Ten Shots At Che Guevara
Che Guevara fans are
preparing to commemorate one more anniversary of the revolutionary’s
death, which took place thirty-eight years ago at the Yuro ravine
in Bolivia. It’s an appropriate time to address ten myths
that keep Guevara’s cult alive.
The last time I visited
the Museum of Modern Art in New York, an American student wearing
a Che Guevara T-Shirt and a beret caught my eye (the fact that
Nicole Kidman happened to walk in at that very moment may have
had something to do with my noticing him). I asked him politely
what exactly he admired so much about that man. Here are the ten
reasons he mentioned— and my response.
1. HE WAS
AGAINST CAPITALISM. In fact, Guevara was for state capitalism.
He opposed the wage labor system of “appropriating surplus
value” (in Marxist jargon) only when it came to private
corporations. But he turned the “appropriation of the workers’
surplus value” into a state system. One example of this
is the forced labor camps he supported, starting with Guanahacabibes
2. HE MADE CUBA INDEPENDENT.
In fact, he engineered the colonization of Cuba by a foreign power.
He was instrumental in turning Cuba into a temporary beachhead
of Soviet nuclear power (he sealed the deal in Yalta). As the
person responsible for the “industrialization” of
Cuba he failed to end the country’s dependency on sugar.
3. HE STOOD FOR SOCIAL
JUSTICE. In fact, he helped ruin the economy by diverting resources
to industries that ended up in failure and reduced the sugar harvest,
Cuba’s mainstay, by half in two years. Rationing started
under his stewardship of the island’s economy.
4. HE STOOD UP TO
MOSCOW. In fact, he obeyed Moscow until Moscow decided to ask
for something in return for its massive transfers of money to
Havana. In 1965 he criticized the Kremlin because it had adopted
what he termed the “law of value”. He then turned
to China on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, one of the horror
stories of the twentieth century. He simply switched allegiances
within the totalitarian camp.
5. HE CONNECTED WITH
THE PEASANTS. In fact, he died precisely because he never connected
with them. “The peasant masses don’t help us at all,”
he wrote in his Bolivian diary before he was captured—an
apt way to describe his journey through the Bolivian countryside
trying to stir up a revolution that could not even enlist the
help of Bolivian Communists (who were realistic enough to note
that peasants did not want revolution in 1967; they had already
had one in 1952).
6. HE WAS A GUERRILLA
GENIUS. With the exception of Cuba, every guerrilla effort he
helped set up failed pitifully. After the triumph of the Cuban
revolution, Guevara set up revolutionary armies in Nicaragua,
the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Haiti, all of which were crushed.
He later persuaded Jorge Ricardo Masetti to lead a fatal incursion
into that country from Bolivia. Guevara’s role in the Congo
in 1965 was both tragic and comical. He allied himself with Pierre
Mulele and Laurent Kabila, two butchers, but got entangled in
so many disagreements with the latter—and relations between
Cuban and Congolese fighters were so strained—that he had
to flee. Finally, his incursion in Bolivia ended up in his death,
which his followers are commemorating this Sunday.
7. HE RESPECTED HUMAN
DIGNITY. In fact, he had a habit of taking other people’s
property. He told his followers to rob banks (“the struggling
masses agree to rob banks because none of them has a penny in
them”) and as soon as the Batista regime collapsed he occupied
a mansion and made it his own—a case of expeditious revolutionary
8. HIS ADVENTURES
WERE A CELEBRATION OF LIFE. Instead, they were an orgy of death.
He executed many innocent people in Santa Clara, in central Cuba,
where his column was based in the last stage of the armed struggle.
After the triumph of the revolution, he was in charge of “La
Cabaña” prison for half a year. He ordered the execution
of hundreds of prisoners—former Batista men, journalists,
businessmen, and others. A few witnesses, including Javier Arzuaga,
who was the chaplain of “La Cabaña”, and José
Vilasuso, who was a member of the body in charge of the summary
judicial process, recently gave me their painful testimonies.
9. HE WAS A VISIONARY.
His vision of Latin America was actually quite blurred. Take,
for instance, his view that the guerrillas had to take to the
countryside because that is where the struggling masses lived.
In fact, since the 1960s, most peasants have peacefully deserted
the countryside in part because of the failure of land reform,
which has hindered the development of a property-based agriculture
and economies of scale with absurd regulations forbidding all
sorts of private arrangements.
10. HE WAS RIGHT ABOUT
THE UNITED STATES. He predicted Cuba would surpass the GDP per
capita of the U.S. by 1980. Today, Cuba’s economy can barely
survive thanks to Venezuela’s oil subsidy (about 100,000
barrels a day), a form of international alms that does not speak
too well of the regime’s dignity.
Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow and director of The
Center on Global Prosperity at the Independent
Institute. He is the author of Liberty
for Latin America.
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