Che Guevara: The Butcher of La Cabaña


Alberto Korda via Wikimedia Commons

Collin Smith, Opinion Editor

50 years ago on October 8th marked the death of Che Guevara, the man whose dashing face is plastered across the t shirts of edgy college students. Since his death, he has become a symbol of youthful rebellion. Movies like The Motorcycle Diaries have morphed our view of Che, painting him as troubled youth in search of cause greater than himself. Similarly to how we disregard the history of the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union, we disregard the past of Che Guevara.  The irony of our current celebration of Che Guevara must be noted, the one thing he hated most – capitalism – now profits off of his face and name.

This past year, I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba. I saw first-hand a country my grandparents believed would have been closed to Americans indefinitely. One of the most striking portions of the trip was the cult like worship of Che Guevara. The number of monuments and posters dedicated to Che were only surpassed by one thing, the number of monuments to Fidel Castro. Drinking the Cuban Kool-aid would’ve been incredibly easy had I not known history; the life stories of Fidel and Che were feteshized at such level even the most liberal of college students would worry.

The real history of Che Guevara, however, ought to be examined. As brave as he was bloodthirsty, Che Guevara held many positions of power during and after the Cuban Revolution. His orders were often simple “If in doubt, kill him,” and his brutal tactics bring to mind those of Stalin, whose model for a concentration camp Che Guevara copied. “The Butcher of La Cabaña” is somewhat well documented in history, he actually kept his own accounts of many of events and would even write of the people he killed and sentenced. During his stint as Judge of La Cabaña, Che sentenced over 400 people to death.

I visited La Cabaña when I traveled to Cuba, similar to the Bay of Pigs, it is now a tourist attraction. One can view the crumbling skyline of Cuba from the old Spanish fort. Ceremonies are held there, impoverished salesman line its streets and plaques commemorate the brave men of the revolution. Like Cuba, it’s devilishly enthralling; failing to tell the whole story, there’s not one mention the thousands slaughtered within its walls.

Perhaps the best way to define Che Guevara are his own words

“A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.”

“If the nuclear missiles had remained, we would have used them against the very heart of America, including New York City…We will march the path of victory even if it costs millions of atomic victims…We must keep our hatred alive and fan it to paroxysm.”

Che was a charismatic leader, a lucky tactician, and a devout follower of his beliefs. Cults of personality, though, are often misleading and hopefully as Communism crumbles in Cuba so does the myth surrounding the violent life of Che Guevara.