Monday, October 08, 2007




Che is a demi-god to left wing revolutionaries and utopian dreamers. Hordes of activists, especially from the left of the political spectrum, are now in Vallegrande, Bolivia, hoping to channel revolutionary fervor from memories of Che's heroism into their agenda for Bolivia. Che was cornered, captured and killed by the Bolivian military in Vallegrande. They've even erected a shrine to honor the place where he was shot. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia is an avowed socialist. He and his followers have not been shy of invoking Che's mystic in their actions and speeches.


Hard nosed right wing conservatives would of course view him as an idealistic and foolish trouble maker who got his just deserts. Gary Prado, the military officer credited with Che's capture, laments the fact that he and his soldiers are not given sufficient appreciation or recognition from the government for hunting down a criminal whose aim was to start a revolution and shatter the Bolivian social fabric.


Included in this post are photos of Che's capture and his dead body. The whole episode of Che trying to start a South American marxist revolution from the jungles of Bolivia sounds like the beginning of a Shakespearan tragedy. The Bolivian peasant did not respond to Che's efforts nor were the alienation of the poor a fertile ground for his message. Che died a broken man. But was it a heroic death? Utopian revolutionaries seem to think so.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Che, a misguided dreamer

Anonymous said...

Its easy for the rich to dismiss Che. They've never suffered hardship. At least Che tried to help poor people.

Anonymous said...

How Che became an icon is a marketing and branding coup. How did he become such a great hero when he died like a trapped rat? Somehow,identifying yourself with the poor and being willing to die for them is one of the noblest of all human attainments, and seem to elicit people's sympathy, if not admiration.

Anonymous said...

yes, blogpastor you have a point. Che also never really ran a country and was never exposed to the sort of power that corrupts and oppresses.

latinos are also very romantic and idealistic. Its easy to devote oneself to myths. And Che is a sort of icon and myth

Anonymous said...

Scott Van Wynsberghe: CHE'S PATHETIC FINALE

Forty years ago this week, Che Guevara was captured and killed while leading a hopeless rebellion in Bolivia. Scott Van Wynsberghe explains how he got there

The end began on Oct. 8, 1967, when Bolivian troops cornered a motley collection of guerrillas and captured their leader. They hauled him to the nearby village of La Higuera, where senior officers and a representative from the CIA showed up to inspect the prize. The next day, on the orders of Bolivian strongman Rene Barrientos, the prisoner was shot. The body was flown to the town of Vallegrande, where the hands were chopped off for identification purposes, and the rest of the remains buried in a secret grave that would elude discovery for 30 years. Such was the fate of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, the Argentine revolutionary who achieved fame in Cuba under the nickname of "Che." It was a pathetic finale to a strange journey.

Guevara was born in 1928 to a mismatched couple composed of a woman from a wealthy family and a man whose own clan had seen better days (they broke up by 1943). At least partly inspired by his asthmatic childhood, the young Guevara entered medical school in 1947 but quit in 1952 to undertake a now-celebrated motorcycle ride across Latin America. (This was the basis for the 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries.) He got his start as a revolutionary in Guatemala in 1954, when the CIA toppled that country's communist-influenced government. Eventually, he wound up enlisting with a group of Cuban leftists living in exile in Mexico City. Their leader was Fidel Castro.

In 1956, Castro commanded an expedition to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Over the next two years, Guevara played a major role in the fighting. Following Castro's victory, Guevara was involved with revolutionary tribunals that executed hundreds of alleged Batista henchmen -- an episode in Guevara's revolutionary career that few of his modern admirers seem to know about.

Cuba then went from crisis to crisis. A CIA-sponsored force of counterrevolutionary invaders met defeat at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, while a Soviet scheme to base nuclear weapons in the country nearly brought the superpowers to war in 1962. Guevara, meanwhile, dreamed of more revolutions. In 1965, he undertook a bizarre mission to the Congo, where a bungled rebellion went nowhere.

Bolivia was his next project. Guevara infiltrated the country in late 1966. Fighting erupted the following March.

Despite the outsized mythology surrounding Guevara's Bolivian expedition, the numbers on both sides of the combat were surprisingly small. By one count, Guevara started out with just 44 people, half of them Bolivians and the rest Cubans, Peruvians and Argentines. The Bolivian government deployed far more troops than that, but the force responsible for Guevara's final defeat was a single Ranger battalion with no more than about 650 soldiers.

The actual U.S. military presence in Bolivia was also minuscule: The Pentagon insisted it never had more than 53 personnel in Bolivia at any point from April to October, 1967. The CIA, too, was thrifty. The agency had at least one and possibly up to four Cuban-exile operatives installed at the Bolivian interior ministry, while another two, going by the aliases of "Eduardo Gonzalez" and "Felix Ramos," were in the field.

According to author Daniel James, one of the guerrillas who died in the debacle was actually a traitor. This person was an Argentine-born German woman whose true name has been rendered in several fashions, including Haydee Tamara Bunke, but who is best known under the nom de guerre of "Tania." James accused her of being a communist Mata Hari, enticing Guevara while simultaneously working against him on behalf of East German intelligence and even the Soviet KGB, which did not approve of Guevara's politics. (In a 1970 book on Latin American insurgents, Richard Gott dismissed this allegation as an invention by James and the CIA.)

If anyone knew about "Tania" being a spy, it should have been the late Markus Wolf, the former head of East German foreign intelligence. He did mention "Tania" in his 1997 memoir, but gave no indication she was one of his agents. Author Jon Lee Anderson, however, obtained old records of the East German secret police that proved she had been an informer for East German internal security and had some vague relationship with Wolf's apparatus, if not the KGB. Despite that, Anderson showed that she likely severed all ties with her previous masters and adopted Cuba in general and Guevara in particular as her new cause.

(As to whether she slept with Guevara, Anderson is silent on the matter, and author Jorge Castaneda says there is no evidence beyond rumour. Readers of any of the numerous editions of the diary Guevara kept during the Bolivian campaign know that she receives little mention in it, even upon her death.)

An attempt has also been made -- by, among others, the mischievous James -- to blame the Bolivian mess on Fidel Castro, who supposedly resented Guevara so much that he disposed of his potential rival by abandoning him. Anderson is uneasy with any suggestion that Guevara was deliberately deprived of support, commenting that "most of the evidence suggests that Havana did what it could within the realms of its possibilities."

Without a traitor on which to definitively affix blame, there is no escaping the obvious: Guevara doomed himself with his misguided, romantic approach to rebellion. One need look no farther than Guevara's own book on guerrilla warfare, first published in English in 1961. "It is not necessary," he proclaims therein, "to wait until all conditions for making revolution exist; the insurrection can create them." Later on, in giving an example of an insurgency in ideal circumstances, he describes a "guerrilla band" with only 25 fighters. Perhaps winging it with a minimum of recruits worked in Cuba in 1959, but it was still a reckless strategy.

Once in Bolivia, Guevara encountered many problems that should have been foreseen. The local communist party was split into two factions, one of which was cool and even hostile to the idea of a guerrilla war. The population of the guerrilla zone was not interested in rebellion. Guevara's asthma worsened in Bolivia's mountains. Before long, that ideal guerrilla band of just 25 people, creating its own conditions for revolution, looked like the foolishness it was from the start.

Given his attitude, it is unlikely that Guevara ever wondered if he would have been better off had he simply stayed on his motorcycle back in the 1950s and become, say, an itinerant, bohemian observer of life -- a sort of Latin American Jack Kerouac. In a sense, however, he really did remain "on the road": born in one country, he fought in two others and was killed in a third. Such a nasty road it was.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that enlightening slice of Che Guevara's life. Until now I only knew him as a bearded face on T-shirts.

Unknown said...

I like Che....he was a dreamer....he was like wind...uncontrolled....never submissive to anyone...
lived life the way he wanted..
had love for humankind...
one good soul to stop and think about..
Long live CHE

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