I have never understood the popular infatuation with Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary who instigated socialist revolts in three countries, or why people would want to wear clothing emblazoned with his face. The man was a mass murderer, after all, and the architect (along with Fidel Castro) of the communist police state that rules Cuba to this day. Unless one believes murder, wealth seizure and destruction, and the abrogation of civil liberties are justified means to political ends, why would anyone want to celebrate a person who engaged in all of these atrocities?
Thor Halvorssen, founder of the Human Rights Foundation, doesn’t understand it either, and in an open letter to Urban Outfitters published on Huffington Post this week, he questions the company’s reasons for offering Che-themed merchandise:
Although Guevara’s image has appeared on countless items for consumption over the last few decades as a symbol of change for the better, Guevara’s actual record is that of a brutal tyrant who suppressed individual freedom in Cuba and murdered those who challenged his worldview.
Guevara undoubtedly played a key role in the overthrow of the dictatorial Batista regime in January of 1959. However, despite promises of a new democratic government, within a few months he and Fidel Castro had designed and installed a full-blown police state that deprived the overwhelming majority of Cuban citizens of democracy and human rights.
From 1959 to 1960, the new government carried out summary executions of at least 1,118 people by firing squad. Guevara himself presided over the notorious La Cabaña prison, where hundreds of the executions took place. For comparison’s sake, the Batista regime was responsible for 747 noncombatant deaths between 1952 and 1959. The Cuban revolution under the direction of Guevara also saw the rise of forced labor camps which gave way a few years later to full-scale concentration camps. These were filled with dissidents, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Afro-Cuban priests, and anyone else who had committed “crimes” against the new moral revolution.
Note: it appears that Urban Outfitters no longer carries the poster that prompted Halvorssen’s letter.
It’s not just Urban Outfitters, of course; many companies over the decades have offered Che’s mug on everything from key chains to jackets to backpacks, snapped up primarily by college kids who dig the rebellious motif, or by hipsters who appreciate the irony of a leftist revolutionary icon being used to enrich filthy capitalist pigs. Either way, Halvorssen’s letter is a welcome reality check.
Just so long as they don’t start selling Obama T-shirts.