Torture and Tyranny: The Real Che
Many would-be revolutionaries consider Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the author of the above statement, a hero. Jean-Paul Sartre said "Che was the most complete human being of our age." Adoring stories abound, and books and movies portray Guevara as an enthusiastic and unwavering ally of the poor and downtrodden. His dashing image is held high at protests the world over, and proudly displayed on t-shirts, posters, and patches. More than any other image, this ikon is a visual symbol of global anti-capitalism.
The reality of Guevara's life and beliefs, to those who care to find out, is a surprising and stark contrast. Guevara was several things, all related: violent, brutal, authoritarian, Stalinist, militaristic. None of these meshes with the traditional iconic image, but all are much more true than Che-as-liberator.
He had passion, for sure. In his own words:
Hatred as 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 …
In the armed insurgency against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, Guevara's brutal ideology and its consequences reared its ugly head. Not only was he a vicious and effective opponent of Batista’s forces, he also implemented the death penalty for "informers, insubordinates, malingerers, and deserters" on his own side. Often he carried out these executions himself.
He also spread Stalinism in the insurgency. There were many insurgent factions, and these were often opposed to the communist faction, which had been part of the government several years prior and only joined the insurgency after a few years. While many world intellectuals were being duped about the nature of the Soviet system, others in Cuba were not. However, after their victory and Castro’s assumption of power, Guevara’s post as right-hand man insured that his element was triumphant.
Guevara was made a Cuban citizen (as he was originally from Argentina) and an official at the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, president of the National Bank of Cuba, and Minister of Industries. From these posts he directed Cuba’s transition to a Soviet-style economic system. In propaganda this meant creating the fair and efficient economy of the future; in practice this meant wholesale redirection of millions of lives, arrogance, and devastation. In “Notes on Man and Socialism” he wrote “to build communism, you must build new men as well as the new economic base.” Molding the Cuban people in accordance with his own Stalinist vision was his goal, and now he had the power to make whatever sacrifices of other peoples’ time, energy, and lives he thought necessary.
Individual tastes and talents could not be allowed to stand in the way of the revolution. Contrary opinions had to be silenced, and they were. Counterrevolutionary elements were put in “labor camps,” “re-educated,” or imprisoned without trial, many being executed. These were not merely agitators in the employ of robber barons. These were vagrants, drunks, idlers, homosexuals, Christians, poets, and many other classes, including “Cuban youth…who had to go into hiding to listen to [rock albums] which the Revolution, and [Guevara] and his cohorts, dubbed as ‘imperialist music’.”
When they were given trials, they were showy public farces. When those found guilty were executed, they were executed publicly by firing squad. Their friends and families were paraded in front of the bloody wall. Guevara is said to have signed between 500 and “several thousand” death warrants, though the exact number may never be known. His own count was about 2,500. When they were not given trials, they were bound, gagged, psychologically broken, and then perhaps shot. The number killed without death warrants is unknown.
In case any still existed outside the camps who opposed the regime, he helped set up a secret police force and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, another office for spying on and manipulating the Cuban population.
Not content with the blood he spilled on his adopted soil, Guevara criticized the USSR for not using its nuclear missiles during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which he said he would have done if he had been in command.
No honest consideration of Ernesto “Che” Guevara could leave out his overriding ruthlessness. No humane protester could support his totalitarianism. No peace-loving global citizen could sympathize with his call to worldwide armed revolution. No cognizant young hipster should sport the visage of a man who would have imprisoned him.
Che might have been handsome and brave. But he was also a murderer and a tyrant.
It is long overdue: smash this idol, for the love of humanity.
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