Allison Aldrich, CT regular columnist
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Every so often I'll see a student walking around campus proudly
sporting merchandise bearing Che Guevara's picture.
For those unfamiliar with Guevara's famous photograph, it has a green
background with Guevara peering to his right and wearing a beret.
I've seen this image on tote bags, posters in dorm rooms and
tapestries hanging in students' apartments. Hollywood has glorified
him with the movie "The Motorcycle Diaries," and celebrities often
sport his image. For many, Guevara is seen as a brave freedom fighter
devoted to the cause of serving his people. For people who actually
experienced Guevara's influence in Cuba, he is seen as a ruthless
murderer and a power-hungry oppressor.
Supporters like to view Guevara as someone who suffered with his
people, a man too idyllic to concern himself with matters such as
money and material possessions. Inconveniently for Guevara's
followers , however, he didn't show so much discretion when it came
to his own lifestyle choices. Humberto Fontova, a Cuban refugee,
describes the mansion Guevara lived in only a week after entering
Havana, Cuba, in his book, "Exposing the Real Che Guevara." The owner
of the mansion was forced to flee Havana with his family in order to
escape a firing squad. Guevara's plunder contained a yacht harbor, a
huge swimming pool, seven bathrooms, a sauna, a massage salon, and
five television sets. Does this really qualify Guevara a "man of the people"?
Many people consider Guevara an educated man who understood the value
of education and arts. Our newspapers and biographies on the
so-called "lover of literature" still contain these themes. It's a
good thing these writers are operating in America, though, because
under Guevara's leadership in Cuba they likely would've been put out
of business or even murdered. Guevara's first judicious act was to
preside over a book burning of 3,000 stolen books and sign the death
warrants for many Cuban authors.
The same Argentinean man who imperialistically tried to impose his
political views on the Cuban people is often lauded as someone who
"finally stood up to imperialistic America." In 1964, Guevara got a
hero's welcome in New York City as he spoke to the United Nations and
bellowed, "Executions? Certainly, we execute! And we will continue
executing as long as it is necessary!" As he was rushed from one
socialite party to the next that night, New Yorkers gushed over him.
Only after he left America did the New York Police Department
discover his plot with the Black Liberation Army to blow up the
Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, and the Washington Monument.
This made perfect sense to Guevara, who said, "We must never give him
a minute of peace or tranquility. This is a total war to the death …
the imperialist enemy must feel like a hunted animal wherever he
moves." Perhaps New Yorkers would have been a little more hesitant
to throw soft-ball media questions at him if they'd known his deadly
plans for their city.
Ironically enough, the same rebellious youths who wear Che Guevara
shirts most likely would've been targeted by Guevara had they grown
up in Cuba. Guevara considered anyone who listened to rock and roll
music, who wore his hair long, or who spoke up against him a
delinquent. His very goal was to, "make individualism disappear from
the nation!" He considered it, "criminal to think of individuals!"
Perhaps these young American individualists should think twice before
brandishing the picture of a man who persecuted "hippies,
homosexuals, free-thinkers and poets," and who employed constant
surveillance, control, and repression.
For some, these actions can be defended as necessary for Guevara to
achieve his ultimate objective of the betterment of the people of
Cuba. But I wager that supporters would have a harder job defending
Guevara's position as Fidel's chief executioner. In a passage from
his famous "Motorcycle Diaries," he quotes himself as saying, "My
nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and
blood." At the same time, he wrote a letter to his father describing
his newfound hobby, "I'd like to confess, Papa, at that moment I
discovered that I really like killing."
Fidel Castro recognized this ruthlessness about Guevara, and placed
him in charge of La Cabana prison in Cuba, where he was judge, jury
and executioner. Although exact numbers are impossible to find given
their haphazard application, Guevara is estimated to have sentenced
over 500 people to execution at La Cabana prison without proper trials.
Perhaps students and celebrities would be a little less likely to
support Guevara had they been present for one particularly grisly execution.
Several men who survived La Cabana prison recall a night when a
14-year-old boy was shoved into their holding cell. When asked what
he did, he gasped that he had tried to defend his father from the
firing squad, but was unsuccessful.
Moments later, guards dragged the boy out of the cell, and Che
Guevara himself ordered the boy to kneel down.
The jailed men screamed "assassins!" and watched out of their cell
window as Guevara took out his pistol, put the barrel to the back of
the boy's neck, and fired.
Perhaps Carlos Santana should use a little more discretion when he
defends Guevara as "all about love and compassion," and students
should similarly do a little more research before buying into the
hype about a man responsible for tearing apart the families and lives
of so many innocent Cubans.