It’s not uncommon to see Che Guevara t-shirts worn proudly across the world. His portrait is one of the most iconic in history and the most reproduced image in the history of photography.
In fact, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. He is revered almost as a god in Cuba. School children start their day by reciting “we will be like Che.”
Unfortunately, many are not educated about the true nature of the Cuban Revolution, much less Che’s part in it. Despite its claimed goals of liberty and social justice, the Cuban Revolution was instead marked most of all by violence and strife. But in typical communist fashion, the regime in Havana has mixed propaganda and violence to portray a romantic image of this revolutionary criminal.
1.) He ordered hundreds of executions without trials.
Forget due process. During the Cuban Revolution, Che condemned to death many who had never been properly charged or given a lawyer. The New York Times estimated that in the first two months of the Cuban Revolution, there were approximately 528 firing squad executions. The Black Book on Communism cites a total of 14,000 executions by the end of the 1960s. Che was quoted in 1962 by the editor of the RevolucÍon, Carlos Franqui, as saying “We executed many people by firing squad without knowing if they were fully guilty. At times, the Revolution cannot stop to conduct much investigation.”[i]
Dissenters from the new regime, including unarmed civilians, were not tolerated. Che explained his approach to justice thus: “We don’t need proof to execute a man. We only need proof that it’s necessary to execute him.” He made no secret of his disdain for conventional legal standards, calling evidence and burden of proof “archaic bourgeois detail(s).”[ii]
In a speech before the United Nations in December of 1964, Che confirmed his government’s ruthless reputation, declaring, “Yes, we have executed, we are executing, and we will continue to execute.”[iii]
2.) He openly despised the United States.
Not only did Che despise the “imperialists” of the United States, but he also freely stated he wanted to launch a nuclear war against America.
In 1962, after the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba, Che told London’s Daily Worker, “If the missiles had remained we would have used them against the very heart of the United States, including New York. We must never establish a peaceful coexistence.”
Che believed the only way to deal with the American “hyena” was through extermination, and that building a better world required nuclear war.
3.) Hatred and mass murder were at the heart of his revolution.
Che was a cold-blooded killer – and he enjoyed it. He said “a relentless hatred” toward the enemy transforms the men in his army into “an effective, violent, selective, and cold killing machine.” He even wrote to his own father that, “My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood…I’d like to confess, Papa, at that moment I discovered that I really like killing.”
Che was absolutely merciless when it came to seeing the revolution through, and was willing to countenance mass murder towards this end. “What we affirm is that we must proceed along the path of liberation even if this costs millions of atomic victims.”[iv]
4.) There was no room for freedom of speech in his revolution.
In a truly free society, people are allowed the freedom of expression. With this freedom of expression comes freedom of speech, press, and dissent. Che spoke openly with José Pardo Llada, a Cuban journalist, and told Llada, “We must eliminate all newspapers; we cannot make a revolution with free press.”[v]
Having an open dialogue about different opinions was not an option in the “free Cuba.” Che’s fanaticism even infected his personal relationships—he only made friends with those who were like-minded: “My friends are friends only so long as they think as I do politically.”[vi]
5.) He enacted a prison system much like that of Soviet Russia.
Like Stalin with his Soviet Gulag camps, Che set up political prisons where hard labor was enforced. These re-education camps were a way to punish accused counter-revolutionaries, dissenters, and political opponents. “We send to Guanahacabibes [i.e., Cuban labor camp] people who have committed crimes against revolutionary morals…it is hard labor…the working conditions are harsh…”[vii]
Included in this criminal system were ‘delinquents’ or those who were involved with drinking, disrespecting authority, and being lazy or playing loud music. Homosexuals were singled out for particularly brutal treatment.[viii] Also included in the definition of ‘delinquents’ were Catholic priests, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other religious persons. In 1959, Fidel Castro appointed Che as the commandant of a fortress turned prison called La Cabaña in Havana. At one point, between 800 and 1,000 prisoners were housed in the facility when full capacity allowed for 300.[ix]
So before you jump on the pop-culture bandwagon and purchase your Che Guevara t-shirt and other Che paraphernalia, understand who he was and what he REALLY stood for: hatred, intolerance, and mass murder.
Interested in more content about Cuba? Check out Dissident’s originally reported series from Cuba, Our Lady in Havana.