"I survived the revolution": An interview with Humberto Fontova
By Bernard Chapin
Over the course of his career he has authored four books: The Helldivers' Rodeo, The Hellpig Hunt, Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant and Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots who Idolize Him. After walking past a classroom decorated with the face of Che the other day, I decided to contact Humberto to ask him about America's queer fascination with this blood-drenched totalitarian.
Humberto Fontova: I'm guessing 70 to 80 percent of Che-T-shirt wearers have a very vague idea of who he is. "Hey..? Ain't that guy on your shirt the drummer for the Smashing Pumpkins?...."
BC: Dr. Dalyrmple has a new book out, In Praise of Prejudice. In it he notes: "If it hadn't been for the photograph taken by the Cuban photographer Albert Korda, Ernesto Guevara would have been recognized by now as the arrogant, adolescent, power-hungry egotist that he undoubtedly was." How much is Che's reputation a result of successful [and lucky] marketing? Had his snapshot been taken while he ate lunch would he be deemed just another communist apparatchik?
Humberto Fontova: In an article dated February 2004 I wrote: "Che Guevara was monumentally vain and epically stupid. He was shallow, boorish, cruel and cowardly. He was full of himself, a consummate fraud and an intellectual vacuum. He was intoxicated with a few vapid slogans, spoke in clichés and was a glutton for publicity. But ah! He did come out nice in a publicity photo, high cheekbones and all. And we wonder why he's a hit in Hollywood."
Sounds like maybe Dalrymple read it? That picture, by the way, was taken in March 1960 and scheduled to appear in the Cuban media the day after it was taken. But Castro spiked it. Only after Che was safely "sleeping with the fishes" did he dust it off, call his western media minions to heel with a sharp whistle and present it to them.
BC: You are also the author of Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant. For those unfamiliar with your thesis, why does this mass murderer so enthrall the glitterati?
Humberto Fontova: The whole thing starts with the cachet, the coolness surrounding the Cuban revolution. At the time, the United States was the biggest fuddy-duddy, Leave-it-to-Beaver country in the world. Then, all of a sudden, you had these long-haired revolutionaries down in Cuba - they were the first hippies, the first beatniks. Look at Che Guevara in those years. Take off the beard and you've got Jim Morrison. Raul Castro used to carry his shoulder-length blond hair in a ponytail. Camilo Cienfuegos looked like another Jerry Garcia. There was that coolness cachet, plus all the misconceptions about what Cuba was like prior to these guys.
BC: What do you believe the future holds for Cuba? Is a counter-revolution likely once Fidel and Raul pass away?
Humberto Fontova: No counter-revolution. Nobody has guns. I see post-Soviet Eastern Europe type changes--but speeded up and made more dramatic and durable by Cuban exiles just 90 miles away willing to lend a hand with their entrepreneurial zeal, expertise and capital.
BC: Looking back on the last 45 years, are you somewhat astounded that the American government has done so little in regards to overthrowing Castro? What would you say to your fellow citizens who regard Cuban politics as something we should not be involved in?
Humberto Fontova: Easy to say "hands off" now. But it was U.S. policy in the way of State Department and even CIA interference which put Castro in power in the first place. In 2001 while visiting Havana for a conference with Fidel Castro, the CIA's "Caribbean Desk's "specialist on the Cuban Revolution" from 1957–1960, Robert Reynolds boasted that: "Me and my staff were all Fidelistas."
"Everyone in the CIA and everyone at State were pro-Castro, except ambassador Earl Smith." This statement is from former CIA operative in Santiago Cuba, Robert Weicha.
"We put Castro in power," that's according to Earl Smith U.S. Ambassador to Cuba 1957-59.
BC: Is it fair to say that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is being positioned to take the place of Mr. Castro in the hearts and emotion-addled brains of the American celebrity?
Humberto Fontova: Hugo will never pull it off. He just doesn't have the shrewdness or cachet (or looks) of Castro (much less of Che) All Hugo's got is petro-dollars-- and that helps, but it won't carry the "cool Revolutionary" cachet by itself.
BC: Why do you think anti-American dictators so reflexively enthrall the political left?
Humberto Fontova: Battered-wife-syndrome comes to mind.
BC: Thanks for your time, Humberto.
Other related essays:
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!