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The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation. – Vladimir Lenin

Do You Know Who This Man Is?

Posted by iusbvision on September 12, 2007


“Hay que endurecerse pero sin perder la ternura jamás”

You have probably seen the picture:  The ubiquitous effigy of the fervent revolutionary, looking solemn and pensive as Alberto Korda shot the photograph that would turn him into an icon. Pop culture has immortalized him, rock stars wear t-shirts emblazoned with his face, but only a few can claim to know who he was. Most cannot even pronounce his name correctly. His legend, however,  lives on.

But before Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the icon, there was Che Guevara the guerilla leader, the fearless combatant, The Butcher of La Cabaña who personally oversaw – and had the final decision upon – the execution of hundreds of his own countrymen. Before the romanticized Che, there was the bloodthirsty Che, the soldier who fought for the utopian socialist ideal and stopped at nothing to see that ideal become a reality.

“One must endure without losing tenderness”, is the famous quote attributed to Che – a far cry from the man who once claimed hatred as being “an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become.”

The dichotomy is perhaps the most telling feature of the cult of Gue Guevara, the icon: years of romanticizing by the media have turned the fiercest defender of authoritarianism into a symbol of liberty. He hated the West and its ‘money fetish’ and blamed Washington for the woes of South American peasants. He fought side-to-side with Fidel Castro to extirpate Cubans of their most basic freedoms and fundamental human rights and exterminated those who dare to stand between him and his ultimate goal: the destruction of capitalism and democracy.

Che Guevara, the sympathetic rebel lauded by the likes of Carlos Santana and Tom Morello, the figure whose physiognomy is known the world over, the most renowned symbol of social equality and freedom, was actually an enemy of freedom.

The adoring fans of the rebel free-thinking revolutionary, blinded by the obfuscating light of saint-in-waiting Che, seem oblivious to two inescapable truths: First, Cuba is in turmoil. It is a pressure cooker of social instability, aided by decades of military dictatorship and lagging growth that have rendered the nation’s economy virtually stagnated. Second, communism is dead. It has been proven time and again to be a failed system because it infringes on one of the most ingrained, natural tendencies of human beings: the desire of having more.

The Soviet Union, East Germany, and Albania, all have succumbed to the sweet bosom of el capitalismo salvaje that Che Guevara fought against. With Chaves’ Venezuela not-withstanding, Cuba and North Korea are the swan songs of an antiquated ideology that was predestined to fail. Even China is slowly waking up to that reality and opening up its markets to foreign investments and as a result it has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. From raw materials to finished goods, the awakening Asian giant exports billions of dollars each year to their western counterparts.

Meanwhile, Cuba’s main export is, well…Cubans.  Every year, thousands of dissidents flee Fidel Castro’s little utopian Club Red in search of the ‘better tomorrow’ promised by Castro and Che Guevara during the Cuban Revolution. Yet, where are the t-shirts and the movies with the faces of these thousands? Is their struggle less important, their cause less ‘sexy’ than that of the Argentinean hero of the Latin-American indigenists, himself born with a silver spoon? Does Hollywood give a damn about them?

To all these dissenters, this is the legacy of Che the icon: not The Motorcycle Diaries, but a nation-island marred in oppression and discontent. To hundreds, perhaps even thousands that were victimized by Che Guevara’s rampant and egocentric wanderlust, he wasn’t a martyr or a saint. To them, his image does not symbolize a struggle for freedom, but rather it brings them back memories of the ruthless ‘supreme prosecutor’ appointed by Castro to execute their political enemies.

Yet, there he stands. The unmovable obelisk of communist rhetoric, becoming what he hated the most: a product for capitalist exploitation. That is, perhaps, the irony of Che Guevara: The man who spent a lifetime speaking against the tyrannical hand of the imperialist capitalist West didn’t live long enough to see his face adorning t-shirts and coffee mugs and being lauded by musicians, sports starts, and other pseudo-celebrities.

The iconoclast became an icon himself. And as he stares into the oblivion, the hundreds that were killed under his watch are again victimized by his ambiguous fame as a freedom fighter. His face may be a hot commodity, but the cloth of all the shirts in the world cannot cover the scars left by his legacy.

Ed Lima

One Response to “Do You Know Who This Man Is?”

  1. Ed Lima said

    Today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Che Guverava. I plan to celebrate with a brewsky and an authentic Cohiba.

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