Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué
A recent issue of the New Republic featured this article entitled "The Killing Machine" by Alvaro Vargas Llosa. The subject is Che Guevara, that familiar and longstanding "logo of revolutionary (or is it capitalist?) chic."
That seems to be what it's come down to: Che as poster boy (literally). Vargas Llosa calls him "the socialist heartthrob in his beret." Perhaps that's all he is now to most of those who sport his dark and brooding image on their "mugs, hoodies, lighters, key chains, wallets, baseball caps, toques, bandannas, tank tops, club shirts, couture bags, denim jeans, herbal tea, and of course those omnipresent T-shirts."
Che's visage has had remarkable staying power; I remember it was already in vogue when I was in college. He's been dead for thirty-eight years now, and the legend only grows--although, if he hadn't been good-looking and photogenic, he'd probably be an obscure footnote to history by this time.
Although Che is far from forgotten, his true history is. How many of those sporting reproductions of his photo as a fashion statement know much about what he actually stood for and the crimes he perpetrated? For in fact, as the article's title indicates, he was quite the "killing machine."
The article is available by subscription only. But it provides many details of Che's life as a man in love with violence, both as a strategic tool and for its own sake. He left a number of writings that attest to this point of view, and his actions were consistent with it. The handsome and debonaire Che was instrumental in setting up the apparatus of Castro's police state, and was in charge of a kangaroo court that rubber-stamped the executions of anyone he thought might be getting in the way:
At every stage of his adult life, his megalomania manifested itself in the predatory urge to take over other people's lives and property, and to abolish their free will.
His economic policies were laughable and helped lead to Cuba's impoverishment:
The great revolutionary had a chance to put into practice his economic vision--his idea of social justice--as head of the National Bank of Cuba and of the Department of Industry of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform at the end of 1959, and, starting in early 1961, as minister of industry. The period in which Guevara was in charge of most of the Cuban economy saw the near-collapse of sugar production, the failure of industrialization, and the introduction of rationing--all this in what had been one of Latin America's four most economically successful countries since before the Batista dictatorship.
His stint as head of the National Bank, during which he printed bills signed "Che," has been summarized by his deputy, Ernesto Betancourt: "[He] was ignorant of the most elementary economic principles."
Why bring this all up now? It's a reminder that there is always a certain element ready to idolize, lionize, and popularize a thug, as long as he meets the criteria of being from a third-world country and against the US (never mind that, within that country--in Che's case, Argentina--he was a member of its elite). Some may idolize him because he's a thug, some may not know or care what he is as long as he's popular and it's cool to wear the T-shirt, while some may need to idealize him beyond all recognition in order to join the worshipping crowd.
Vargas Llosa's article quotes a little rhyme devised by a group of young Argentines to mock this phenomenon:
...an expression that rhymes perfectly in Spanish: "Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué," or "I have a Che T-shirt and I don't know why."