Legacy of Che Guevara

Legacy of Che Guevara

The legacy of Ernesto "Che" Guevara (June 14, 1928October 9, 1967), the Argentine Marxist revolutionary, author, and guerrilla leader, has been hotly contested ever since his execution at the age of 39 in Bolivia.


On the 40th anniversary of Guevara's execution in Bolivia the compilation "Che in Verse" brought together a diverse collection of 135 poems and songs in tribute to Che Guevara. [The Latin American Review of Books [http://www.latamrob.com/Review.asp?book_id=184 A radiant face driven mad with a rifle: Che in Verse] ] Celebrated poets such as Pablo Neruda, Allen Ginsberg, Julio Cortázar, Nicolas Guillén, Derek Walcott, Al Purdy, Rafael Alberti, Ko Un, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko devoted the aforementioned works to, as the book states in its introduction, "celebrate the world’s icon of rebellion". [Intro to: Che in Verse, by Gavin O'Toole, Aflame Books, 2007, ISBN 095523395X] In September of 2007, Che was also voted "Argentina's greatest historical and political figure." [ [http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2166117,00.html Poems Guevara lived and died by, Javier Espinoza, September 9 2007, The Observer] ]

To some he is known as a hero —Nelson Mandela has referred to him as: "An inspiration for every human being who loves freedom" [Editorial Review of The Bolivian Diary on [http://www.amazon.com/Bolivian-Diary-Authorized-Guevara-Publishing/dp/1920888241 Amazon.com] --- This quote also appears in the opening trailer for The Motorcycle Diaries (film) --> [http://www.focusfeatures.com/clips/the_motorcycle_diaries/trailer-480x270.wmv Trailer] ] — but others view him as the spokesman of a failing ideology and a ruthless executioner who didn't afford others a legal process. In reference to such criticisms, Cuban-American academic Uva de Aragon has hypothesized that: "We'll still have to wait many years for history to deliver a definite judgement on Che, when the passions of both sides have passed." [Uva de Aragon, Cuban-American academic at Florida International University, as quoted in [http://rawstory.com/news/afp/Sympathizers_mark_40th_anniversary__10082007.html "Sympathizers marks 40th anniversary of Che Guevara's death" (8 October 2007)] ]

British politician George Galloway has remarked that: "One of the greatest mistakes the US state ever made was to create those pictures of Che's corpse. Its Christ-like poise in death ensured that his appeal would reach way beyond the turbulent university campus and into the hearts of the faithful, flocking to the worldly, fiery sermons of the liberation theologists." [ [http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/george-galloway-should-che-be-an-icon-yes-396109.html "George Galloway: Should Che be an icon? Yes", October 6 2007, The Independent] ] The Economist magazine has also pointed out how Che's post death photos resemble Andrea Mantegna's 'The Lamentation over the Dead Christ.' Thus fixing Guevara as a modern saint, the man who risked his life twice in countries that were not his own before giving it in a third, and whose invocation of the “new man”, driven by moral rather than material incentives, smacked of Saint Ignatius of Loyola more than Marx. [ [http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=9947002 "Che Guevara: modern saint and sinner", Oct 11th 2007, The Economist] ]

While pictures of Guevara's dead body were being circulated and the circumstances of his death debated, his legend began to spread. Demonstrations in protest against his execution occurred throughout the world, and articles, tributes, songs and poems were written about his life and death. [ of Peace." [ [http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,838357,00.html 'The Cult of Che', Time Magazine, May 17 1968] ]

Such predictions gained increasing credibility as Guevara became a potent symbol of rebellion and revolution during the global student protests of the late 1960s."The Cult of Che". Time Magazine. Friday, May 17, 1968. [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,838357,00.html Online] , accessed October 24 2006.] Left wing activists responded to Guevara's apparent indifference to rewards and glory, and concurred with Guevara's sanctioning of violence as a necessity to instill socialist ideals. [Trento, Angelo. "Castro and Cuba : From the revolution to the present". p.64. Arris books. 2005.] The Black Panthers, began to style themselves "Che-type" while adopting his trademark black beret, and Arab guerrillas began to name combat operations in his honor. [ [http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,942333,00.html "Che: A Myth Embalmed in a Matrix of Ignorance", Time Magazine, Oct. 12 1970] ] The slogan 'Che lives!' began to appear on walls throughout the west,The Guardian. "Just a pretty face?" [http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,6903,1258340,00.html Online] , accessed October 25 2006.] while Jean-Paul Sartre, a leading figure in the movement, encouraged the adulation by describing Guevara as "the most complete human being of our age". [Michael Moynihan, "Neutering Sartre at Dagens Nyheter". [http://www.spectator.se/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=43&Itemid= Online at Stockholm Spectator] . Accessed February 26 2006.]

Typically, responses to Guevara's legacy followed partisan lines. The U.S. State Department was advised that his death would come as a relief to non-leftist Latin Americans, who had feared possible insurgencies in their own countries. Subsequent analysts have also shed light on aspects of cruelty in Guevara’s methods, and analysed what Fidel Castro described as Guevara’s “excessively aggressive quality”. [Fidel Castro on Che Guevara : Speech by Fidel Castro was given on October 18, 1967. [http://www.oceanbooks.com.au/clibrary/about-articles/chefidel.html Online] . Ocean Press Pty Ltd website. Accessed October 24 2006.] Studies addressing problematic characteristics of Guevara's life have cited his principal role in setting up Cuba's first post-revolutionary labor camps, his unsympathetic treatment of captured fighters during various guerrilla campaigns, and his frequent humiliations of those deemed his intellectual inferiors. [Samuel Farber, "The Resurrection of Che Guevara", Summer 1998. [http://www.wpunj.edu/newpol/issue25/farber25.htm William Paterson University online] , accessed June 18, 2006.] Anderson, Jon Lee. "Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life", New York: 1997, Grove Press, p. 567.] Though much opposition to Guevara's methods has come from the political right, critical evaluation has also come from groups such as anarchists, Trotskyists, and civil libertarians, who consider Guevara an authoritarian, anti-working-class Stalinist, whose legacy was the creation of a more bureaucratic, authoritarian regime. [Libertarian Community, " [http://libcom.org/history/guevara-ernesto-che-1928-1967 Ernesto "Che" Guevara, 1928–1967] ".] Johann Hari, for example, stated that "...Che Guevara is not a free-floating icon of rebellion. He was an actual person who supported an actual system of tyranny, one that murdered millions more actual people." [ [http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-should-che-be-an-icon-no-394336.html Johann Hari: Should Che be an icon? No] October 6 2007, The Independent] Detractors have also theorized that in much of Latin America, Che-inspired revolutions had the practical result of reinforcing brutal militarism for many years. [The Killing Machine: Che Guevara, from Communist Firebrand to Capitalist Brand. The Independent Institute. [http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1535 online] . Accessed November 10, 2006.]

Legacy in Cuba

"Guevara remains a beloved national hero in Cuba (almost a secular saint, to many on the Caribbean island) [ [http://www.pww.org/article/view/5880/1/234/ 'Che Guevara remains a hero to Cubans', People's Weekly World, Oct 2, 2004] ] , where he is remembered for promoting unpaid voluntary work by working shirtless on building sites or hauling sacks of sugar. To this day, he appears on a Cuban banknote cutting sugar cane with a machete in the fields." [Rosa Tania Valdes in [http://www.ezilon.com/information/article_18610.shtml "Cuba remembers Che Guevara 40 years after his fall" in "Reuters" (8 October 2007)] ]

In Cuba, Guevara's death precipitated the abandonment of guerrilla warfare as an instrument of foreign policy, ushering in a "rapprochement" with the Soviet Union, and the reformation of the government along Soviet lines. When Cuban troops returned to Africa in the 1970s, it was as part of a large-scale military expedition, and support for insurrection movements in Latin America and the Caribbean became logistical and organizational rather than overt. Cuba also abandoned Guevara's plans for economic diversification and rapid industrialization which had ultimately proved to be impracticable in view of the country's incorporation into the COMECON system. As early as 1965, the Yugoslav communist journal Borba observed the many half-completed or empty factories in Cuba, a legacy of Guevara's tenure as Minister of Industries, "standing like sad memories of the conflict between pretension and reality". [Hugh Thomas. Cuba : The pursuit of freedom p. 1007.]

The Cuban state continued to cultivate Guevara’s cult of personality, constructing numerous statues and artworks in his honor throughout the land; adorning school rooms, workplaces, public buildings, billboards, and money with his image. ["Cuba's face". Stanford University Germanic Collections. [http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/hasrg/german/exhibit/GDRposters/che.html Online] . Accessed October 24 2006.] His visage is also on postage stamps and the 3-peso coin beneath the words “Patria o Muerte” — “Homeland or Death.” [ [http://www.pww.org/article/view/5880/1/234/ 'Che Guevara remains a hero to Cubans', People's Weekly World, Oct 2, 2004] ] Moreover, children across the country begin each school day with the chant "¡Pioneros por el Comunismo, Seremos como el Che!" (English: Pioneers for Communism, We will be like Che!). The University of Havana also possesses an academic concentration in "Che." [ [http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/10/08/news/journal.php '40 years after Che Guevara's death, his image is a battleground', by Marc Lacey, October 8 2007] ] Guevara's mausoleum in Santa Clara has also become a site of almost religious significance to many Cubans, while the nation’s burgeoning tourist industry has benefited greatly from the ongoing international interest in Guevara's life. Some 205,832 people visited the mausoleum during 2004, of whom 127,597 were foreigners.

Legacy in Cuban-American Community

Reverence among Cubans for Guevara's memory is by no means universal. Many Cuban exiles have spoken of Guevara in less than favorable terms, and he is remembered by some with the epithet "The Butcher of la Cabaña", a reference to Guevara’s post-revolutionary role as “supreme prosecutor” over the "revolutionary tribunals" at the fortress. The moniker was repeated by Cuban-born musician Paquito D'Rivera, who wrote an open letter castigating fellow musician Carlos Santana, for wearing a T-shirt bearing Guevara’s face to the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony. [Paquito D'Rivera, "Open letter to Carlos Santana by Paquito D'Rivera in Latin Beat Magazine", 25 March 2005. [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FXV/is_4_15/ai_n13801099 Find Articles Online] , accessed June 18, 2006.] Guevara's image was also removed from a CD carrying case after public opposition pressure from offended Cuban-American groups. For their part, retail group Target Corporation issued a public apology for producing the item. [ [http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/view.php?StoryID=20061224-120342-6131r Target pulls Che Guevara CD cases] - Associated Press, December 24 2006] Similar disapproval has been shared by Cuban-American actor and director Andy Garcia, who alleged in 2004 that "Che has been romanticized over the years, but there is a darker side to his story. He looks like a rock star, but he executed a lot of people without trial or defense." ["Andy Garcia Tells His Cuba Story, at Last". NewsMax.com. Friday, May 5, 2006. [http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2006/5/4/171619.shtml Online] . Accessed October 24 2006.] Garcia’s 2005 film "The Lost City", which was reportedly banned in several Latin American countries, portrays what could be perceived by some, as the brutality of pre and post revolution Cuba. [ [http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=OWI2ZDcyMTliNmNiMGIwYTliMDc3NDcyZmZiOTc5YTY= Don’t Let This Movie Get Lost] Kathryn Jean Lopez. National Review. Accessed October 24 2006.]

Legacy elsewhere in Latin America

In Latin America, the failures of the neo-liberal reforms of the 1990s intensified opposition to the Washington consensus, [BBC News. "How the US 'lost' Latin America". [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4861320.stm Online] accessed 10 January 2007.] [Washington Post. "Anti-U.S. Protests Flare at Summit". [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/04/AR2005110401724.html?nav=rss_print/asection Online] accessed 10 January 2007.] leading to a resurgence in support for many of Guevara’s political beliefs including Pan-Americanism, support for popular movements in the region, the nationalization of key industries and centralization of government. [Foreign Affairs. "Latin America's Left Turn". [http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060501faessay85302/jorge-g-castaneda/latin-america-s-left-turn.html Online] accessed 10 January 2007.] In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, a group with ideological roots in Guevarism were re-elected to government after 16 years. Supporters wore Guevara T-Shirts during the 2006 victory celebrations. [Photograph of Sandinista election victory parade [http://i68.photobucket.com/albums/i39/zleitzen/Sandanistarally-1.jpgOnline] ] Bolivian president Evo Morales has paid many tributes to Guevara including visiting his initial burial site to declare "Che Lives", [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7033880.stm Cuba pays tribute to Che Guevara, Oct 9 2007, BBC] ] and installing a portrait of the Argentine made from local coca leaves in his presidential suite. [BBC News. "Evo Morales 'padlocked' in palace" [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4878466.stm Online] accessed 10 January 2007.] [Spiegel News online. "Capitalism Has Only Hurt Latin America" [http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,434272,00.html Online] accessed 10 January 2007.] [The Latin American and Caribbean Information Center of the Florida International University. "President Evo Morales pays tribute to Che Guevara" [http://lacic.fiu.edu/new/lanews_view.cfm?article_id=725 Online] accessed 10 January 2007.] In 2006, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez who has referred to Guevara as as an "infinite revolutionary" [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7033880.stm Cuba pays tribute to Che Guevara, Oct 9 2007, BBC] ] and who has been known to address audiences in a Che Guevara T-shirt, [Guardian Online. "Hugo Chavez superstar". [http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1404414,00.html Online] accessed 10 January 2007.] accompanied Fidel Castro on a tour of Guevara’s boyhood home in Córdoba, describing the experience as “a real honor”. Awaiting crowds of thousands responded with calls of “We feel it! Guevara is right with us!" [MSNBC News. "Castro, Chavez tour Che Guevara’s home". [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13989158/ Online] . accessed 10 January 2007.] Guevara’s daughter Aleida also transcribed an extensive interview with Chávez where he outlined his plans for “The New Latin America”, releasing the interview in book form. [Amazon books. "Chavez: Venezuela and the New Latin America - Hugo Chavez Interviewed by Aleida Guevara". [http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1920888004 Online] . accessed 10 January 2007.] Guevara remains a key inspirational figure to the Colombian guerrilla movement, the FARC, [Leeds University. "The impact and legacy of Che Guevara’s Foco Theory, with special reference to guerrilla warfare in Colombia". [ Online] . accessed 10 January 2007.] and the Mexican Zapatistas led by Subcomandante Marcos. [BBC News. "Profile: The Zapatistas' mysterious leader" [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/1214676.stm Online] . accessed 10 January 2007.] [Zapatista Army of National Liberation. "SIXTH DECLARATION OF THE LACANDON JUNGLE". [http://www.narconews.com/Issue38/article1371.html Online] . Accessed 1 March 2007]

The "Cult of Che"

Despite the controversies, Guevara's status as a popular icon has continued throughout the world, leading commentators to speak of a global "cult of Che". Writers from Graham Greene to Susan Sontag have extolled him, while West German playwright Peter Weiss has even compared him to "a Christ taken down from the Cross." [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,942333,00.html?iid=chix-sphere Che: A Myth Embalmed in a Matrix of Ignorance, Oct 12 1970, Time Magazine] ] A photograph of Guevara taken by photographer Alberto Korda [BBC News, "Che Guevara photographer dies", 26 May 2001. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/1352650.stm Online at BBC News] , accessed January 4 2006.] has become one of the century's most ubiquitous images, and the portrait, transformed into a monochrome graphic by Irish artist .]

In North America, Western Europe and many regions outside Latin America, the image had been likened to a global brand, long since shedding its ideological or political connotations, and the obsession with Guevara has been dismissed by some as merely "adolescent revolutionary romanticism". Che Guevara as a cultural icon also re-emerged in the news in October 2007, when 61 year old Texas bookstore owner and collector of 60s memorabilia Bill Butler, paid $ 119,500 (US) dollars for a lock of the late Che Guevara's hair. The hair was trimmed from Guevara’s corpse by Gustavo Villoldo, a Cuban-born C.I.A. operative who helped Bolivian troops capture him in 1967, and was accompanied by a sheaf of historical documents (map, photos, & fingerprints) related to his capture. For historical comparison earlier in 2007, a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair only drew a winning bid of $ 21,510 (US) dollars. [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/26/world/americas/26che.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin "Lone Bidder Buys Strands of Che’s Hair at U.S. Auction", by Marc Lacey, Oct 26 2007, NY Times] ]

American, Latin American and European writers, Jon Lee Anderson, Régis Debray, Jorge G. Castañeda and others contributed to demystify the image of Guevara via articles and biographies, which detailed his life and legacy in less idealistic terms; and, in the case of Octavio Paz, was accompanied by a critical indictment of the Marxism espoused by many in the Latin American left.Political writer Paul Berman went further, asserting that the "modern-day cult of Che" obscures the work of dissidents and what he believes is a "tremendous social struggle" currently taking place in Cuba. [Paul Berman, "The Cult of Che", 24 September, 2004. [http://www.slate.com/id/2107100/ Slate Online] , accessed June 18, 2006.] Author Christopher Hitchens, who was a socialist and a supporter of the Cuban revolution in the 1960s but has since changed his views, summarised Guevara's legacy thus: "Che's iconic status was assured because he failed. His story was one of defeat and isolation, and that's why it is so seductive. Had he lived, the myth of Che would have long since died." Taking the opposing view, Richard Gott a Guardian journalist in Vallegrande, sent a dispatch on the day of Guevara's death stating the following: quotation|It was difficult to recall that this man had once been one of the great figures of Latin America. It was not just that he was a great guerrilla leader; he had been a friend of Presidents as well as revolutionaries. His voice had been heard and appreciated in inter-American councils as well as in the jungle. He was a doctor, an amateur economist, once Minister of Industries in revolutionary Cuba, and Castro's right-hand man. He may well go down in history as the greatest continental figure since Bolivar. Legends will be created around his name. [ [http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,2175016,00.html The final triumph of Saint Che, Guardian, September 23 2007] ]


External links

*BBC: [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3594994.stm "Che Guevara Legacy Lives on in Bolivia"] August 24 2004
*BBC Video: [http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/nol/newsid_7030000/newsid_7033300/7033329.stm?bw=nb&mp=rm&news=1&nol_storyid=7033329&bbcws=1 "Che Remembered 40 Years On"] October 8 2007
*CNN: [http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9708/15/argentina.che/index.html "Argentines Reviving the Legend of Che Guevara"] August 15 1997
*Daily Observer: [http://observer.gm/africa/gambia/article/2008/6/12/mini-read-che-remembered-80th-birthday-on-june-14 Che Remembered: on 80th Birthday] June 12 2008
*Harpers Magazine: [http://www.harpers.org/archive/2007/09/hbc-90001318 Six Questions for Greg Grandin on Che’s Legacy] September 30 2007
*Intl Herald Tribune: [http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/05/27/america/LA-GEN-Argentina-Che-Guevara.php Che Returns to Buenos Aires, Immortalized in Bronze Statue] May 28 2008
*LA Times: [http://travel.latimes.com/articles/la-trw-che-guevaras-legacy-looms-larger-than-ever-in-latin-america8oct07?content=+have+appalled+Guevara%2C+an+atheist.&single_page=y#show "Che Guevara's Legacy Looms Larger than Ever in Latin America"] October 8 2007
* PBS Forum: [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/forum/november97/che1.html "The Legacy of Che Guevara" ~ with biographer Jon Lee Anderson] November 20 1997
*The Economist: [http://www.economist.com/world/la/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9968985 "A Modern Saint and Sinner"] October 13 2007
*The Independent: [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20070913/ai_n20510673 "Rediscovering Che Guevara: the Romantic Revolutionary"] September 13 2007
*The Observer: [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/sep/23/theobserver.worldnews "The Final Triumph of Saint Che"] September 23 2007
*TIME 100: [http://www.time.com/time/time100/heroes/profile/guevara01.html Che Guevara] June 14 1999
* Wall Street Journal (photo gallery): [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121329914405168815.html? "The Ubiquitous Che"]

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