Friday, April 08, 2005

Basic facts about Che Guevara--Hero or Murderer?

A nearby bar where I like to go to see bands play has its walls covered with hip posters, whether of a James Brown, general rock music, movies, or counterculture theme. Toward the back is a large one bearing the iconic image of Che Guevara. Now, I like The Soul Bar just fine--it's a good bar, and they often have terrific bands play there. (Macha was phenomenal there in the fall of 2004.) But the Che poster really irritates me.

I think the glorification of Guevara first annoyed me because I just generally knew he played an important role in bringing to power Castro's regime, of which I am no fan. [Enumeration of specific flaws and evils would be worthwhile here; in the meantime, see Babalu Blog for a start.] But the evils of Che himself really began to come into focus after I read this article on Slate. Especially compelling is the opening paragraph, which includes these claims:
Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster....Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction....[he] presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination. In [a] famous essay... he issued his ringing call for "two, three, many Vietnams".... He was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy—a tragedy on the hugest scale.
That's chilling stuff. It's hard for me to think of such a man as a hero rather than a villian or to appreciate people glorifying him. After reading that, the next time I was in the bar and saw that poster, I ranted at a friend, who seemed to defend Guevara. When later we were both sober, I pressed him to clarify his view. His comments included the following:

I don't know everything he has done, but he does remain a fairly romantic figure for the Left, standing up to the gangsterism of Batista, along with the other July 26 rebels in Cuba. As far as his role in Castro's regime once it took power, I don't have all the facts, but his activity in terms of liberation movements in Africa and Latin America could be said to be of the best of intentions....If anything, I think it's the cult around his personality, as the romantic liberator of the peasantry and proletariat, that enthralls people.
In response to the last statement, I agreed that it is the cult of personality and the idea of him as liberator that enthralls people but added that it's an impression I think is misguided and twisted. (Berman's word in Slate, again, was "totalitarian.")

Sara Lequerica de la Vega and Val Prieto say Guevara "ordered the execution of countless human beings while in charge of the notorious La Cabaña prison in Havana,...terrorized Cuban society and...denied freedom to thousands of citizens whom he considered 'deviants' or 'anti-revolutionaries'" and "during the Cuban Missile Crisis actually preferred a nuclear holocaust so that his 'New Man' could rise from the ashes of millions of dead human beings."

This guy makes similar assertions, including
Killing thousands of 'enemies of the revolution' without trial, he proudly boasted that he had no time for judicial evidence, declaring it an 'unnecessary, archaic bourgeois detail'....He tore men (approximately 2,500 by his own count) found to have governmental links - starting at the top but quickly regardless of status - from their screaming wives and children in midnight raids. Pre-power, he had robbed banks to finance operations; when a boy in his forces stole food, Guevara ordered him shot. He personally signed death warrants for men he knew to be innocent and honourable...
Of course, all this leaves unaddressed my friend's point about Guevara's intentions in Africa, Bolivia, and elsewhere. In short, though, if the assertions of Berman and the others are true, it's a. rather unlikely Guevara was much more noble outside of Cuba and b. insufficient anyway, if so, to excuse his actions against the Cuban people.

Specific details to document such assertions are warranted, and I will continue seeking to accumulate them. (This list is only a start.) In the meantime, anyone who leaves these claims unrefuted--or at least undisputed--and venerates Che Guevara on a T-shirt, sign, or poster celebrates the villian described in them.

1 Comments:

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