Friday, June 25, 2010

Disillusionment for the Cult of Che

The myth surrounding Che Guevara is, in my opinion, among the greatest lies of the 20th century. Many Americans, before ever hearing of his name in a history book, know that he is worthy of reverence simply by looking around and seeing the masses that wear his likeness.

I’ve had many friends wear Che’s face on their shirt. I’ve known people who have had posters of the man in their college homes. I have always been a huge fan of Rage Against the Machine, who considers Che a fifth band member. I tried to understand the fascination, and why he is so admired by so many. I've waded through some of Che's biographical accounts, and even read most of his “Motorcycle Diaries” of his humble beginnings, and at the request of friends, saw the film.

Yet I always found it strange that he was considered so iconic, courageous, and humanistic, while so closely aligned with Stalinism, which is a ruthless political breed of propaganda, fear, and oppression.

Then I read Humberto Fontova’s “Exposing the Real Che Guevara.” This book provides a snapshot of the true Che, and it validated the skepticism I had about his legacy as a great man. The book is comprised of both scholarly and firsthand accounts, referencing the testimony of many eyewitnesses and reporters that covered his revolution in Cuba.

I wish that all Americans could read this book.

The common American perception of Che is that he was a brave guerilla, a doctor, a humanitarian, and a scholar. He was intelligent, forceful when he needed to be, and the spearhead of a benevolent revolution that ousted the capitalist pigs from Cuba, returning the mandate to the people of Cuba.

But that’s the myth. In reality, Castro’s Cuban Revolution was about brutally purging the political opposition to Communism, and Che was his lapdog and an architect of death. Even young, idealistic American reporters traveled to Cuba, wanting to love Che because they believed in the Cuban revolution, only to find mass executions of political prisoners and show trials.

Angelina Jolie, the humanitarian, has a tattoo of Che Guevara on her body. But does she know that Che signed thousands of orders to execute men, women, children, and the mentally handicapped with little or no evidence? It is well documented by many journalists. Sure, many “trials” took place, but these farcical events would make Stalin's show trials seem like the pinnacle of legal justice. The names of those to be executed were marked with X’s prior to any hearings, and the hearings themselves would often consist of the same woman in a black veil fingering every man that was guilty, sending dozens of them to the firing squad a day, each one guilty of being "the Batista rebel" that killed her husband. And on the strength of such false testimony, many Cubans were killed by the wave of Che’s pen, in order after order of execution.

According to Che’s brand of justice, “It is not necessary to prove someone’s guilt in order to execute him. I need only to prove that his execution is necessary for the Revolution.”

And yet he is viewed as a humanitarian?

Rage Against the Machine and Carlos Santana love Che, as he has become a legendary icon for the counterculture. But do they know that Che waged a political war against the “lumpen,” who were essentially anyone with long hair or anyone who listened to rock and roll? Yes, they were executed in rather large numbers by Che's authority, because long hair and affection for rock and roll were symptoms of a bourgeois sickness.

And yet musicians and the hippies in Berkeley love Che?

Any Che Guevara fan will tell you that he cared little for material possessions. But it is obvious he was very materialistic. Shortly after taking power, he secured (read: STOLE) one of the largest homes in Cuba that had many of the greatest luxuries, including multiple swimming pools and a massive television with remote control. In fact, he wore his prized Rolex until he was captured and killed in Bolivia.

This opulent mansion was modified so that he could view the handiwork of his firing squads over lunch. At some point, he realized, much like a filthy capitalist would, that they were killing so many Batista "rebels" and letting their blood go to waste. He then began draining their blood prior to sending them to the firing squads so it could be exported for profit. Often, the prisoners were so weak they had to be carried to meet their executioners.

And yet many Americans believe that money, power, and material possessions were not important to him?

Che's supporters deny that anything Che did could be associated with terrorism. But it seems Al Qaeda and Hamas have even learned a thing or two from Che.

Colonel Cornelio Rojas was a Cuban war hero and the Chief of Cuba’s police. He was a good man, loved by many, but he was guilty of two distinct crimes: he was representative of the “old” Cuban regime, and he was anti-Communist. So he was rounded up, and his family was promised by Che Guevara that he would not be harmed. But of course, Che knew that a figurehead of the “old” regime would need to be eliminated. Without warning, millions of Cubans turned on the television to a nationally televised execution of Cornelio Rojas, and even his family witnessed firsthand as the crown of Col. Rojas’ skull was separated from his head by a powerful rifle shot. The sight of this caused Rojas' wife, watching in her home, to have an immediate and fatal heart attack. This live display was an example, meant to inject fear into anyone who would defy the revolution.

Is this any different from the public beheading of Nick Berg by Al Qaeda? Not really. But you don’t see people running around with hip shirts of Osama Bin Laden like they do with Che, the terrorist.

And if these things aren’t enough to shake the perception that he was a courageous and humane hero, it has been proven that he planned attacks against American cities, and he stated that if the Soviet weapons remained in Cuba after the missile crisis, he would have used them to inflict a nuclear strike against New York City.

Cuban refugees that left the country penniless and embraced the American culture find him a murderer and assassin, because many of their families were killed by his secret police. Yet many Americans believe Che was a hero, because a Communist regime dictated after the fact that he was not the bloodthirsty killer that he was, and some Communist-sympathetic academics in this country embraced the notion.

But he was not who our culture has made him out to be. As I said earlier, I wish all Americans could read Fontova's book, especially those who admire Che Guevara. But sadly, people who have spent years admiring Che will probably blindly dismiss the book’s revelations as propaganda, just as quickly as they had once blindly accepted the lie that Che was a great man.

And that, like Che Guevara's false legacy, is an absolute travesty.

William Sullivan


  1. What's troubling about your post is that you sound like you were looking for the right book to denounce the 'myth' of Che, and you found it. So, does this book escape any investigation? I'm assuming you already checked all this before believing all of it.

  2. Your point is taken. But to answer, yes, I did do some fact checking after reading Fontova's book, which was rather easy as it's heavily sourced, and much of which can be found in one form or another on the web. Much of it (quotes by Che, for example) are found in alternate contexts in other sources, like Anderson's biography of Che, which I had read the majority of previous to Fontova's book.

    I was not looking for anything. I saw it at a bookstore, and picked it up on a whim. The intro to my post merely relates that throughout my college years I heard nothing but reverence in regards to Che, but found after slight investigation how incredibly polar the stories were. Having studied the affront to human rights that took place in the aftermath of Castro's revolution and having a firm grip on the evils Communism has invariably generated throughout the 20th century, I find Fontova's take, while clearly partisan, far more plausible than any of the other criticisms I have found.

    All the best, William

  3. What's most interesting to me is that people would rather believe Angelina Jolie, Santana, and Johnny Depp about Che than listen to an actual Cuban American whose family may have suffered at the hands of Che Guevara. Time has a way of erasing the reality of that brutality. For some at least, but not for those whose property was taken and families were killed. There is absolutely nothing admirable about Che Guevara. Yes he had a cause. Yes he believed in it, but so did Hitler. Both of them are probably in Hell right now admiring each other's t-shirts.