Thursday, October 16,
1997; Page A18
The Washington Post
life, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, after his success in helping
Fidel Castro make the Cuban revolution, was a failure. The other
would-be revolutions embraced by this Argentine-born ideologue crumbled.
But in death, he blossomed as a symbol of youthful daring and utopian
aspiration in global communism.
movement came to be emphatically discredited, yet survives in Cuba and a
few other countries, in the minds of unrepentant commissars as well as among naively incurable
romantics. Some of his remains, found in a
secret Bolivian grave and returned to Cuba last July, are at the center of
Havana's current commemoration of the "30th Anniversary of the Death
in Combat of the Heroic Guerrilla and His Comrades."
A country chooses its own heroes. Yet it was not "Cuba," in the
sense of an entity representing an inarguably valid popular will, that installed Che
Guevara in his adopted country's pantheon. It was Cuba's
self-appointed Marxist elite, which found a use for him, first as a
guerrilla leader making and exporting revolution and then as a fixture of
totalitarian-state propaganda. For that latter role, he had
just the right attributes, being glamorous, audacious, given to spouting
idealistic slogans, self-sacrificing, young (39 when he died in 1967) and -- perhaps best of
all -- dead and hence no threat to the ruling circles.
A believer "in the revolution", he gave a gloss of
intellectuality and social justice to the pursuit of single-party
and as a man who hated his political enemies he thereby felt empowered to
destroy them. He was also something else: a killer who summarily
executed so-called "traitors" within his own ranks and boasted of
winning peasant support by well "planned terror". It
seems a just irony that this man who claimed to be "with the
people" finally was turned in to the Bolivian army by the very
peasants in whose name he was attempting revolution.
All this might be no more than a historical footnote but for the fact that
the Cuban regime Che Guevara served, is still in power and still using him
for its own anti-democratic ends. Indeed, his simultaneous success
as a contemporary pop icon seems to be bestowing on him a good deal more
than the fabled 15 minutes in the public eye. A pity, then, that he is not
seem more widely and clearly for what he rally was: not the Marxist Robin Hood
of myth but someone who did his country, and not only his country, much
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
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