Every so often I'll see a student walking around campus proudly sporting merchandise bearing Che Guevara's picture.
For those unfamiliar with Guevara's famous photograph, it has a green background with Guevara peering to his right and wearing a beret. I've seen this image on tote bags, posters in dorm rooms and tapestries hanging in students' apartments. Hollywood has glorified him with the movie "The Motorcycle Diaries," and celebrities often sport his image. For many, Guevara is seen as a brave freedom fighter devoted to the cause of serving his people. For people who actually experienced Guevara's influence in Cuba, he is seen as a ruthless murderer and a power-hungry oppressor.
Supporters like to view Guevara as someone who suffered with his people, a man too idyllic to concern himself with matters such as money and material possessions. Inconveniently for Guevara's followers , however, he didn't show so much discretion when it came to his own lifestyle choices. Humberto Fontova, a Cuban refugee, describes the mansion Guevara lived in only a week after entering Havana, Cuba, in his book, "Exposing the Real Che Guevara." The owner of the mansion was forced to flee Havana with his family in order to escape a firing squad. Guevara's plunder contained a yacht harbor, a huge swimming pool, seven bathrooms, a sauna, a massage salon, and five television sets. Does this really qualify Guevara a "man of the people"?
Many people consider Guevara an educated man who understood the value of education and arts. Our newspapers and biographies on the so-called "lover of literature" still contain these themes. It's a good thing these writers are operating in America, though, because under Guevara's leadership in Cuba they likely would've been put out of business or even murdered. Guevara's first judicious act was to preside over a book burning of 3,000 stolen books and sign the death warrants for many Cuban authors.
The same Argentinean man who imperialistically tried to impose his political views on the Cuban people is often lauded as someone who "finally stood up to imperialistic America." In 1964, Guevara got a hero's welcome in New York City as he spoke to the United Nations and bellowed, "Executions? Certainly, we execute! And we will continue executing as long as it is necessary!" As he was rushed from one socialite party to the next that night, New Yorkers gushed over him. Only after he left America did the New York Police Department discover his plot with the Black Liberation Army to blow up the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, and the Washington Monument.
This made perfect sense to Guevara, who said, "We must never give him a minute of peace or tranquility. This is a total war to the death ... the imperialist enemy must feel like a hunted animal wherever he moves." Perhaps New Yorkers would have been a little more hesitant to throw soft-ball media questions at him if they'd known his deadly plans for their city.