Che Guevara’s son on Cuba’s coming identity crisis

HAVANA,  July 8  When Omar Perez was 25, he found out his father was the revolutionary Che Guevara. For Perez — a poet, artist and musician — the revelation didn’t much change his outlook on life, or on Cuba. Jeffrey Brown talks to Perez in Havana about the Cuban Revolution, art and how closer ties with America may change his country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a profile of a most unusual writer, a man Jeff met on his recent trip to Havana for the series of reports on the Cuban Evolution.

Here’s our look.

JEFFREY BROWN: Omar Perez is an artist, a musician, and a poet.

OMAR PEREZ, Poet: It’s very much in the culture. There’s no difference between a song and a poem. The brain gets active when you listen to a melody. So that’s exactly what happens with poetry, too.

JEFFREY BROWN: And Perez has another claim to unusual fame. He is the son of revolutionary Che Guevara. His mother was a student at the University of Havana in the 1960s. Both she and Guevara were married at the time of their affair, and Perez grew up unaware of who his father was.

OMAR PEREZ: When I was 25 years old, I was already a human being, and then somebody told me, did you know your father is Che Guevara? I said, no, I don’t. What am I going to do now? I’m 25 years old, I’m a writer, I’m a poet, I’m a translator. Should I change now?

What should I become? Should I become something different? I didn’t want to become anything different. I was — that’s what I wanted to be, a poet.

JEFFREY BROWN: Generations of Cubans have lionized Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary from Argentina who, alongside Fidel Castro in the 1950s, overthrew Cuba’s government. His image is still seen all over Havana.

Omar Perez lives in one of the once elegant, now crumbling buildings alongside the city’s famous seawall, the Malecon. For his part, he doesn’t seem to hold on to a romantic view of Che Guevara or the Cuban revolution.

You have grown up through the period of the revolution in Cuba. What’s your sense of where it’s at now? Is it alive? Is there…

OMAR PEREZ: The revolution?


OMAR PEREZ: The revolution has been dead for years, for decades.

JEFFREY BROWN: For decades?

OMAR PEREZ: Yes, sure.


OMAR PEREZ: Yes, everybody knows that. And revolution for its own nature must be a very brief moment of human existence.

I remember, when we were school, every year, we had to say, this is the year of industrialization, this is the year for agriculture, this is the year of whatever. And then slowly, slowly became year 30 of the revolution, year 33 — it was like a clock moving, moving nowhere.

JEFFREY BROWN: Perez says he’s not political, but he is an observer of the times.

OMAR PEREZ: I try not to write about social issues, but it comes back all the time. I can’t stop now writing about social issues, but not as a sociologist or a politician, but more like an anthropologist.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tell me what you see in society then as an anthropologist of Cuban life now.

OMAR PEREZ: Confusion, not in a bad or in a good sense, just confusion, a lack of social organization, in the sense that the community itself is not very well-organized. It is very fragmented, and the state is also very fragmented.

They are both moving without really knowing where they are moving.

JEFFREY BROWN: Omar Perez lives simply, creating art from recycled parts, often from the cracked walls of his own home.

OMAR PEREZ: These materials, sometimes, they are coming out.

JEFFREY BROWN: He thinks normalization of relations with the U.S., the money it could bring, the changes that will come, could cause kind of an identity crisis for Cubans.

OMAR PEREZ: What you have now is the farcical attempt to represent transformation in society through the economic, commercial values.

JEFFREY BROWN: But I would think many Cuban people would want that for a better life.

OMAR PEREZ: I don’t know what Cuban people want. If you’re not thinking clearly, whatever comes from your mouth adds also to the confusion. I want a car, I want a five-year American visa, I want to open a shop, I want to have another car, I want blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

JEFFREY BROWN: But people do want those things.

OMAR PEREZ: Yes, OK. Congratulations. If that brings happiness into their lives, it’s OK with me, you know?

JEFFREY BROWN: What’s the role of a poet in a society like Cuba today?

OMAR PEREZ: To observe, to have fun.

JEFFREY BROWN: To observe and have fun?

OMAR PEREZ: Yes, to observe and have fun with what you’re observing, and then to propose ideas. You don’t even need to write. You can paint. There are so many ways to express what you want to say. This is what art is about.