From Cha-Cha-Cha to Che! Che! Che!: Deconstructing the New, Improved, Postcolonial White Man’s Burden



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The links with religious iconography are startling. He appears as a Christ-like figure, charismatic and courageous, challenging injustice and sacrificing his life to save the oppressed. Che's apparent asceticism, his idealism, his disapproval of greed, his hard work and altruism remind me of the Puritan work ethic, but with individual faith in God replaced by collectivism.

A secular, totally materialistic religion, but a religion nonetheless. Yes. A religion that requires the daily sacrifice of “coloured” victims on the altar of communist ideology and collectivism. And what she fails to realize is that the holocausts offered up are those very same “oppressed” victims of injustice whose lives she is foolish enough to think Che really improved. .

And so it is that for wilfully blind racist tourists such as Shuckburgh, who think that the “local colour” never includes bloodstains and that it is always brightest and most adorable on thinly gilded surfaces that conceal hideous monstrosities, Cuba is much lovelier when seen as the land of Che than as the home of the Cha Cha Cha.

Among the parents and grandparents of the new breed of imperialists who have emerged in the postcolonial world – the pale tourist or would-be tourist who could say after reading Shuckburgh’s travelogue “Jeeves, my man, pack those bags; we’re flying down to Havana after tea” – Cuba was once best known for its poverty, sugar, cigars, rum, and music. And when it came to music, nothing could beat the Cha Cha Cha. Forget the Mambo and the Rumba and the Conga, its close Cuban cousins. The Cha-Cha – as the “chi-chi” called it-- was king, at least in the minds of non-Cubans around the world, many of whom couldn’t care less if those dark people who made such great music were really all that poor or not, or whether or not they knew how to read. But, at its very apogee, in 1959, when Cha-Cha-Cha and Cuban hot-blooded licentiousness had become synonymous in the mind of many a pale tourist or would-be tourist, the party ended abruptly and most impolitely in Cuba.

Along came Fidel and his bearded revolutionaries, and they outlawed Christmas and Carnival, along with begging, prostitution,and tourism. Cubans would no longer be a subaltern people with Christian or capitalist totems. No longer would they genuflect to a cross or a dollar, or hold their hands out for a few tiny coins, or wait hand and foot on foreign bigots , or screw them for money, or help them dance the night away. The Cha-Cha-Cha was not so much outlawed as eclipsed . Thundering, long-winded speeches drowned it out, as did the rhythmic political mantras intoned in unison by mobs of tens of thousands. Gone were the Tropicana and all other nightclubs; not silenced, but simply upstaged by the Grand Guignol Theatre of the Revolution – fossilized instantly by the sound of firing squads, their ridiculously-garbed musicians and scantily-clad dancers frozen in a timeless limbo of sorts, as if in some eternal death throe, just like pterodactyls from the Jurassic Age embedded in Bavarian limestone.

And, as we all know, in due time, the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those pale tourists and would-be tourists would come to think of Cuba as the land of Che Guevara rather than as the home of the Cha-Cha-Cha; and in due time, after communism failed all over the world, Fidel would once again call back the tourists and beg for their Dollars and Euros. Very quickly– in the wink of an eye, some might say – Cuba was transformed from Pleasure Island to Utopia in the minds of many in the world’s affluent nations, and then back again into Pleasure Island,.

And so it was, that as soon as the imperialists of the postcolonial world stopped taking Cha-Cha lessons, their progeny set up altars to the greatest saint and martyr of the new Utopia, that asthmatic Argentinian who oversaw its firing squads, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.. And now, forty-seven years after he oversaw his first public execution in Cuba and thirty-eight years after his own poetically just death at the hands of a firing squad, Che has a mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba, which resembles that of the fascist Generalisimo Francisco Franco at the Valley of the Fallen, near Madrid, not only because of its bombastic pretentiousness and overall gestalt, but also because the natives tend to visit it only when they are forced to do so.

And Cuba is once again a tourist destination where Cubans beg for tiny coins and wait on bigots hand and foot and screw them for money and help them dance the night away, although this time around, unlike before, the corrupt government that calls itself The Revolution forbids 99.99 percent of its people access to these tourist spots, with an apartheid system as heinous as that which made the old South Africa the pariah of the world..

And in 2004 Forbes Magazine, which bills itself as “The Tool for Capitalists” and “The Home Page For the World’s Business Leaders” and is not afraid to list Fidel among the richest rulers on earth, estimating his hidden assets at 900 million dollars20, sealed that multimillionaire’s pact with the Almighty Dollar by proclaiming Cuba one of the top ten “sexiest islands in the world,” way up there with Ibiza, Sardinia., Fiji, Koh Lanta, and other hedonistic hot spots. Yes, a sexy island, which, according to Forbes, qualifies it as a haven for “escapism” where “parties seem to occur on a 24-hour basis.”

These are places where the normal codes of conduct are packed away with the empty suitcases and exhibitionism, whether physical or financial, becomes the order of the day. In such a hedonistic world, restraint is forgotten; yachts jostle for moorings in the harbor, trying to outdo each other in splendor and size; champagne is consumed like water; and work becomes a four-letter word. The primitive rules of attraction run rampant down the sandy beaches and through the rooms of rented seaside villas.21

Forget all the crap about human rights abuses and poverty and food rationing and revolutions and slogans like “Marxism-Leninism or Death!” and all that depressing stuff. It’s party time in hell! Good capitalists like to impress their friends and associates and clobber them with their one-upmanship. And no other status symbol can trump a trip to exotic, forbidden Cuba.

What also adds to the sex appeal is a whiff of danger, or the forbidden. Americans have had a long-distance love affair with Cuba since travel was banned there more than 40 years ago...While anyone can jump on a flight to Barbados, it takes planning and a little bit of subterfuge to get to Cuba, which adds to the whole experience. It also guarantees great cocktail party conversation to casually mention that you're just back from a few days in Havana.22

And Che, poor Che, holy Che, suffers an excruciating martyrdom as a top consumer item and a pop idol, his likeness stamped onto watches that are hawked to unsuspecting capitalists at the trend-setting upper-middlebrow gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, with the catchy, I’m-so-square-I’m hip, come-on slogan “make a revolutionary statement.”

And the progeny of the capitalist pigs he so loathed have ditched the Cha-Cha-Cha for a mantra that invokes his sacred name with fervor: “Che! Che! Che!”

And, somewhere, from his much humbler grave, Kipling does the devil’s bidding and whispers in all their ears constantly, along with Sysyphus, the second stanza of his infamous poem, their hidden gnostic creed:

Take up the White Man's burden--

The savage wars of peace--

Fill full the mouth of Famine

And bid the sickness cease;

And when your goal is nearest

The end for others sought,

Watch sloth and heathen Folly



Bring all your hopes to nought.

1 “Che, in all colors, and at exhorbitant prices.” Zoe Valdes, Le pazze e il Che, www.cubaitalia.org/n302005.htm. Spanish: “Las Locas y el Che:: www.cadal.org/articulos/nota.asp?id_nota=962.

2 See: Enrique Ros, Ernesto Che Guevara : mito y realidad (Miami: Ediciones Universal, 2002).

3 Vladimir Ilich (Ulyanov) Lenin, quoted by I. U. Annenkov in “Remembrances of Lenin,” Novyi Zhurnal/New Review, September 1961, p. 147.

4 For conclusive proof of Che’s apotheosis as a consumer item check out the “Che bestsellers” and the “Che clearance” pages at www.thechestore.com.

5 The term deconstruction is most often associated with the philosophical and cultural movement known as postmodernism. The term is attributed to the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), who expanded on Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of demolition and Martin Heiddegger’s abbau and dekonstruktion in the 1960s. To deconstruct is to dismantle and expose, and to dissect the ways in which meaning is constructed, assigned, and interpreted at different levels by writers, texts, and readers, and also by cultures and political systems. To deconstruct is to assert that there are always implicit and unspoken underlying assumptions that undergird all thought and belief and to try to identify and dissect these hidden structures. See: Jacques Derrida, Positions, translated by Alan Bass (London:Continuum, 2002; Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1981).

6 Woody, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, on the PBS viewer response web site: Fidel Castro, American Experience: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/castro/sfeature/sf_share.html.

7 As “G.R.A.”, from Encintas, California, another die-hard PBS viewer of the Castro documentary put it: They [Cubans] now have human rights (education, jobs, food, shelter, health care) -now they wait for greater political rights. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/castro/sfeature/sf_share.html..

8 In 2005 Yale University began using the term “persons of colour” to refer to all “Hispanics” and any other ethnic or racial groups that had been previously considered “minorities” or as representative of “diversity.” This use of the term “person of color” betrays a fundamental ignorance about the ethnic and racial makeup of all Hispanic nations, including Spain, and could possibly also derive from old Anglo-Saxon prejudices about all Southern Europeans.

9 See: Andrew Lycett, Rudyard Kipling (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999); and Andrew Hagiioannu, The man who would be Kipling : the colonial fiction and the frontiers of exile ( New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)..

10 A common prejudice among many Northern Europeans and their North American descendants is the belief that Southern Europeans, Slavs, and Jews are inferior to them in many ways, and may not really count as “whites.” See: Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a different color: European immigrants and the alchemy of race (Cambridge/ London: Harvard University Press, 1998).

11 Brian Wilson, “Revolution revisited: Cuba isn't perfect - but it is living proof that it is possible for a third world country to combat poverty, disease and illiteracy.” The Guardian, Thursday 28 August, 2003. Available at: www.guardian.co.uk/cuba/story/0,,1030632,00.html

12 For a thorough review of the Big Lie, see: Erik N. Baklanoff, “Cuba on the Eve of the Socialist Transition: A Reassessment of the Backwardness-Stagnation Thesis”, Cuba in Transition: Proceedings of the Annual Meetings of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, vol. 8 (1998), available at: http://lanic.utexas.edu/la/cb/cuba/asce/cuba8/31baklanoff.pdf.

13 Jerry Thompson, from Houston, Texas, PBS American Experience web site: www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/castro/sfeature/sf_share.html.

14 Edward Said, Orientalism (1979), 2nd ed. (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 204. Said adds: "My whole point about this system is not that it is a misrepresentation of some Oriental essence ...but that it operates as representations usually do, for a purpose, according to a tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economic setting" (p. 273).

15 Sarah Shuckburgh, “A Little Local Colour,” The Telegraph, 5 March 2006. Available at: www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/main.jhtml?xml=/travel/2006/05/03/ethavana03.xml

16 Translated by John C. Olin, The Catholic Reformation: Savonarola to Ignatius Loyola (Evanston: Harper and Row, 1969), p. 210. An online version of the full text of the Excercises is available at: http://wps.ablongman.com/long_longman_lwcdemo_1/0,9493,1532993-,00.html

17 The Guardian, Thursday 28 August, 2003: www.guardian.co.uk/cuba/story/0,,1030632,00.html

18 Zoe Valdes argues in her essay “Las Locas y el Che,” that to wear Che as a fashion statement is an insult to all his victims, especially all the homosexuals he persecuted: “llevar la imagen del Che como moda, constituye un insulto para muchas de sus víctimas, entre las que se encontraron grandes escritores homosexuales cubanos: Virgilio PiZeira y Reinaldo Arenas.” www.cadal.org/articulos/nota.asp?id_nota=962.

19 Emile Durkheim, Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse: le systPme totémique en Australie (Paris: F. Alcan, 1906). English translation by Joseph Ward Swain, Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (London : Allen and Unwin, 1915).

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20 Forbes Magazine, 5 May 2006, “Kings, Queens, and Dictators”: www.forbes.com/business/global/2006/0522/057.html. Fidel Castro denied this on Cuban television. See: Vanessa Arrington, “Report of his wealth is ‘rubish,’ Castro says” Miami Herald, 16 May 2006; www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/world/cuba/14587754.htm.

21 Sophia Banay, “World's Sexiest Islands 2005" Forbes Magazine, 11 August 2005: www.forbes.com/lifestyle/2005/08/11/travel-sexiestislands-lifestyle-cx_sb_0811feat_ls.html

22 Christina Valhouli, “The Best of Life: World’s Sexiest Islands” Forbes Magazine, 5 August 2004: www.forbes.com/lifestyle/bestlife/2004/08/05/cx_cv_0805feat.html.
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