Saturday, June 14, 2008

Argentina Reconsiders Che Guevara's Murderous Legacy

The Wall Street Journal reports on Argentina's movement toward rehabilitating Che Guevara, the Latin American revolutionary hero:

No Argentine has left a bigger mark on the world than legendary revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, yet there is no major monument in his homeland to the face that launched a million T-shirts.

That changes Saturday with the unveiling of a 12-foot bronze statue in this town where he was born 80 years ago.

Since he was killed trying to foment revolution in Bolivia in 1967, the Marxist guerrilla has been a source of inspiration for revolutionary movements from Northern Ireland to East Timor, a symbol of rebellion for three generations of Western youth, and a marketing phenomenon selling everything from snow boards to air freshener.

Image of Revolution

Until recently, however, Argentina itself has played down its ties to this larger-than-life character, whose nickname comes from the country's most common slang, a catch-all word meaning "hey" or "dude." For many Argentines, he evokes painful memories of the bloody 1970s, when young Che-wannabes took up arms in the name of revolution. The ensuing turmoil gave rise to a brutal right-wing military dictatorship.

Even today, Mr. Guevara's image is often associated with social conflict, a link that has been reinforced lately as pro-government protestors have hoisted Che banners during confrontations with critics of populist President Cristina Kirchner.

When a government tourism official told Argentine travel agents at a conference last November that Mr. Guevara's high name recognition among Europeans meant he deserved a place in Argentina's "national brand," he drew boos from his audience.

"Che motivated a lot of idiots to go about killing people either because they had money or a uniform. How unenlightened is that?" said Michael Poots, a Buenos Aires travel agent.

Among Mr. Guevara's enduring critics in Argentina are members of his own extended family. In an article titled "My Cousin, El Che," Alberto Benegas Lynch wrote last year that to wear a Che T-shirt "is like flaunting the gloomy image of the swastika as a peace symbol."

Frankly, with all the veneration of Che worldwide, it's reassuring that Argentines themselves can see straight on what Guevara and his legacy really mean. Here in the United States, Che's legacy has overwhelmed reason among large segments of society, apparently even those in positions of leadership and power:


Ohio's Lorain County Judge, James Burge, who's pictured in this article at USA Today, must really have some big hopes for change under a potential Obama administration.

Indeed, perhaps Burge can secure a patronage post in correctional management when a Barack Obama administration establishes the American version of
San Carlos de La CabaƱa prison.

See also, "
Che Guevara Totalitarian Chic."

Top Photo: "As in this Mexico City stall, Che Guevara's photo on T-shirts has become an iconic image of rebellion world-wide," Wall Street Journal.