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A spirit that is not afraid

COLUMN | That Che Guevara T-shirt doesn't mean what you think it means.

The infamous bright red T-shirt bearing the face of the Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara has been a popular fashion piece among many liberals for around two decades. Those who wear the shirt see themselves as carrying on the values of resistance to capitalist oppression and solidarity with the working class. But in all actuality, Che Guevara shouldn't be associated with either of these things. In fact, the record shows Che was a totalitarian, mass murderer whose face does not belong on the T-shirts of college age students who profess to love liberty.

From the very beginning, Che Guevara was not someone who could identify with the downtrodden. He came from a relatively wealthy background. His father was a plantation owner and yacht company co-owner while his mother was a descendant of Spanish nobility who frequented upper-class intellectual social circles. Che became intrigued with the politics of the Spanish Civil War, and as he grew older he familiarized himself with the works of Marx, Engels, Nietzsche, and Lenin. As Jon Lee Anderson wrote in Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, despite being part of Argentina’s youth wing of an organization that supported the Allies in World War 2, Che studied how Hitler’s political doctrines were related to Marxism in Mein Kampf during high school with great interest. In this sense, Che was the type of socialist that George Orwell criticized as having no love for the poor, but a hatred for the successful. This, as history will show, would be a dangerous attribute.

Cuban exile Humberto Fontova wrote that in 1959, Che began his censorship-oriented authoritarian career by arranging the burning of 3,000 books. These had belonged to an anti-communist Cuban organization who had been tasked with the gathering of information on Soviet KGB agents. This was only the beginning of the so called “freedom fighter’s” excursion into politics. In Che’s mind, a Marxist revolution required violence, censorship, and an extermination of all dissenting opinions. The mass killing of political dissidents is what Che would initially become famous for as he was made Fidel Castro’s “chief execution officer.” In January 1957 Che wrote to his first wife in a letter, “I’m here in the Cuban hills, alive and thirsty for blood.” A few weeks after he sent this letter his thirst would be quenched.

Upon discovering a member of the revolution who was not quite radical enough, Che took it upon himself to dispatch the contrarian because no one else stepped up to do so. It was this instant that Che remarked in a letter to his father, “I discovered I really liked killing.” He made it clear to the Castro regime that he really had no knowledge of military tactics. Instead, it was his bloodlust that allowed him to rise quickly in the ranks. In a sense, he was the Himmler to Castro’s Hitler. Under the direction of Che, thousands of Cubans were either killed, imprisoned, or sent to slave labor camps during the late 50s and early 60s.

In 1959 Che enlisted the services of a Soviet GRU officer to help establish Cuba’s version of the communist secret police. Due to falsified death certificates, the number of people killed by the secret police in particular is unknown. The Black Book of Communism, which was compiled by French scholars to determine the total number of human lives lost in the 20th century due to political ideology number the people executed under the direction of Che Guevara during the first year of the Cuban revolution at 14,000. That is the equivalent of 3 million deaths in the US based on populations figures. The London Telegraph presented in a 2009 article that 30,000 people have died attempting to flee Che and Castro’s socialist paradise. Mind you, these numbers are conservative estimates.

Throughout Che’s leadership in the Castro regime, he sent thousands of men, women, and children to his prison “La Cabana” or slave labor camps. One dissident of the leftist regime, Roberto Martin-Perez, commented that, “there was something seriously wrong with Guevara… For Castro it was a utilitarian slaughter, that’s all. Guevara, on the other hand, seemed to relish it.” He was not the humanitarian savior of the oppressed that many on the left like to claim. In an article for the Independent Institute, Alvaro Vargas Lloso wrote Che’s initial labor camp on the Guanahacabibes peninsula was the “precursor to the eventual systematic confinement of dissidents, homosexuals, AIDS victims, Catholics, and Afro-Cuban priests.” This reflects many of Che’s racist remarks made in his Motorcycle Diaries like when he called blacks “indolent and frivolous” for example. Yeah, Che is hardly a role model.

In Fontova’s Exposing the Real Che Guevara, the author presents how in 1957 Cuba had a significant middle class with an average wage (per eight hour day) higher than those of Belgium, Denmark, France, and Germany. The same report that gives these figures continues that Cuban labor received 66.6 percent of gross national income. So you know how this related to other first world countries: the figure in the US was at 68 percent and the figure for Switzerland was at 64 percent. After Castro appointed Che to Minister of Industries the island nation could barely stay afloat. The results of his policies were so destructive that even large Soviet subsidies weren’t enough to bolster the country’s economy. All of these factors, including his collusion with the foiled Black Liberation Army terror attacks and 1965 terrorist bomb plot of New York City solidify the notion that Che Guevara was no hero at all. While he may have appealed to the oppressed, as dictators often do, all he managed to accomplish was the creation of a totalitarian state that systematically murdered its citizens. No matter if you are on the left or the right, it is of the utmost importance that you truly understand the political symbols that you display on your clothing unlike the careless students I recently saw brandishing their despotic hero on red T-shirts.

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