Special Men and Mother Earth
By Jheri St. James
me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true
revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.
– Che Guevara
revolution is a struggle to the death between the future
and the past.
– Fidel Castro
map showing Che Guevara's movements between
1953 and 1956; including his trip north to Guatemala,
his stay in Mexico and his journey east by boat to
Cuba with Fidel Castro and other revolutionaries.
Republic of Cuba consists of the island of Cuba, Isla
de la Juventud, and several adjacent small islands. Cuba
is located in the northern Caribbean at the confluence of
the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
is south of the eastern United States and the Bahamas, west
of the Turks and Caicos Islands and Haiti, and east of Mexico.
The Cayman Islands and Jamaica are to the south.
national flower is most often known as flor de mariposa
(Butterfly Flower) and the national bird is Tocororo. The
most populous insular nation in the Caribbean, Cuba’s
people, culture and customs include influences from the aboriginal
Taino and Ciboney peoples, Spanish invaders, African slaves,
and its proximity to the United States. The name “Cuba”
comes from the Taino language and may be translated either
“where fertile land is abundant” (cubao)
or “great place” (coabana).
revolution is not a bed of roses.”
– Fidel Castro
The recorded history of Cuba began on October 12, 1492, when
Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his first voyage
of discovery and claimed it for Spain. By 1511, the first
Spanish settlement was founded and for the next 400 years
Spain oppressed and enslaved the approximately 100,000 Taino
and Ciboney indigenous people who resisted conversion to Christianity
on the island. Within a century they had all but disappeared
as a result of the combined effects of European-introduced
disease, forced labor and other mistreatment. Large numbers
of African slaves were imported to work coffee and sugar plantations
and the capital, Havana, became the launching point for annual
treasure fleets bound for Spain from Mexico and Peru. It was
US intervention during the Spanish-American War in 1898 that
finally overthrew Spanish rule. The subsequent Treaty of Paris
established Cuban independence in 1902.
leaders are replaced only to have new leaders turn cruel.”
– Che Guevara
In 1959, Fidel Castro led a rebel army to victory over Fulgencio
Batista; his iron rule held the subsequent regime together
for nearly five decades. He stepped down as president in February
2008 in favor of his younger brother Raul Castro. Cuba’s
Communist revolution, with Soviet support, was exported throughout
Latin America and Africa during the 1960’s, 1970’s
and 1980’s. The country is now slowly recovering from
a severe economic downturn in 1990, following the withdrawal
of former Soviet subsidies. “Cuba portrays its difficulties
as the result of the US embargo in place since 1961. Illicit
migration to the US—using homemade rafts, alien smugglers,
air flights, or via the southwest border—is a continuing
problem. The US Coast Guard intercepted 2,864 individuals
attempting to cross the Straits of Florida in fiscal year
2006,” says the CIA World Factbook website.
“Che” Guevara (6/14/28-10/9/67) was an Argentine
Marxist revolutionary, politician, author, physician, military
theorist, and guerrilla leader. He met Fidel Castro in 1955.
Castro was in self-imposed exile following his release from
prison after his abortive attempt to overthrow the Batista
regime on 26 July 1953. Guevara joined his guerrilla movement,
and was soon promoted to comandante, playing a pivotal
role in the successful guerrilla campaign that deposed Fulgencio
Batista in 1956. Following the Cuban revolution, Guevara served
as minister of industry and president of the national bank,
before traversing the globe as a diplomat to meet an array
of world leaders on behalf of Cuban socialism. He was also
a prolific writer and diarist with one of his most influential
works being a manual on the theory and practice of guerrilla
warfare. Guevara left Cuba in 1965 to incite revolutions first
in an unsuccessful attempt in Congo-Kinshasa and then in Bolivia,
where he was captured and executed.
for both his harsh discipline and revered for his unwavering
dedication to his revolutionary doctrines, Guevara remains
an admired, controversial and significant historical figure.
As a result of his death and romantic visage, along with his
invocation to armed class struggle and desire to create the
consciousness of a new man driven by moral rather than material
incentives, Guevara evolved into an icon of leftist-inspired
movements—as well as a global merchandising sensation.
He has been mostly venerated and occasionally reviled in a
multitude of biographies, memoirs, books, essays, documentaries,
songs and films, like “The Motorcycle Diaries.”
This film tells the incredible true story of a 23-year-old
Che Guevara, a medical student from Argentina who motorcycled
across South America with his friend Alberto Granado in 1951-52.
The trek became a personal odyssey that ultimately crystallized
the young man's budding revolutionary beliefs. Walter Salles's
film is based on Che's own diaries of the trip. Time Magazine
named him one of “the 100 most influential people of
the 20th century,” while fashion photographer Alberto
Korda’s (also known as Alberto Diaz Gutierrez) photograph
of him entitled Guerrillero Heroico, was declared the “most
famous photograph in the world,” a symbol throughout
the world of a revolutionary man and idea. Today Western youths
wear this image on T-shirts, other clothing, and even have
Che tattoos inscribed on their skin. Ironically, the image
has stolen all the meaning. Guevara has been completely subsumed
by a culture that he hated.
know you are here to kill me.
Shoot, coward you are only going to kill a man.”
– Che Guevara’s last words upon being executed
in 1967 in Bolivia at age 39.
soil collection from Cuba took some doing on the part of Gary
Simpson, a couple of failed volunteers and finally a successful
gathering. The two-inch thick file is full of English and
Spanish language emails, failed shipping documents, research
papers, photographs and a sealed envelope containing our earlier
request for participation of the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba (returned
unopened in 2007). Gaining soil from an embargoed country
is almost impossible, it turns out.
Gary responded to an email from Betty Marchorro, a good friend
of the Common Ground 191 project who lives in Guatemala and
has helped with soil from her country, Honduras, and El Salvador,
and is one of the few collectors we actually met in person
when she came to the U.S. a couple of years ago:
to hear from you through your e-mail to Jheri. I am humbled
by your continued support of the project and the introduction
of your friend in Cuba with the hopes of their contributing
soil. These are times of great concern that our world neighbors
have other goals than peace.
tell your friend that I have been given permits by the USDA
to import soil samples to the USA for my art project. They
will be attached to the return box to the US and acknowledged
by DHL. Further, I have a license from the Treasury Department,
Office of Foreign Asset Control, to allow the import, in consideration
of the embargo with Cuba (no border for the message). All
postage is prepaid with DHL’s office in Havana and there
is no cost to the volunteer. I can assure you that they will
only conduct their business properly. Submit the volunteer
form and away the package goes.
would love to have soil collected by Castro. Thanks again,
idea seems to have bitten the dust (pun intended). When you
consider that the project was instituted in September of 2001,
saying “more time passed” might be a
motto for the project itself, but in the case of Cuba, more
Jerry Lloyd agreed to collect the soil when he visited Cuba
in October of 2007. Jerry is a grade school teacher in Orange
County, who visited Gary’s show at the Orange County
Center for Contemporary Art in 2007, and decided to become
a volunteer. He went through quite an adventure getting the
soil back to the U.S., but it did finally arrive and sits
on the International
Wall of Soils in Gary’s studio. He wrote: “I .
. . have some photos from Santa Clara, where Che started the
Revolution, and where the monument is. It was a very big observance
here.” Following is a little photo album Jerry sent
of people in the area, the monument, and other items of interest
on the special day of remembering a special man, gaining special
soil from a special location in a special country:
you, Jerry Lloyd, for your heartfelt participation in Common
from all of us--artist, writer, friends, collectors and readers.
* * *
is the capitol of Cuba, a republic Communist state. When Raul
Castro was elected as the new President of Cuba,
he promised that some of the restrictions that limit Cubans’
daily lives would be removed—a ban on the purchase of
computers, DVD players and microwaves is to be lifted. Before
and during the present government, Cuba has boasted some of
the highest rates of education and literacy in the Americas.
The Cuban state, through tax receipts, funds education for
all Cuban citizens including university education. The Cuban
Ministry of Higher Education operates a scheme of distance
education, which provides regular afternoon and evening courses
in rural areas for agricultural workers. Cuba has also provided
state subsidized education to foreign nationals, including
U.S. students, who are trained as doctors at the Latin
American School of Medicine. The program provides for full
scholarships, including accommodation, and its graduates are
meant to return to their countries to offer low-cast healthcare.
The Cuban government operates a much-lauded national health
system and assumes full fiscal and administrative responsibility
for the health of its citizens.
Historically, Cuba has long ranked high in numbers of medical
personnel and has made significant contributions to world
health since the 19th century. Cuba stands out among third
world nations in addressing children’s health care.
Many foreigners travel to Cuba for reliable and affordable
health care. Cuba provides medical care as foreign aid, providing
free care to victims of disasters, including 16,000 victims
of Chernobyl, and sends medical teams to scores of poor nations.
Cuban doctors have won a reputation for being willing to endure
primitive living conditions, and for being able to improvise
when equipment and supplies are lacking. A special country
and people, indeed.
fact, if Christ himself stood in my way, I, like Nietzsche,
would not hesitate to squish him like a worm. - Che Guevara
began our journal entry with pictures of two men who met in
Cuba and fought in Cuba, for Cuba. These two pictures show
trees, plants and soil around these two men, who are probably
far from thinking about any of that ubiquitous foliage and
land. Military and political men talk about homeland, fatherland,
motherland, country and state, but what Common Ground 191
is attempting to bring to mind is the soil upon which we all
live, and under which we will all be buried--many times, our
loftiest ideas with us.
never saw a contradiction between the ideas that sustain me
and the ideas of that symbol, of that extraordinary figure,
Jesus Christ. – Fidel Castro
men made today’s Cuba possible, and the soil collection
from Cuba as well. These men below, pictured in Cuba, “where
fertile land is abundant” on our great Mother Earth,
are treating Her as she deserves, bathing in Her riches, and
smiling in the waters of Her birth. The word for peace in
Cuba is “paz”.