Quotable: Che Guevara on poverty

“That afternoon we went separate ways: Alberto following up the doctors while I went to see an old woman with asthma, a customer at La Gioconda. The poor thing was in an awful state, breathing the smell of stale sweat and dirty feet that filled her room, mixed with the dust from a couple of armchairs, the only luxuries in her house. As well as asthma, she had a bad heart. It is in cases like this, when a doctor knows he is powerless in such circumstances, that he longs for change; a change which would prevent the injustice of a system in which until a month ago this poor old woman had had to earn her living as a waitress, wheezing and panting but facing life with dignity. In these circumstances people in poor families who can’t pay their way are surrounded by an atmosphere of barely disguised acrimony; they stop being father, mother, sister or brother and become a purely negative factor in the struggle for life and, by extension, a source of bitterness for the healthy members of the community who resent their illness as if it were a personal insult to those who have to support them. It is then, at the end, for people whose horizons never reach beyond tomorrow, that we see the profound tragedy which circumscribes the life of the proletariat the world over. In these dying eyes there is a humble appeal for forgiveness and also, often, a desperate plea for solace which is lost in the void, just as their body will soon be lost in the vast mystery surrounding us. How long this present order, based on an absurd idea of caste, will last I can’t say, but it’s time governments spent less time publicizing their own virtues and more money, much more money, funding socially useful projects.”

–Ernesto “Che” Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries

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