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A Brand for a Generation
Leftists around the world will celebrate the 80th
of the birth of Che Guevara, hero of the Cuban Revolution, in June.
20,000 Argentineans took part in the finale of the Ernesto Guevara
Rosario, the place of his birth. A day
earlier in Rosario, a 4-meter-high bronze statue of him was unveiled at
to rename a square in his honor. At the Cannes Film Festival this year,
Benicio del Toro received the Palme d’Or prize for his portrayal of
Steven Soderbergh’s film “Che.” Time magazine
included Che on its 20 heroes and icons
list. His fans
consider Che a romantic figure — the selfless, hardworking, modest and
seeker of revolutionary adventure. The French philosopher Jean-Paul
called Che Guevara “the most perfect person of our era.”
We will leave the definition of the perfect person
to Sartre, but we
will note that it is not only hard-headed communists and infantile
members who succumbed to Che Guevara’s charm, not only European
dreaming of strength and decisiveness or American leftists jaded by
democracy, nor the legions of young and middle-aged fans throughout the
who believe in the myth of the ideal revolutionary.
As a matter of fact, it is not even a myth but a
brand; not a fairy tale
but a pretty picture from one; not the image of a real person but a
icon for a missed generation. All that remains of the fairytale of the
Argentinean dermatologist who became the Number Two man in the
communist Cuba is the is the millions of reproductions of an image
Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, which he drew from a photo by Cuban
Alberto Corda. It is a familiar picture: the calm, detached gaze into
distance. “Clarity of thought, determination, severity of principles,
righteousness, righteousness, righteousness,” wrote Boris Pasternak
literary revolutionary figure, Commissar Strelnikov, in the novel
Che Guevara is not a literary figure, but he is
larger than life.
Propaganda and human passion for a good story have made him that way.
Communists are masters of the fairy tale. Before
the revolution, they tell tales about the happy
future; after it,
about the terrible past; and after many years, about fallen heroes. The
generations pass and the farther the revolutionary events are from the
or hearer, the sweeter and more truthful they sound to a bored audience
drowning in the worries of a life completely devoid of heroism or
Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was born on June 14,
1928, in Argentina. In
1953, he graduated from the medical department of the National
Buenos Aires. He traveled around South American as a ship’s physician.
he participated in military actions against the Americans, who were
overthrow the pro-communist Arbenz regime in Guatemala. He fled to
1955, after the fall of the Arbenz regime, and met Fidel Castro,
M-26-7 unit and prepared for the expedition on the yacht Granma.
By 1959, he had participated in the Cuban Revolution. After
the victory of the communists, he received Cuban citizenship and
positions of state. He was ambassador-at-large, head of the department
industry at the National Institute for Agrarian Reform, director of the
National Bank of Cuba, minister of industry, head of the Central
and head of the Cuban delegation to a session of the UN. As the head of
Cuban economic mission, he visited the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia,
Democratic Republic and North Korea.
Guevara was unsuccessful in all those capacities.
While he headed the
National Bank, the Cuban peso went into catastrophic free-fall. Cuban
and the economy collapsed while he was minister of industry. His
establish diplomatic economic relations in order to buy weapons failed.
managed to have a falling out with the Soviet Union, accusing it of
its aid to people’s revolutions.” After that, he fell out with Fidel
A political career was obviously not for him. The
only place where he
had any sort of success was in Havana’s infamous La Cabana prison – the
equivalent to Moscow’s Lubyanka. As commander of La Cabana, Che Guevara
to watch executions and personally deliver the “coup de grace,” that
fatal shot. One prisoner of La Cabana who managed to get out alive,
Martin, described life inside the prison when Che Guevara was its
recollections were published in the December 28, 1997, issue of El Nuevo Herald newspaper).
A savagely beaten 14-year-old boy was brought to
the prison. When his
cellmates asked what he had done, he said he tried to defend his
had been picked up to be shot. Soon they came for the boy and took him
cell. “Then we spotted him, strutting
around the blood-drenched execution yard with his hands on his waist
barking orders - Che Guevara himself,” Mr. San Martin wrote. “‘Kneel
barked at the boy. ‘Assassins!’ we screamed from our window. ‘I said
down!’ Che barked again. The boy stared Che resolutely in the face. ‘If
going to kill me,’ he yelled, ‘you'll have to do it while I'm standing!
standing!’ Then we saw Che unholstering his pistol. He put the barrel
back of the boy's neck and blasted. The shot almost decapitated the
According to various estimates, between 500 and
“counterrevolutionaries,” were shot at La Cabana prison in the half
Che Guevara was its commander, many of the executions done the
romantic” and “idol of progressive youth” himself. According to
accounts, he had a passion for holding guns to people’s heads and
brains out, preferably while they were bound, gagged and blindfolded.
In the spring of 1965, Guevara, having failed in
the political arena,
decided to return to the life of an adventurist and stager of
other countries. He renounced his Cuban citizenship and left the
autumn, he had helped pro-communist anti-government rebels in the Congo
successful there, moved on to Bolivia. There he created a partisan
the ambitious name “The Army of National Liberation.” The “army”
want to help Bolivian miners and peasants with the force of its
spirit and what weapons it had, but it did not enjoy the support of the
populace. Peasants in the village of La Higuera gave the position of
Guevara’s fighters over to Bolivian authorities. On October 8, 1967,
fighters were defeated after a short fight. Che Guevara was taken
shot the next day.
It was a fitting end for someone who had made
bloodshed his profession.
This should be food for thought for his modern admirers, who would be
to wear a T-shirt with the image of Dr. Mengele or Otto Skorzeny on it.
Moscow, June 2008