Liberty Expose: Martyring a Monster
This week marked the 50th anniversary of the death of the Marxist guerilla icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Commemorative events in honor of Guevara were held all over the world; in Cuba, where the revolutionary leader left his most infamous legacy, a rally was held in which the Cuban Vice President gave a speech suggesting the Cuba should honor Guevara’s legacy by resisting political reforms.
In Ireland, to the outrage of many Cuban-Americans, the Irish Republic issued a commemorative stamp to honor Che. And of course, many journalistic outlets have written powerful eulogies dedicated to their dorm room poster hero. It is understandable for Cuba to remember Guevara positively; China certainly remembers Mao as a hero, despite his murderous policies - but it is mind-numbing why any non-despot in Cuba could look fondly upon Che Guevara.
Who was Che Guevara beyond his beret? He was indeed the Argetine roving doctor-turned-Marxist revolutionary we are familiar with. He instrumental in the establishment of the communist state in Cuba, and a cultural icon in his time and beyond, but the collective memory does not go deeper than that. His image remains that of the portrait on the walls and shirts of the intellectually challenged. However, what Guevara was beyond the myth is dispelling of any sense of romanticism for those who care for human rights.
For one, Che Guevara was a murderer. Guevara once wrote “I feel my nostrils dilate, savoring the acrid smell of gunpowder and blood, the enemy’s death.” Fidel Castro identified Guevara’s fanatical hatred of those who had beliefs opposed to his, and appointed Che as the commander of the infamous La Cabana prison. In this position, Guevara oversaw the execution of hundreds of “counterrevolutionaries” (Read: those who didn’t submit to Castro).
Che Guevara was also a brutal, yet incompetent administrator. Despite being self-described economic illiterate (Read: Marxist), Guevara was placed in charge of large sections of the Cuban economy. Under his tenure, sugar production plummeted and Cuba became reliant on the Soviet Union for economic support. Guevara showed little respect for the workers he supposedly fought to protect, as he was reluctant to pay workers because he believed they should labor for the "good of society."
This leads us to Che Guevara’s most defining characteristic. Che Guevara was, above all, a true believer. He was a Marxist ideologue to his very core, and believed in “Saint Karl” with all his soul. He relentlessly pursued his Marxist dogma, and even turned on the Soviet Union for being too soft. It was this trait that would ultimately lead to his demise. After the success of the revolution in Cuba, Guevara sought to export the revolution and his theories surrounding it. He went to Africa and throughout Latin America in his pursuit of his idea of revolution.
Che Guevara held a belief that it wasn’t necessary to wait for a revolution to commence before intervening in a foreign nation. Rather he thought starting an insurrection would inspire people to join the Marxist uprising. It was the Field of Dreams theory of revolution; if you start an insurrection, they will come. The problem is that “they” often didn’t. The revolutions and insurrections Guevara participated in never amounted to much in mass support. His expedition to the Congo failed because, as Guevara recalls, the fighters lacked any sense of “revolutionary awareness” and were content to “have a rifle and uniform, sometimes even shoes.”
Even in Cuba there were never more than few hundred men in the revolutionary movement. And so it was in Bolivia, after trying and failing to spark a revolution, Che Guevara was ultimately caught by Bolivian rangers assisted by the CIA. Despite American attempts to spare Guevara’s life, the Bolivian forces executed Che Guevara a day after his capture; purportedly because one of the Bolivian officers was angry from the loss of a friend while fighting Guevara’s forces.
October 9th is unique because not only was that the day of Guevara’s execution, but it's also Columbus Day. Many progressive urban centers have forsaken Columbus Day, and instead renamed it “Indigenous Peoples day.” Why celebrate a man like Christopher Columbus? He was undeniably a vile, dictatorial murderer that robbed those under of him of their humanity – much like Che Guevara.
In an age where Confederate statues are torn down in a vain crusade against the crimes of the past, we still accept, and even celebrate a man like Che Guevara who deserves a spot in the annals of evil.
Here is the legacy of Che Guevara: he was instrumental in the establishment of one the most brutal dictatorships in the world. While it is the People’s Republic of China that holds the record for most citizens murdered via Marxist policies, by terms of percentage, Cuba has been the most repressive country in terms of dissent crackdown.
The people there still have little in terms of basic human rights, and the country continues to lack in economic progress. It should be of no surprise that so many Cubans have risked their lives to come to the United States. Guevara’s direct legacy is a portrait of himself and the murder of hundreds of prisoners. Yet, his image persists. For a depressing many, Che Guevara has become a symbol of idolatry. While other historical figures are perpetually criticized for their crimes, Guevara is given a pass.
The difference was that Che Guevara’s crimes were committed for the correct reason – to quote another figure of naïve romanticism, Leon Trotsky, it was the ends that justified the means. It seems that the line between martyrdom and infamy is drawn by ideology. So it is that Guevara remains a source of inspiration for many – but Che Guevara is not an inspiration, nor should he be a symbol of hope and equality. He was an ideologue. He was a murder. He was a monster