An October 2007 article in The Wall Street Journal intended to deprecate Ernesto "Che" Guevara on the 40th anniversary of his assassination in Bolivia. Instead, the article was an unintentionally eloquent description of his significance in the Americas.
The article, headlined "Forty years after, the shadow of Che still falls over Latin America," reveals why the empire pursued Che with so much malice and assassinated him with so much hatred. Che was construed as the "ideologue of communism and the armed revolution against the West in the Third World," too revolutionary even for Cuba, thus motivating Fidel Castro to send his great revolutionary collaborator abroad to promote the revolution in other countries.
"In his life, Che had scarce direct influence outside of Cuba, but his legend has done much more than sell t-shirts to discontented rich young people," the WSJ article ironically noted. "Che’s paranoid, anticapitalist economic doctrines have considerable appeal for Latin Americans. Many countries in the region have elected governments headed by Che sympathizersÂfrom Salvador Allende’s Chile in 1970 to Evo Morales’ Bolivia and Rafael Correa’s Ecuador of today," deplored the publication.
The article pointed out the supposedly negative effects for the region deriving from ideas inculcated during Che’s time. The article also expressed its concern for the well being of the overall continent because of the example Che had set for Latin America.
"When Che was killed in 1967, the growth of productivity in Latin America was average compared to other countries, according to global estimates. But, from then on, it has fallen beneath the other regions. Only Brazil and Chile have had adequate developments, basically thanks to the extensive periods of rightist military governments, in which Cheismo was repressed."
Then, the article conjectures: "Without Che’s legend, the annual growth rate would have been one percent higher. From there, it seems that the revolutionary has cost the region around 1.3 trillions of yearly internal development." And the article emphatically concludes: "The shirts are cheap, but Che has been an expensive icon."
While the article assumes that Che’s ideas led to the economic downfall of the region, in truth the economic and social disaster was the result of the neoliberal policies that Washington forced on the region. These were part of its global economic strategy in which it depended on military dictators and political repression to exercise imperial hegemony over the continent. The representative democracy exercised by political parties was able to be controlled by the local oligarchiesÂin virtue of the neoliberal electoral rulesÂand was designed by Washington when it saw itself obligated to abandon the prior formula: stimulating social battles and armed revolutions such as that which triumphed in Cuba 50 years ago and which Che recommended with his example.
Now, U.S. transnational corporations, whose interests the WSJ reflects, observe with astonishment that, with the assassination of Che, Latin American people still have not stopped trying to obtain sovereignty and liberty for their nations.
Armed struggle was once the only path toward achieving revolutionary change and achieving sovereignity. The path has now been paved for electoral means to function as a resource for the promotion of popular aspirations from a position of power, and many revolutionaries on the continent have accepted the challenge as they lead their countries. A new scenario has been developing on the continent for the past two decades and for the first time in history, in which elected officials have come to power with the interests of their citizens at heart to an unprecedented degree.
These leaders are not always Marxists or revolutionariesÂjust like those non-Marxist patriots who chose armed struggle in the 60sÂbut they share a common and explicit belief in the importance of the defense of their nations’ independence and rejection of servile subordination to the hegemony of the United States that used to be the law of the land. That does not mean that now the empire and the oligarchies have become more understanding or that the struggle of Latin America’s people has become easier.
Nothing is farther from the truth. The revolutionary fight continues to be very difficult because it must free itself from systems designed by oligarchs with game rules that give them advantages and supremacy of interests.
The new reality of Latin America, with the undefeated Cuban revolution and the electoral triumphs of several rulers with anti-oligarchic programs that affirm the sovereignty of their nations is, in very good measure, fruit of the rebellious Latin America of the iconic Che who confronted absolute dominion in the region that was the U.S, response to the Cuban revolution.
At the same time, the people of Latin America were not nor would ever be prepared to support tyrannies like that of Pinochet, genocides such as the Plan Condor and the submission of the dignity and sovereignty of their nations to the corporations through associations such as ALCA, in order to achieve the economic growth rates and Pyrrhic profits to which the WSJ alludes.
Che’s ideas were always those of an independent, united Latin America, with social justice, from the time the rebels banded together in Mexico to combat tyranny in Cuba. This ideology matured and deepened in the reality of the combat and in the confrontation with the bigger enemy, imperialism.
Che participated as a doctor in the expedition of the yacht "Granma" that disembarked in Cuba in December of 1956 with a contingent of 82 young, idealistic men. He took on an increasingly important role in the guerrilla army because of his tactical and strategic talent, as well as his courage in combat. Soon he was assigned to lead one of the five major columns in the Rebel Army and was the first to be promoted to Commander, a position that until then only Fidel Castro had obtained.
As a medical doctor with the guerillas, Che was a champion of careful attention to enemy prisoners, a practice that encouraged soldiers of the tyranny to surrender, convinced of the scrupulous respect for human rights of their insurrectional opponents. Che clearly identified with patriotic, Cuban ideology, and quickly turned into one of the principal leaders of the fight for liberation and the revolutionary construction in Cuba. After victory, he assumed the responsibilities of directing various areas of civil life without abandoning the area of defense.
He became president of the National Bank of Cuba and minister of industry and, in both positions, made important contributions to economic theory and practice in these fieldsÂfrom the position of a revolutionary conducting a battle against the underdevelopment of a nation. His participation in international events and his contacts with Third-World figures extended his international prestige as one of the most representative figures of the Cuban revolution.
Among his revolutionary qualities, most notable were his passion for justice, his humanism, his generosity, his constant practice of putting words into action, and the harmonic structuring of his political, economic and military ideas, all in the space of a short life. In the field of political ideas, he was a convinced Marxist who rejected intransigent dogmatism, stale doctrines and bureaucratic tendencies.
The exemplary way in which Che preached revolution has left a legacy much greater than the myth and image that today mobilizes millions of oppressed, exploited, excluded and dissatisfied people in the unjust world in which we live.
Che did not go to Bolivia to die, just as he did not come to Cuba to die, nor did he go to Africa to die before setting out to fight in Bolivia. He always wanted to demonstrate with his personal example the decisive action with which the people of the world had to act in order to shake off oppression. He understood the risk and readily accepted it.
Manuel E. Yepe MenÃ©ndez is a lawyer, economist and journalist. He is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana. He was Cuba’s ambassador to Romania, general director of the Prensa Latina agency; vice president of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television; founder and national director of the Technological Information System (TIPS) of the United Nations Program for Development in Cuba, and secretary of the Cuban Movement for the Peace and Sovereignty of the Peoples.
Yepe, Manuel, "The Legacy of Che Guevara," ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America. Volume VIII, Number 15. pp. 32-33. Winter 2009.