Today in the Americas, Régis Debray

At camp in Bolivia: Debray on far left, Che second from right

At camp in Bolivia: Debray on far left, Che second from right

Before I knew who Régis Debray was, I checked out a book when I was eighteen called Empire 2.0: A Modest Proposal for a United States of West by Xavier de C***. I was, in an upper-level English class, suggested Critique de la raison politique (Critique of Pure Reason) by my professor, but never got around to looking into it. Yet Empire 2.0 was really good, as I remember at the time, and it was only when I got more interested in Latin America that I came to see his name associated with Ernesto Guevara. Turns out, he was in Bolivia which Che in 1967 – today marks the 42nd anniversary.

Debray is a French intellectual who was teaching at the University of Havana, in Cuba, in 1960 following the Cuban Revolution. He may be best remembered for Revolution in the Revolution? that examined the strategies of his era’s militant social movements and acted as a handbook for guerrilla warfare – for those interested beyond Guevara’s classic work on the subject. Guevara would be bound and murdered in Bolivia, Debray received a 30 year prison sentence (he would have gotten out in 1997, the year Guevara’s remains were found).

Guevara relied on Debray and Carlos Bustos for information from Cuba and Argentina. Che almost lost both, and the imprisonment today in 1967, was a huge set back. Che wrote in his journal, “[Debray] and [Bustos] fell victim to their own haste, their near desperation to leave. And to my own lack of energy to stop them.” Che was then alone, in the jungles of Bolivia, and we know what happens next.

To add to this, Debray, according to Jon Anderson, was the one who provided the final confirmation that Che Guevara was in Bolivia. Che wrote, “It appears [Debray] said more than was necessary, although we cannot know the implications this may have, nor the circumstances in which he said what he did.” Anderson presumes that Debray didn’t have to say much, as Revolution in the Revolution? was widely known and his ties to Cuba were documented. Thus, when Bolivia had confirmation that Che was in the country, the CIA-backed anticommunist paramilitaries swung into action, Green Beret-style, to end Guevara’s life and avoid his gaining a foothold in the country.

Che would die. Debray would be released in 1970 with the help of Jean-Paul Sartre, André Malraux, Charles De Gaulle and even Pope Paul VI. He went to Chile and experienced the CIA-backed coup against Salvador Allende in 1973. From there, he finally left for France.

He now is advancing his theory of “mediology” – which is, according to Wired, “how it is that abstract ideas can end up as world-changing ideologies. Today, he is developing a new theory of the transmission of ideas through history, to grasp how words become flesh, ideas ideologies.” He has an autobiography that I have not read, although I do wonder what he thought about Bolivia and the events that transpired.


~ by Daniel on April 20, 2009.

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