Monday, December 6, 2004

T-shirt icon murdered hundreds
Human rights group lists Che victims as retailers profit

Posted: December 6, 2004
1:00 a.m. Eastern

© 2004

As U.S. retailers continue to profit from Christmas sales of merchandise emblazoned with the image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a human-rights group has listed hundreds of documented victims of the one-time official of Fidel Castro's Cuban regime.

The Free Society Project cites the work of Armando M. Lago, author of a upcoming book, "Cuba: The Human Cost of Social Revolutions," who provides details on the summary executions of hundreds of Cubans under the direction of Guevara.

"The exact number of Che's Cuban victims has not been independently verified," he writes. "The number of deaths attributed to Che varies and includes executions he committed personally as well as death warrants he ordered and/or issued. In his book 'Yo Soy El Che!' journalist Luis Ortega, who knew Che, reports that he sent 1,897 men to the firing squad. Daniel James, in turn, writes in 'Che Guevara: A Biography' that Che acknowledged ordering 'several thousand' executions in the first few years of the Castro regime. Dr. Lago has documented over 4,000 deaths in Cuba, mostly firing squad executions, during the first three years after Fidel Castro's takeover (1959-1962), [a] period during which Che Guevara is known to have been one of the Castro government's chief executioners. In addition, combat deaths or killings perpetrated in other countries where Che led guerrilla operations – such as Bolivia and Congo – have not been tallied.

Lago lists by name 14 executed by Che in the Sierra Maestra during the guerrilla struggle between 1957-1958. He lists 10 executed in Santa Clara at Guevara's orders in only two days in January 1959. And he lists 156 executed at La Cabaña Fortress prison on Guevara's orders.

Meanwhile, retailers in the U.S., profiting from brisk sales of Che Guevara memorabilia, such as T-shirts, caps and berets, continue to peddle the merchandise for babys and to teen-agers, many of whom have no understanding of the real Guevara.

T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Guevara, Castro's partner in crime, are an increasingly hot item reaching a kind of fashion tipping point.

Shoppers who don't get to the mall much might be in for a little culture shock when they see shirts, caps, posters and berets commemorating Che at stores like Anchor Blue, Hot Topic and Mainland Skate and Surf.

The Che trend has only been heightened by the release of "The Motorcycle Diaries," a movie depicting the 23-year-old medical student adventuring through South America by motorcycle. Another film, focusing more on Guevara's revolutionary years, is scheduled to hit theaters in 2005.

There's even a website where you can buy lots of Che Guevara memorabilia. It was started by John Trigiani, a man who has traveled to Cuba frequently and admits Guevara is probably rolling over in his grave at the thought of a Che Store.

Exclusive rights of the haunting, 1960-era, black-and-white line image of Guevara's face were purchased by David McWilliams, corporate executive officer of Fashion Victim. A substantial portion of Fashion Victim's $4 million to $5 million in sales last year came from Che merchandise.

Guevara was born in Argentina in 1928 and originally trained to become a doctor at the University of Buenos Aires. In 1952, he embarked on the trip dramatized in "The Motorcycle Diaries" across South America. After returning to Buenos Aires to complete his medical degree, Guevara set off again to travel through the Americas. He participated in leftist movements in Guatemala and Mexico and became acquainted with Cuban expatriates in those countries. He joined Castro's revolutionary Cuban army in 1956 as a top commander and Castro's personal physician. He helped Castro topple the regime in Havana in 1959.

As Castro's right-hand man in the new regime, Guevara ordered the execution of hundreds of people while in charge of the notorious La Cabaña prison in Havana. He was unapologetic about the mass killings of innocent people, explaining, "To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate."

Pure hate. It wasn't the first time Guevara used the expression, nor the last. He explained how it must be a tool in the arsenal of revolutionary terrorists – permitting them to do things they would otherwise never be able to accomplish.

"Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine – this is what our soldiers must become," Guevara said.

During the Cuban missile crisis, Guevara was in favor of a nuclear war with the U.S. because he believed that a better world could be built from the ashes, regardless of the cost in millions of lives. He was overruled by cooler heads in the Kremlin and in Cuba. The nuclear missiles headed for Cuba, 90 miles from the U.S., were returned to Russia.

Disgraced by the slight, Guevara went to create new revolutionary movements and wage armed struggle in Africa and Latin America. He was killed in the jungles of Bolivia in 1967.

Guevara was proud of the fact that he personally put bullets in the backs of the heads of many he considered counter-revolutionary.

Once again, in rallying his guerrillas in Angola, he wrote: "Blind hate against the enemy creates a forceful impulse that cracks the boundaries of natural human limitations, transforming the soldier in an effective, selective and cold killing machine. A people without hate cannot triumph against the adversary."

"Che was a Marxist soldier who aided the Cuban revolution," says Darrow. "He advocated the philosophy of communism, which is responsible for over 100 million murders, and he personally supervised the executions of scores of people himself."

Earlier story:

Killer communist hot for holidays


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