Monday, September 18, 2006

Che Guevara

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (June 14, 1928Birthdate[›] – October 9, 1967), commonly known as Che Guevara or simply Che, was an Argentine-born physician best known for his leading role in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s, his prominent roles in the Cuban revolutionary government, and for his subsequent resignation from his Cuban offices in order to devote himself to further attempts to spread Marxist revolution around the world.
Guevara's motorcycle tour of Latin America as a young man brought him into direct contact with the severe poverty that afflicts many people in the region, a sharp contrast to the well-off surroundings in which he had been raised. He moved to Guatemala, and his involvement in the leftist social revolution under Guatemala's first democratically-elected president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, and his witnessing the 1954 right-wing military coup orchestrated by the American CIA radicalized Guevara; he became convinced that only a revolution by force against capitalism and against the influence of the United States in particular could remedy Latin America's extreme economic inequality. Guevara moved on to Mexico, where he met Raúl and Fidel Castro and joined the brothers' paramilitary 26th of July Movement to overthrow US-leaning General Fulgencio Batista. Though only 12 members survived the group's disastrous initial landing in Cuba, they finally overthrew Batista's government on January 1, 1959. Guevara served in various important posts in the new government, and wrote a number of articles and books on the theory and practice of guerrilla warfare. Very influential with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Guevara advocated a hardline anti-capitalist foreign policy involving active efforts to create further socialist revolutions abroad and preparation for direct military conflict with the United States. He grew increasingly disillusioned with the Soviet Union, especially after the Soviets agreed to remove their long-range nuclear missiles from Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which he viewed as a betrayal. Guevara then went on several diplomatic missions to other Third World countries in an unsuccessful attempt to forge an anti-capitalist political and economic bloc that was not aligned with the Soviet Union.
Guevara resigned his government posts and left Cuba in 1965 with the intention of directly fomenting Marxist revolutions abroad himself. He first went to the Congo-Kinshasa (later called the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and then to Bolivia. He did not meet with the widespread popular support he had expected in either country, and both operations were unsuccessful. He was captured in Bolivia by a CIA/ U.S. Army Special Forces-organized military operation and was executed shortly thereafter, in La Higuera near Vallegrande on October 9, 1967. Participants in, and witnesses to, the events of his final hours testify that his captors executed him without trial. After his death, Guevara became an icon of socialist revolutionary movements worldwide. An Alberto Korda photo of Guevara (shown) has received wide distribution and modification. The Maryland Institute College of Art called this picture "the most famous photograph in the world and a symbol of the 20th century."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Legacy and criticisms

While pictures of Guevara's dead body were being circulated and the circumstances of his death debated, his legend began to spread. Demonstrations in protest against his execution occurred throughout the world, and articles, tributes, songs and poems were written about his life and death. Latin America specialists advising the U.S. State Department immediately recognized the importance of the demise of “the most glamorous and reportedly most successful revolutionary”, noting that Guevara would be eulogized by communists and other leftists as “the model revolutionary who met a heroic death”.

Such predictions gained increasing credibility as Guevara became a potent symbol of rebellion and revolution during the global student protests of the late 1960s. Left wing activists responded to Guevara's apparent indifference to rewards and glory, and concurred with Guevara's sanctioning of violence as a necessity to instill socialist ideals. The slogan 'Che lives!' began to appear on walls throughout the west, while Jean-Paul Sartre, a leading figure in the movement, encouraged the adulation by describing Guevara as "the most complete human being of our age".

Typically, responses to Guevara's legacy followed partisan lines. The US State Department was advised that his death would come as a relief to non-leftist Latin Americans, who had feared possible insurgencies in their own countries. Subsequent analysts have also shed light on aspects of cruelty in Guevara’s methods, and analysed what Fidel Castro described as Guevara’s “excessively aggressive quality”. Studies addressing problematic characteristics of Guevara's life have cited his principal role in setting up Cuba's first post-revolutionary labor camps, his unsympathetic treatment of captured fighters during various guerrilla campaigns, and his frequent humiliations of those deemed his intellectual inferiors. Though much opposition to Guevara's methods has come from the political right, critical evaluation has also come from groups such as anarchists and civil libertarians, some of whom consider Guevara an authoritarian, anti-working-class Stalinist, whose legacy was the creation of a more bureaucratic, authoritarian regime. Detractors have also theorized that in much of Latin America, Che-inspired revolutions had the practical result of reinforcing brutal militarism for many years.