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The Martyring of Che Guevara

Posted on Oct 9, 2007
Viva Che
AP photo / Javier Galeano

Viva Che!  Guevara’s admirers in Santa Clara, Cuba, mark the Oct. 8 anniversary of his death.

The 40th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara elicited considerable media attention, mostly about his iconic image captured on T-shirts throughout the world. There were the standard snarky asides that many young people wearing those T-shirts have scant notion of who Che was, but the journalists reporting the story seemed equally ignorant. Little was reported about Che’s life and what led him to shun the comforts of a physician’s lifestyle in Argentina to fight as a revolutionary in the rugged terrains of Cuba, the Congo and, finally, Bolivia—or why someone who claimed to be obsessed with helping the world’s poor was executed, gangland style, on the order of a CIA agent.

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One exception was the BBC, which bothered to send a reporter to Florida to interview Felix Rodriguez, the Cuban-born CIA agent who was part of a team of CIA operatives and Bolivian soldiers who captured Che. “Mr. Rodriguez ordered the soldier who pulled the trigger to aim carefully, to remain consistent with the Bolivian government’s story that Che had been killed in action in a clash with the Bolivian army,” said the BBC report. Che’s hands were then cut off and put in formaldehyde to preserve his fingerprints.

In his interview with the BBC, Rodriguez claimed that the order to kill Che came from the Bolivian government, and that he went along: “I could have tried to falsify the command to the troops, and got Che to Panama as the U.S. government said they wanted,” he recalled, but he didn’t. Clearly, the U.S. government was not unhappy with Rodriguez’s role in the bloody affair, for he went on, as he boasts, to train the Nicaraguan Contras and advise the repressive Argentine military government in the 1980s. He showed the BBC reporter his CIA medal for exceptional service along with a picture of him with the first President Bush in the White House. George H.W. Bush, it should be remembered, had been the head of the CIA during some of the years that Rodriguez worked there and was not put off by the man’s past deeds, including his part in Che’s assassination.

So, what’s the big deal? Che was a Cuban Communist, and it’s a good thing that folks like Bush and Rodriguez were able to defeat him before he spread his evil message further—right? False, on every count.

First off, he was either an Argentine Trotskyite or an anarchist, but Che was not a Communist in what we think of as the heavily entrenched, bureaucratized Cuban mold. Che was restless in post-revolutionary Cuba because his anarchist temperament caused him to bristle at the emerging bureaucracy. He was, like Trotsky in his dispute with Stalin, skeptical that the kind of socialism that truly served the poor could survive in just one country; hence, he died attempting to internationalize the struggle.


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It also turned out that killing Che was a big mistake, as his message was spread more effectively by his execution than by his guerrilla activities, which were, after he left Cuba, quite pathetic. This is the case in Latin America, where political leaders he helped inspire are faring better than those coddled by the CIA. Daniel Ortega, whom the CIA worked so doggedly to overthrow, is the elected president of Nicaragua. Almost all of Latin America’s leaders are leftists, some more moderate than Che (as in Brazil), and others as fiery as the guerrilla (in Venezuela), but all determinedly independent of yanqui control. Fortunately, they differ from Che in preferring the ballot to the gun. But all recognize that poverty remains the region’s No. 1 problem and that the free-market model imposed by the United States hardly contains all the answers. Recall that the U.S. break with the Cuban revolution came before Castro’s turn toward the Soviets, and that it was over his nationalization of American-owned business assets in Cuba ranging from Mafia-run casinos to the electric power grid.

These days, few politicians in the United States even seem to care about the subversive Cuban influences in our own backyard that once haunted them. The embargo on Cuba remains to mollify Florida’s aging Cuban community, but what’s important to Washington today is Mideast oil, not protecting the peasants of Bolivia from the likes of Che Guevara.

On Monday, Che’s death was marked, in the Bolivian village where he was killed, by Bolivian President Evo Morales, who proclaimed his movement “100 percent Guevarist and socialist,” which hardly registers as a propaganda success story for those favoring CIA assassinations. They turned a failed—and flawed—guerrilla fighter into an enduring symbol of resistance to oppression.

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By Frikken Kids, October 10, 2007 at 1:09 pm Link to this comment

I’m not particularly anti-American.  I just find it funny when somebody makes a statement that can so easily be turned to make them look foolish.  If a CIA murder without trial long after CIA training and funding make Che a hero, then all Ossama would need is a CIA bullet in his head to become a hero by that same definition.  I would love to hear that Ossama got that bullet to the head, but it would in no way make him a hero - except by the standard defined by the previous post.

And why would I have to defend America using nuclear weapons?  People on this board (and the author of the article) seem to have some perverse reverence for a guy who desperately wanted to nuke America.  I asked if a Che fan could defend that.  That has nothing to do with my views on the American nuclear attacks on Japan.  The question remains, how do American fans of Che feel about his desire to destroy them, their families, their country, and probably the world?  I find it hard to think that a person who desperately wanted to start nuclear war was a good guy deserving of reverence.

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By P. T., October 10, 2007 at 11:39 am Link to this comment

“After all, he [Osama] was trained by the Americans, too.”

You sound anti-American.

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By P. T., October 10, 2007 at 11:26 am Link to this comment

“Do you have an excuse for his attempts to get Russia to attack America with nuclear weapons?”

The U.S. is the only country to have used nuclear weapons.  Do you have an excuse?

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By Frikken Kids, October 10, 2007 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

Michael Shaw, I absolutely love your comment

“The fact he was murdered by the CIA without trial makes him a hero, especially when you realize the CIA trained and sponsored those death squads in the first place.”

So can I assume that if Ossama happens to get killed by a CIA assassin, he’ll default to here status?  After all, he was trained by the Americans too. 

You’ve excused the executions he carried out and his admiration of brutal communism.  Do you have an excuse for his attempts to get Russia to attack America with nuclear weapons?  Apparently, if the great Che had his way, nuclear war would have consumed the earth.  Awesome.  What a great guy.  Sign me up to wear one of his t-shirts.

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By Katharine, October 10, 2007 at 10:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Robert Scheer compares Che Guevara to current Latin American left leaders saying “Fortunately, they differ from Che in preferring the ballot to the gun.”

This statement makes it sound like it was Guevara’s personal character/preferences that made him favor guns and Ortega and others’ (he alludes to Chavez, Morales, and Lula) personal preferences to favor the ballot. In fact, at the time Guevara was operating there were few real “ballots” to be had in Latin America.  Most countries were ruled by military dictatorships and power was generally transferred through coups from one military leader to another. Guevara and his companions took up arms when the ballot wasn’t an option. So did Daniel Ortega, and his first government came to power through the gun, overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship, and then established an electoral democracy in Nicaragua that allowed him to win a presidential election in 1984, lose an election in 1990, and then win one again last year. Making it sound like it was about personality and preferences misses entirely the historical context in which the Latin American politics and the Latin American left operated then and operate now.

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By Mariam Russell, October 10, 2007 at 10:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is my comment on the other Che article here.

I do not know, and you do not know, the “real” Che.

I see little difference possible in him and Mr. Rodriguez, who only regrets not keeping the pipe, who was 27 at the time, and has not grown at all in the years since. They were both caught up in systems of belief part of which was that killing and violence could actually help a situation. HAVE WE LEARNED THAT THEY WERE BOTH WRONG?

I find it intresting that the USA killed the man, but are able to manage a way to say it was engineered by Castro.

Amazing what a little engineered hate can do after a few years.

It seems that Pres Castro’s doctors did cataract surgery on the soldier who actually shot Che. FOR FREE.


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By P. T., October 10, 2007 at 9:59 am Link to this comment

Che was in Guatemala when the U.S. and the Guatemalan elite overthrew the democratic government there, and replaced it with decades of extremely bloody, right-wing dictatorship.  He and many Latin Americans drew the conclusion that the U.S. would never allow peaceful, democratic reform in Latin America—hence his justification for repression of dissent in Cuba.  He said that Cuba would not be another Guatemala.

As if to prove Che’s point, the U.S. went on to help overthrow democracy in Chile and to try to overthrow it in Venezuela.  And it supported extremely violent regimes all over Latin America.

The latest round of reformers in Latin America seem to have survived so far.  Stay tuned.

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By Michael Shaw, October 10, 2007 at 9:49 am Link to this comment

I’d like to point out North Korea back then was not the same North Korea it is today. It was also another war we had no business in being a part of.

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By Michael Shaw, October 10, 2007 at 9:47 am Link to this comment

The only people Che executed were members of death squads. The fact he was murdered by the CIA without trial makes him a hero, especially when you realize the CIA trained and sponsored those death squads in the first place.

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By Ed, October 10, 2007 at 9:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The U.S. leadership promotes the democracy mantra but really wants bribeable, right-wing dictatorships in Latin America. Barring forcibly installed puppet regimes (like the one in Iraq), South Americans will continue to distance themselves from the U.S. and its corruption-enabling, poverty-inducing policies. It seems that Latin America’s moral compass puts social justice in front of short-term corporate profits.

Che Guevara, in spite of his personal failings and mistakes, did aspire to social justice as does Castro and Chavez. I have to admire them for not selling-out to the imperialist gringos.

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By Joe Praske, October 10, 2007 at 8:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your essay encapsulates my thinking and discussion of the subject of Che over the past week. If readers would only sit and digest your position, they would understand you are neither pro-Che nor anti-Che. You simply state the effect of America’s jump to villify leaders (and “insurgents”) that seem to dislike our brand of freedom.

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By victor a driscoll, October 10, 2007 at 7:52 am Link to this comment

Mr Scheer lables Che “...a failed-and-flawed guerrilla fighter” and correctly assigns responsibility for his martyrdom.  An examination of who Che was and was not is instructive as we exmine who we are and hopefully who we are not.

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By Ken Mitchell, October 10, 2007 at 7:31 am Link to this comment
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During the seconw world war, we were told that Stalin really wasn’t that bad because he was against Hitler. During the 1960s the new left told its followers that Fidel and Che really weren’t that bad because they opposed US imperialism. Fact is that Fidel and Che were that bad, but many in Latin America feared the US more than it did Cuba.

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By samuel burke, October 10, 2007 at 7:01 am Link to this comment
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Mr Scheer, in cuba demonstrations are mandatory…the infamous commitees for the defense watch the neighborhoods and turn in the names of those who do not participate, the workplaces are police monitored and anyone who is told to participate in a demonstration does so, as a matter of fact after many years of indoctrination noone has to be told to march anylonger, when a demonstration is scheduled those who have jobs go otherwise they stand out and in a police state noone wants to stand out.

while i appreciate what che guevara stood for ideologically, the marxist states have little to nothing to offer its citizens. The only good thing they do is stand up to american imperialism but apart from standing in the bullys face and screaming at him this system marxist states offers nothing but fear and terror to the citizens caught within its borders.

we are trapped between the worst of two great evils, two great frauds, the great deceit of our day is that there is a choice…. corporate imperialism which taxes the propietor into being a lease holder rather than an outright owner and which is morphing into a police state ruled by laws that intend to govern even our thought life ...(think thought crimes) and the marxist state corporatism that pretty much goes right to the police state governance society and which owns all property and enterprises.

the only supporters for marxist states are usually found living comfortably in more free societies (usually academics and idealists) and are for the most part anti corporatist and anti imperialist, they usually look at these marxist states as bastions of freedom for the poor workers who seemingly love these governments. Only at the very beggining, while they are in transition and before they reveal their true intentions, are these states the champions of the people, once they consolidate power they become what we have seen in history as the marxist communist ruled states where fear and terror and misery and hunger rule the day.

snap out of it, we the idealist have few choices.
lets hope the muslims can stand up to the corporate world governors.

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By thomas billis, October 10, 2007 at 6:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Before you get lost in anti Che rhetoric read the article again.It is not an endorsement of Che it is us mishandling the situation to the point that he is seen as a hero in most of South America.Mr Chavez better hope we are successful in stealing Iraq’s oil because if we are not we will be looking around for someplace else to steal it.
Remember our own revolutionary Thomas Jefferson was in favor of every so often blood must flow to keep the revolution honest.

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By lilmamzer, October 10, 2007 at 6:32 am Link to this comment

#105942 by Frikken Kids

Mr. Scheer, why don’t you mention Che’s admiration of North Korea, his cold-blooded executions, or his efforts to try to start a nuclear war?

The answer to your question is the fundamental moral corruption of Leftist ideology - cozy up to any tyrant, killer, or totalitarian movement (read: Communism, Islamism…..) to do anything to gain power.

Scheer is just another in along line of media whores, shills, tools, and useful idiots to promote the cause.

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By Frikken Kids, October 10, 2007 at 5:08 am Link to this comment

For a less smiles-and-sunshine opinion on this piece of this that was called Che, check out here:

Mr. Scheer, why don’t you mention Che’s admiration of North Korea, his cold-blooded executions, or his efforts to try to start a nuclear war?

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By Charles Barton, October 10, 2007 at 4:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Oh please!  Do we have to put up with Robert Scheer’s beatification of that murderous Stalinist thug, Che Guevara? 

Pierre San Martin testified to the criminal cruelty of Guevara:

It was during the last days of December 1959; in the dark, cold cell that 16 prisoners slept on the floor while the other 16 were standing so they could lay down, but nobody was thinking about that, our only thought was that we were alive and that was the important thing; we lived hour to hour, minute to minute, second to second without knowing what the next would bring.

It was about an hour before it would be time us to change shifts when the sound of the iron door opening was heard as they threw another person into the already crowded cell.  For a moment in the darkness we couldn’t tell that it was a boy some 12 to 14 years old at most who had just become our newest cellmate.  And what did you do? We all asked almost in unison.  With his bloody and beaten face he stared at us and responded “I defended my father so they wouldn’t kill him, I couldn’t stop it.  Those sons of bitches murdered him.”

We all looked at each other as if to find the right words to console the boy but we couldn’t find them.  We had enough of our own problems.  It had been two or three days since they had executed anyone and each day we had more hope that this would all be over. The executions are unmerciful, they take life when you need it most for you and yours, without listening to your protests or yearnings for life.

Our happiness didn’t last much longer, when the door opened they called out 10, among them the boy who had been the last one in.  We had been wrong because those they called, we never again saw.

How could it be possible to take a child’s life in this way?  Could it be that we were wrong and that we were to be released?  Near the wall where they conducted the executions, with his hands on his waist, paced from side to side the abominable Che Guevera.

He gave the order to bring the boy first and he ordered him to kneel in front of the wall.  We all screamed for them not to commit this crime and we offered ourselves in his place.  The boy disobeyed the order with a courage that words can’t express and responded to this infamous character:  “If you’re going to kill me you’re going to have to do it the way you kill a man, standing, not like a coward, kneeling.

Walking behind the boy, the Che said “whereupon you are a brave lad…”  He unholstered his pistol and shot him in the nape of the neck so that he almost decapitated him.

We all shouted “assassins, miserable cowards” and so many other things.  He turned around towards us and emptied the pistol’s magazine. I do not know how many of us were killed or injured.  From this horrible nightmare, from which never we managed to wake up, we realized that although wounded and in the student clinic of the Calixto Garcia hospital, one thing was clear, the only card we could play was to escape, it was our only hope of survival.

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By Verne Arnold, October 10, 2007 at 4:25 am Link to this comment

Mr. Scheer says, “but what’s important to Washington today is Mideast oil, not protecting the peasants of Bolivia from the likes of Che Guevara.

I think that’s particularly short sighted.  Has America ever cared about anything beyond its own agenda?  I think what’s important to Washington is power and dominance, especially in our hemisphere.  That Washington (Bush/Cheney) has apparently lost control of the Americas for the moment will soon be remedied.  I have no doubt that Hugo Chavez will have a lot to worry when Bush is no longer distracted by those pesky A-rabs and Persians.

Che lives and will inspire generations as his legend exceeds the reality of what he was.  That America still can’t understand this will be her downfall…the rot comes from within.

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