Canek Sanchez Guevara: The grandson of Che Guevara who became an anti-Castro dissident

Canek became an author, travel writer, graphic designer, a punk and heavy metal rock guitarist and staunch opponent of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul

Thursday 29 January 2015 01:00 GMT
A photo of Canek Sanchez Guevara, the grandson of Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara, hangs above his casket during his funeral in Mexico City
A photo of Canek Sanchez Guevara, the grandson of Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara, hangs above his casket during his funeral in Mexico City

Canek Sanchez Guevara was the eldest grandson of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Although proud and in awe of the historic achievements of the grandfather who never lived to see him, Canek turned against the dictatorial drift of the Cuban revolution when he was 22 and exiled himself to fight what he called the "monarchy" led by the man he used to know as "Uncle Fidel".

Canek became an author, travel writer, graphic designer, a punk and heavy metal rock guitarist and staunch opponent of Fidel Castro and his brother and successor Raul, an outspoken writer and speaker against Cuba's one-party system and its human rights record.

Named after a line of ancient Mayan rulers called Kan Ek ("Black Serpent"), he was the son of Che's eldest daughter Hilda Guevara Gaesa, whom Che always referred to as Hildita (Little Hilda). Hildita was named after her mother, Che's first wife Hilda Gadea, a Peruvian leftist economist he married in 1955. It was Hilda senior who introduced the idealistic Argentinian doctor to the Castros and a ragtag bunch of Cuban exiles plotting in Mexico to overthrow their island's dictator, Fulgencio Batista.

Che was said to have married Hilda senior because she was pregnant and he was about to sail with the Castros clandestinely from Mexico to Cuba, 82 of them, poorly armed and packed on to a family-sized motor boat. They were decimated by Batista's army on arrival in December 1956 but the Castro brothers, Che, who was badly wounded, and a dozen others scattered, eventually parading victoriously into Havana in January 1959.

Comandante Che, by then a member of Fidel's revolutionary cabinet, invited his wife Hilda and daughter Hildita to Havana but, having fallen in love with a fellow guerrilla in the mountains, he divorced Hilda, although he doted on his first daughter and helped raise her. While Che married again and went off to spread the revolution, Hildita married a Mexican leftist, Alberto Sanchez, and they had Canek in Havana in 1974.

The boy was brought up in an imposing house, subsidised by the leadership, in the formerly upmarket district of Miramar, where Batista's cronies had lived. Hildita had a low-profile job in a government arts and propaganda centre but few Cubans were aware that she was Che's daughter. As a child Canek recalled sharing the big house, at Fidel's request, with Mexican leftists who had hijacked a plane to Cuba.

His parents took him to Milan and Barcelona, where he went to a Spanish-Catalan school, then on to Mexico before returning to Havana in 1986. As a teenager he revered the memory and tales of his grandfather, who had been executed in Bolivia in 1967. He felt uncomfortable with the label "Che's grandson": "People were always telling me how to be, to honour 'the revolution', and what not to do."

He became disillusioned with Fidel Castro's dictatorial rule and crackdown on dissidents, artists, poets and others. He began dressing as a punk, grew his hair to his shoulders, wore earrings and formed a heavy rock band called Metalizer. They soon faced the ire of Castro's secret police and revolutionary "neighbourhood watchmen". On one occasion, at a clandestine Havana gig, a squad of Castro's police burst in, lobbing tear gas grenades and chasing everyone out. "I began to feel disgust," he said. "Once, two plain-clothes security police jumped me, accused me of being on drugs, forced me to squat and checked my anus for hidden drugs."

I interviewed Canek's mother, Hildita, in a Havana hospital in 1995, shortly before she died of cancer. She recalled her "Uncle Fidel" reading to her a letter from Che from 1967, shortly before he was killed in Bolivia. "It said that, if he fell in combat, I shouldn't cry. Because you don't cry for men who die for their ideas."

In a separate interview, she added: "The Cuban revolution can be saved, but I have to confess I don't know how. To me, the dream is not dead. It's dormant, frozen in time. Communism has failed to keep up with the times. What I would like is a Communist system with a human face."

Canek, then 21, chubbier than his grandfather and showing the facial features of his mother's part-indigenous American Mayan or Incan origin, was less optimistic. "This revolution is in ruins," he said. "Che would have been proud of me. He was a rebel. He never would have approved of what has become of this revolution. Let's be honest, a young rebel like Fidel Castro in today's Cuba wouldn't be sent into exile. He'd be shot."

Shortly after I saw him, Canek left Havana (in 1996) and became something of "wanderer without a home", as he put it, eventually settling in Oaxaca, Mexico, as a more mellowed musician, photographer, graphic artist, designer, poet and columnist for such publications as Mexico's influential magazine Proceso. Like his grandfather, he enjoyed a fine cigar.

In 2008, there were headlines about an American model calling herself "Che's granddaughter Lydia Guevara" who was dating Russell Brand and later posed semi-nude in pro-vegetarian ads. But she was neither the granddaughter of Che's first wife Hilda nor his second, Aleida March, nor did the family know who she was. Guevara died after heart surgery complicated by pneumonia.


Canek Sanchez Guevara, musician, writer and campaigner: born Havana 22 May 1974; died Mexico City 21 January 2015.

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