Exploring the Che Phenomenon — and One Tiny Island of Truth

Though likely not in time for the big-league awards season, Che, the biopic of the famed Bolivian revolutionary, premieres this month in limited release. Directed by the Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich and Traffic) and starring Benicio Del Toro (also a Traffic Oscar-winner) in the title role, Che will pique public interest in the so-called warrior for Latin America’s underclass who is already a cultural icon. Che Guevara’s face is featured prominently on T-shirts, posters, jewelry, athletic equipment, etc., and Angelina Jolie reportedly sports a tattoo (though she hasn’t revealed where). Even innocuous advertising (Taco Bell) has invested in his image.

Of course, Che Guevara (executed by Bolivian soldiers in 1967) was a physician turned revolutionary who fought alongside Fidel Castro for control of Cuba. He was a thug, a tyrant and a murderer, but the teenagers and celebrity trendsetters who venerate his image either don’t know, don’t care or love him for those very reasons. With some, it is hard to say. According to Carlos Santana, “Che is all about love and compassion, man.” The best retort to this startling deification is 2007’s Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him by Humberto Fontava, author of 2005’s Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant.

Fontava, who escaped Communist Cuba in 1961 at age seven and now resides near New Orleans, covers his subjects with knowledge, precision and a trace of humor. He lays out the crimes of Guevara in explicit, riveting detail, and while he concedes the plain ignorance of the lapdog sympathizers among the Hollywood glitterati, he does not excuse it. Contrary to its own mythology, liberalism is not chic, novel or youthful. Guevara is just the current, murderous anti-American rock star drooled over by teeny-bopper leftists in a list that includes Stalin, Chairman Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Daniel Ortega, and, of course, Castro. Still, Guevara as pop star is a curious phenomenon given that the ‘worker’s paradise’ he helped establish in Cuba imprisoned and tortured the very people whom liberals supposedly champion.

As Fontava writes, “Cuban prisons were full of deviants, delinquents . . . youths . . . rock and roll listeners and . . . homosexuals.” The island prison-nation, of course, has a large black population. This particular strain of leftism strips aways these liberal’s sanctimonious love of gay people, people of color and alienated youth. Their supposed championing of the little guy masks their animating hatred of all things American and their love of anti-capitalist thugs and dictators, a passion they have to hide every election cycle. Delving deeper, this segment of the left reveals its immaturity in its celebrity obsession and its romanticism of terrorists and the Latin American tropics of the 60s. Che T-shirts are the ultimate logos of the herd mentality, of the need to be thought of as cool and even a little daring. These liberals value image over truth, charisma over character and suffer the need, like activist teenagers, to literally wear their passion on their sleeves. One could indict capitalism for producing Che-embossed jewelry and skateboards, but it is a lax and lazy culture that fosters the demand. Students who know that George Washington owned slaves have probably never been taught that American citizens either suffered or saw firsthand the torture, imprisonment and murder of political dissidents during the Guevara/Castro revolution.

Reviews and profiles of the film, as well, breeze over any of the subject’s dirty deeds, if they mention them at all. Unfortunately, the truth doesn’t always easily present itself. Fontova’s book may not be found in all bookstores, but it is certainly available online and is well worth the read. Fontova is tough and uncompromising in his pursuit of truth, unlike his subject, who was tough and uncompromising in his pursuit of blood, fortune and fame.

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