When her asthmatic little boy Ernesto ("Che") Guevara grew up to be at 33 the Marxist mastermind of Fidel Castro's government in Havana, Celia de la Serna de Guevara was as proud as a mamma could be, particularly a Communist mamma. At home in Argentina, Celia has long been an all-wool Communist herself, but hampered by individualistic tendencies. She often ate with a pistol on the table, and, before she separated from Ernesto Sr.. sometimes used the weapon to threaten her husband, whose policies were only parlor pink. Somehow the leaders of Argentine Communism never got around to giving Celia the leading role in the movement she felt she deserved.
Bayonets in Recife. Things are a lot livelier for Celia these days. As her son Che's Red star rises higher over Cuba, Mother Guevara has gone into quite an orbit of her own. She buzzed off to decorate a conference of leftist females in Santiago, Chile, in November 1959, returned to whip up enthusiasm for an Argentine branch of Castro's 26th of July movement. She travels to Cuba at least once a year to see her boy. Lately, Celia has capped her career by becoming a kind of Marxist Typhoid Mary, spreading violence wherever she goes in Latin America.
Attending a conference of Communist women in Brazil, she spent most of her time in anti-Yanqui harangues over TV and radio, made splashy headlines during her stay in Rio de Janeiro. She toured to Sao Paulo, swung north to Recife, where her presence set off a student riot that ended only when Brazilian President Janio Quadros sent in troops and tanks.
Flitting home to Argentina, Celia played an encore at the University of
Buenos Aires School of Law and Social Sciences. A left-wing student group invited her to lecture on Yankee imperialism. She had barely opened her mouth before students outside the hall began whistling and catcalling, "Let's swap Che's mother for a tractor!" A tear-gas bomb popped in the auditorium, rocks smashed through windows and doors. The battle raged for more than two hours until a Molotov cocktail set the place afire.
Pills from the U.S. As the school was closed for repairs, Celia gave a gossipy interview to reporters about Che's doings. "My boy is a very busy young man. He has recently been examined by a Soviet doctor, who prescribed some pills for his asthma that are doing him lots of good. These pills, of course, are made in the U.S. The last time I saw my boy, he had a deep wound on his right cheek. He told me it happened while he was cleaning his gun, but I don't believe it.* He has put on lots of weight lately, but this is the result of the medicine he's taking." Then Mother Guevara set off on the road again; at Tucuman in the Argentine provinces, her presence started a most rewarding brawl. Now she is back in Brazil, where she can count on more rallies, more riots.
* The more widely accepted version: that he got hit by a stray bullet fired by one side or the other during the Cuban invasion.