Che Guevara, who did so much (or was it so little?) to destroy capitalism, is now a quintessential capitalist brand. His likeness adorns mugs, hoodies, key chains, bandannas, couture bags, jeans, herbal tea and, of course, those omnipresent T-shirts with the photograph, taken by Alberto Korda, of the socialist heartthrob in his beret during the early years of the revolution as he happened to walk into the photographer’s viewfinder ? and into the image that, 38 years after his death, is still the logo of revolutionary (or is it capitalist?) chic. The metamorphosis of Che into a capitalist brand is not new, but the brand has been enjoying a revival of late ? an especially remarkable revival, since it comes years after the political and ideological collapse of all that Mr. Guevara represented.
It is customary for followers of a cult not to know the real-life story of their hero, the historical truth. It is not surprising that Mr. Guevara’s contemporary followers, his new post-communist admirers, also delude themselves by clinging to a myth ? a myth firing up people whose causes for the most part represent the exact opposite of what Mr. Guevara was.
Mr. Guevara might have been enamored of his own death, but he was much more enamored of other people’s deaths. In April 1967, speaking from experience, he summed up his homicidal idea of justice in his “Message to the Tricontinental”: “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.”
During the armed struggle against Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista, and then after the triumphant entry into Havana, Mr. Guevara murdered or oversaw the executions in summary trials of scores of people ? proven enemies, suspected enemies and those who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The “cold-blooded killing machine” did not show the full extent of his rigor until, immediately after the collapse of the Batista regime, Fidel Castro put him in charge of La Caba?a prison, where he oversaw mass executions.
Jos? Vilasuso, a lawyer and a professor at Universidad Interamericana de Bayam?n in Puerto Rico, who belonged to the body in charge of the summary judicial process at La Caba?a, said recently that “Che’s guidelines to us were that we should act with conviction, meaning that they were all murderers and the revolutionary way to proceed was to be implacable.”
How many people were killed at La Caba?a? Mr. Vilasuso told me that 400 people were executed between January and the end of June in 1959 (at which point Mr. Guevara ceased to be in charge). Secret cables sent by the American Embassy in Havana to the State Department in Washington spoke of “over 500.”
Which brings us to Carlos Santana and the chic Che gear he wore to perform at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. In an open letter published in Miami’s El Nuevo Herald on March 31, the great jazz musician Paquito D’Rivera castigated Mr. Santana for his Oscars costume and added: “One of those Cubans [at La Caba?a] was my cousin Bebo, who was imprisoned there precisely for being a Christian. He recounts to me with infinite bitterness how he could hear from his cell in the early hours of dawn the executions, without trial or process of law, of the many who died shouting, ‘Long live Christ the King!’ ”
Che Guevara’s lust for power had other ways of expressing itself besides murder. The contradiction between his passion for travel ? a protest of sorts against the nation-state ? and his impulse to become an enslaving state over others is poignant. His megalomania manifested itself in the predatory urge to take over people’s lives and property and to abolish their free will.
This obsession with collectivist control led him to collaborate on the security apparatus that was set up to subjugate 6.5 million Cubans.
The first forced labor camp, Guanahacabibes, was set up in western Cuba at the end of 1960. Said Mr. Guevara: We “only send to Guanahacabibes those doubtful cases where we are not sure people should go to jail … people who have committed crimes against revolutionary morals, to a lesser or greater degree.”
This camp was the precursor to the systematic confinement of dissidents, homosexuals, AIDS victims, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Afro-Cuban priests. Herded into buses and trucks, the “unfit” were transported at gunpoint into concentration camps organized on the Guanahacabibes mold. Some would never return; others would be raped, beaten or mutilated; most would be traumatized for life.
The great revolutionary also had a chance to put into practice his economic vision as head of the National Bank of Cuba and of the Department of Industry of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform at the end of 1959 and, starting in early 1961, as minister of industry.
This period saw the near-collapse of Cuba’s sugar production, the failure of industrialization and the introduction of rationing ? all this in what had been one of Latin America’s four most economically successful countries since before the Batista dictatorship. By 1963, all hopes of industrializing Cuba were abandoned, and the revolution accepted its role as a colonial provider of sugar to the Soviet bloc in exchange for oil. For the next three decades, Cuba would survive on a Soviet subsidy.
Much more where that came from plus he compares a true revolutionary who brought on a period of prosperity and freedom to Argentina, Juan Bautista Alberdi, with Che Guevara….a true tyrant.
I guess since the left seem’s to believe it would have better to leave a tyrant like Saddam in power it should be no surprise that their new “hero” is himself, a tyrant.