El espíritu del Che/Che’s Ghost


El espíritu del Che se sienta en el salón
con una deshilachada boina en su regazo.
Un rifle automático se arrima contra su silla
lo acompaña una enfundada pistola de cacha de marfil
y una descolorida mochila verde repleta de municiones.
Un grueso cigarro apretado
entre sus brillantes dientes blancos
sobresale de su abundante barba de héroe;
El humo lentamente cae como espirales sobre su cara.
Pero sus ojos permanecen enfocados, sin pestañear y claros.

El espíritu del Che se siente a gusto.
Se asemeja a un hombre
que ha bajado de las montañas
para descubrir que la vida en el valle no es del todo mala
cuando se quita las enlodadas botas
y descansa sus agotados pies en la mesa de centro.
Las comisuras de su generosa boca se arquean hacia arriba.
Y la punta de su cigarro brilla rosada ante los rayos crepusculares
que se filtran por las cortinas de las ventanas.
Contiene sus bocanadas produciendo espeso humo fragante
que oscurece su rostro tostado por el sol.
Pero no se forman cenizas, ni caen al cuelo,
y el vaso de ron añejo que sostiene en sus manos
aunque constantemente toca sus labios
nunca se extingue.

El espíritu del Che ya casi no nos visita.
El viaje es largo y duro.
Y no es tan joven como solía ser.
Aún un espíritu debe de lidiar con el paso del tiempo
y el reconocimiento que las cosas
están constantemente cambiando,
y con la realidad cruel que la vida tiene una manera
de seguir sin los muertos
o a pesar de ellos.

El espíritu del Che se sienta en el salón,
con un silencio más elocuente
que el parloteo de oradores de salón
que llegan con o sin invitación.
Me podría sentar y eternamente escuchar su silencio.
Pero nunca se queda mucho tiempo.
Lo necesitan en las montañas.
La Revolución aún se tiene que ganar.
Y aún un espíritu tiene obligaciones que cumplir.


Che’s Ghost is sitting in the parlor,
His tattered black beret in his lap.
An automatic rifle rests against his chair
Accompanied by a holstered pistol with an ivory grip
And a faded green knapsack stuffed with ammunition.
A thick brown cheroot clenched
Between sparkling white teeth
Protrudes from the verdant growth of his hero’s beard;
The smoke spirals slowly into his face
But his eyes remain focused and unblinking and clear.

Che’s ghost is comfortable.
He resembles a man
Who has come down from the mountains
To discover that life in the valleys isn’t so bad after all.
When he removes his mud caked boots
And rests his tired feet on the coffee table
The corners of his generous mouth turn upwards
And the tip of his cigar glows pink in the crepuscular rays
That drift though the window curtains.
He puffs contentedly, producing thick fragrant clouds
That obscure his sunburned face.
But no ashes form or fall to the floor,
And the glass of dark rum in his hand,
Though often raised to his lips,
Never needs refilling.

Che’s ghost seldom comes anycome.
The journey is long and hard
And he isn’t as young as he used to be.
Even a ghost must contend with the passage of time
And the bitter realization that things
Are constantly changing.
And the cruel fact that life has a way
Of going on without the dead,
Or in spite of them.

Che’s ghost is sitting in the parlor,
His silence more eloquent
Than the chatter of armchair orators
Who drop in uninvited and unwelcomed.
I could sit and listen to his silence forever,
But he never visits long.
He is needed in the mountains,
The revolution has yet to be won,
And even a ghost has his duty.

Copyright 1992, John Chenault

Spanish Translation: Manuel Medina, 2013


PBS: Slavery by another name

The Founding Fathers of the United States drafted and approved a Constitution that codified and institutionalized the American slaveocracy system without ever mentioning the word “slavery.” After the Civil War the authors of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (key among whom were were James M. Ashley, James F. Wilson, Lyman Trumbull, and Charles Sumner) not only mentioned the so-called “peculiar institution,” they furnished a giant loophole in the law that allowed slavery and indentured servitude to continue to exist in perpetuity as follows:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

With slavery redefined and sanctioned as “a punishment for crime,” the nation thereby maintained the legality of the system while promoting the fiction of emancipation. The existence of free black people in the U.S. has always been viewed as a mortal threat to white supremacy. Therefore, under cover of law, millions of African Americans were forced back into servitude in the decades after the Civil War. Racist police forces operating in tandem with racist and corrupt judicial officials and municipal courts systematically re-enslaved blacks with the tacit approval of the federal government—which followed an unwritten policy of allowing the states to decide cases involving peonage (forced servitude). The retention of involuntary labor policies and practices thus devastated the lives of African Americans, particularly those living in the South. For example, by 1908, of the 1.1 million African Americans residing in Georgia approximately half were living under the direct control and force of whites. Forbidden to move or seek different employment, the post-slavery generations of black southerners found themselves trapped in this new form of enslavement until the early 1940s.

The 1940s marked a decisive change in US government policy not as a result of a sudden concern for the injustices being done to African Americans, but out of fear of enemy propaganda about US racism during WWII. To protect the image of the nation abroad, the Justice Department and the FBI began to investigate charges of involuntary servitude and prosecute offenders. In 1948 the entire federal criminal code was revised, and by 1951, as the Cold War was coming to a boil, the US Congress passed several statutes making any forms of slavery in the U.S. a crime.

Douglas A. Blackmon, the Pulitzer prize winning author whose book provided the basis for the PBS documentary shown below, uses the label “Slavery by Another Name” to describe the laws enacted specifically to maintain white supremacy and black subservience following the Civil War. Scholar-activist Michelle Alexander refers to the more recent variation of neoslavery—the emergence of the prison industrial complex in the post-Civil Rights era—as The New Jim Crow. Taken together, and with other recent studies by Loïc Wacquant, David M. Oshinsky, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Robert Perkinson, and others, these works show clearly why we cannot relegate slavery to the distant past.

“Slavery by Another Name” provides stark evidence of our continued failure to recognize and address the history of slavery in this nation. It exposes the ghosts in our blood that infect and haunt each generation as it goes forward in ignorance of the past and its consequences for the future.


To view a previous post I made about “Slavery by Another Name,” which includes an excellent interview of Douglas A. Blackmon by Bill Moyers, click here.