially written for the occasion.

In the evening in a seminar organised by the Joint Platform of Doctors, Aleida said, “Cuba has managed to close the rural-urban gap in health care. Research has also made great strides in the discovery of vaccines for cancer and five other serious diseases. Cuba is now a leader in surgery. Unparalleled world-class surgery takes place in Cuba. At the same time, Cuba has made a lot of progress in developing a cancer vaccine. Cancer of the uterus is being worked on. Cuban medical scientists have made a lot of progress in treating it. Research on homeopathy has begun again in Cuba. We want to work on Ayurveda like Homeopathy. There are constant efforts to discover how natural medicine works. Cuba wants to get India on its side in this research.”

All in all, Aleida came and captured the hearts of many in Bengal by her simplicity of personality, sincerity of purpose and the zeal for revolutionary change for a better future.