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snopes
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Comment: Hello,
I've heard this anecdote during the course of my university studies (in
the book "We Now Know" by J.L. Gaddis). I'm wondering if it's familiar to
you.

The events took place in Cuba after the success of the revolution led by
Fidel Castro.

In the euphoric days after the revolution, Castro was making a speech in
front of a crowd of his supporters, including his famous comrade Ernesto
"Che" Guevara.

Castro did not have a viable candidate for the post of Minister of Economy
in his government, so he asked the crowd: "Is there an economist here?"
Che enthusiastically stood up to Castro's call. Castro promptly made Che
Minister of Economy in his regime.

A little later while in private Castro said to Che: "I did not know you
were an economist. I thought you were a doctor" [which he was]. Che
appeared confused and answered: "Of course I'm not an ECONOMIST. I thought
you asked if there was a COMMUNIST in the crowd, and I was surprised no
one but me answered your call."

Despite all this Che remained Minister of Economy in Cuba. The
consequences of his "expert" management of the Cuban economy are
well-known.

PS: I am aware that the official language of Cuba is Spanish, but as far
as I know the two words (economist, communist) are quite similar in that
language as well, so the misunderstanding described above could've
happened (in theory). I note this because the story doesn't translate to,
for example, my mother tongue, which is Hungarian (economist=kozgazdasz,
communist=kommunista).

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A Man of Wealth and Taste
I Saw Three Shipments


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I'm pretty sure the relevant words are "economista" and "comunista," so it works in Spanish the same way it does in English. Then again, I just barely passed Spanish, so I could be wrong.

On further investigation, wordreference.com backs me up, so make of that what you will.

--------------------
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GI Joe
Jingle Bell Hock


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A funny story, but it doesn't ring quite true.

If I'm not mistaken, Che became head of the Cuban national bank before Castro took over. After Batista fled, the first Prime Minister of the Revolutionary Government was Cardona (IIRC), and it was during Cardona's brief reign that Che was appointed head of the bank. So Che was already in the job when Castro took over from Cardona. [Yes, Castro was head of the revolutionary army during this period, and you may want to believe he was pulling the strings from behind the scenes during Cardona's short term in office. If you accept this theory, then he still could have been the one who placed Che in the bank job.]

[ETA. Virtually every bio of Che I've checked has him being appointed to the head of the national bank at different dates, ranging from before Castro took over from Cardona to 11 months later.]

Although Fidel made no bones about being a 'revolutionary', I believe he took pains to initially paint his revolution as a broad-based popular movement against the corrupt government, and avoided characterizing it as socialist or communist. In fact, despite Cold War political divisions between the communist and free worlds, the US initially recognized the new government in Cuba, and Fidel made a 12 day tour of the US three months after he became Prime Minister/Premier/Presidente (I forget what his original title was - I'll check tomorrow). As late as Apr 1961 (16 months after the Revolution) he ridiculed charges that his government was communist, and claimed such charges were merely pretexts that facists traditionally used to persecute free men. As far as I can tell, he didn't officially declare his government to be socialist until over two years after coming to power (two days before the Bay of Pigs, IIRC)), though his actions in expropriating foreign assets kind of gave some strong hints long before then.

A quick, cursory scan of his domestic speeches in 1959 and 1960 show a surprising absence of references to either socialism or communism. I very well may have missed some such references, but I didn't find him using any words except nationalist and democratic when describing the revolution. Whenever the term communist turned up, it was in a passage denying the revolution was communist or under communist sway. I didn't find the passage in the OP, either. In his 8 Jan 1959 radio speech to the Cuban people (three days after formation of the new government) he specifically denied being a communist and vowed to oppose all forms of dictatiorship. This makes the OP seem even less credible. [Castro made almost 80 public speeches in the first year following Batista's fall, and it's too late to sort through them all now).

I believe a stronger argument against the story is simply that, while the official political party today in Cuba is the Cuban Communist Party, in speeches and in writings, those we call communists routinely refer to themselves as socialists or Marxist-Leninists. In his famous declaration of Dec 1961, when he finally 'came clean', Fidel declared himself a Marxist-Leninist (not a communist). Similarly, Che's book is titled Man and Socialism in Cuba. We in the west habitually use the word 'communist' so as to differentiate them from the more moderate forms of socialist governments common throughout the world. However, members of communist regiems commonly refer to themselves as socialists (anyone remember the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). A quick thumb through Mao's Little Red Book, and I see 'communist' used only in regard to the formal name of the Party. All other references to the political system, ideology and adherants are in terms of socialism/socialist, progressive revolutionaries, democratic dictatorships and such. [I'd thumb through Lenin's selected works, but it's three frickin' volumes of over 2400 pages and I just don't have the courage). So . . . even if he weren't still denying the socialist nature of the movement right after Batista's fall, it is highly unlikely Castro would ask if there was a communist in the crowd; he'd would have used some term like 'true socialist.'

[ETA: The two major parties of the 1959 revolution were the 26 July Movement (the fidelistas) and the Popular Socialist Party (the pro-communist party), and there was significant tension between the two. I believe the PCP only adopted the name Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in 1965, and it wasn't until ratification fo the 1976 constitution that the PCC achieved total official control as as the "organized vanguard of the Cuban nation" and "the supreme guiding force of society and the state." ]

Finally, why would Castro need to ask if there was a communist in the crowd? Surely he would not be considering people for key cabinet jobs unless he was already damned sure of their ideological purity (which at the time would have been to the '26th of July Movement', Fidel's party structure, rather than the larger, more vague concept of communism. And after two years in the boondocks fighting with these folks, don't you think Fidel already had a pretty good idea of everyone's political stance? So the pretext of the story doesn't play out. At least in my opinion.

Anyhow, for those four reasons, I'd say the anecdote in the OP isn't really true.

--------------------
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EthanMitchell
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Thanks, GIJ, for an excellent overview. I wanted to add a variant of the OP which I heard in Mexico, and which I imagine is equally untrue....that early in the revolution, when Castro was doling out positions, no one wanted to be economic secretary. He waited until Che had dozed off at a meeting, and then pinned it on him.

Both stories sound very strongly like they were made up by American anti-Castroistas. The sentiment being "gee, this regime has survived our military pressure, assasination attempts, and economic embargoes for half a century...at least we can be sure they're incompetent."

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GI Joe
Jingle Bell Hock


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Actually I had just the opposite impression. It sounded to me like it was probably domestic Cuban humor. When I served in Bosnia in '96, the one common characteristic the Serbs, Croats and Muslims seemed to have was an endless supply of jokes mocking the old socialist order. They used to have a counterculture Sad Sack-like comic character (an idiot-savant farmer who always bested the party bureaucrats) whose running gag was to explain Tito-era programs in terms of misunderstandings, garbled communications and bureaucratic apathy.

Anyhow, the joke in the OP so closely resembled that brand humor that I just assumed it had to have a domestic Cuban origin. No one can lampoon a government as well as its own citizens can. And after all, how many people outside of Cuba know that Che was even the head of the national bank? Seems to me it's a joke that would really only play to a domestic Cuban audience.

But who knows?

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Don Enrico
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I heard a combined version of the OP story and EthanMitchell's story: Che had dozed off at a meeting, awaking only to the last part of Fidels question whether there was an "economista", and, having understood "comunista", he raised his hand - and was appointed Minister of Economy.

It was on a biographic program on Che on the German TV that had lots of interviews with friends and family of Che, but I don't remember who told the story.

German Wikipedia on Che Guevara has the story as a "legendary anecdote of unknown origin".

I do remember, though, Che's sister telling that she found it rather amusing that the signature of her brother, who never seemed to be able to manage his own money, was later printed on the Cuban banknotes...

--------------------
My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling, but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places. - Pooh Bear

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