Behind the T-Shirt: Exposing the Real Che Guevara

On the eve of the French Revolution, the aristocrats inhabiting the palace of Versailles enjoyed, “as an ironic lark, sporting the clothing of the working classes,” according to writer Charles Stenson. These pampered elites were undisturbed by the fact that their peasant getups were a bold insult to the real peasants, many of whom were dying as a result of the elites’ self-serving policies.

The clueless aristocrats have descendents in spoiled college kids who think it’s trendy to idolize Communist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Che’s face is emblazoned on T-shirts; he was glamorized by the movie The Motorcycle Diaries; and Time magazine described him as “a potent symbol of rebellion.” But few of the college hipsters who admire Che know what he actually stood for.

According to Cuban-American writer Humberto Fontova, during the first few years of Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba, Che was “second in command [and] chief executioner for a regime that jailed and tortured more political prisoners as a percentage of population than Stalin’s and executed more people as a percentage of population in its first three years in power than Hitler’s.”

Che wrote that “the solutions to the world’s problems lie behind the Iron Curtain”— and he was willing to torture and kill anyone who disagreed.

Che’s stock trade, according to Fontova, “was the mass murder of defenseless men and boys.” In a typical incident (one you won’t see in The Motorcycle Diaries, which portrays Che as a sexually potent idealist who just wants to save the poor), he ordered the execution of a 17-year-old boy suspected of political subversion. When the boy’s mother, Rosa Hernandez, tearfully begged the Communists to release him, Che invited her into his office.

“Come on in, Señora,” Hernandez recalls him saying. Then he picked up his phone and, as she listened, demanded that the Communists “execute the Hernandez boy tonight.” Then Che’s minions dragged her away.

A former prisoner named Pierre San Martin described his experience in one of Che’s prisons to a Miami newspaper.

“32 of us were crammed into a cell,” he said. “16 of us would stand while the other sixteen tried to sleep on the cold filthy floor. We took shifts that way. Actually, we considered ourselves lucky. After all, we were alive. Dozens were led from the cells to the firing squad daily…One morning Che’s guards shoved a new prisoner into our cell. His face was bruised and smeared with blood. He was a boy, couldn’t have been much older than 12.”

The boy had fought back against Communists who arrested his father. Later, San Martin watched Che personally execute him: “Che raised his pistol, put the barrel to the back of the boy’s neck, and blasted. The shot almost decapitated the young boy.”

Che’s cruel bravado wasn’t on display when he was finally captured in Bolivia in 1967. Instead, like plenty of Communist thugs before him, he went out like a coward. “Don’t shoot!” he whimpered. “I’m Che!”

In his book, Exposing the Real Che Guevara, Fontova visits Miami’s Cuban Memorial, which honors victims of the Castro regime. Elderly Cubans often go there to mourn relatives who died in prisons or in mass executions.

Fontova describes a common scene: “Still escorted by her grandson, the grandmother crosses the street slowly and silently. They run into a dreadlocked youth coming out of a music store. His T-shirt sports the face of her husband’s murderer. They turn their heads in rage to the store window. They see the mass-murder’s face again — this time on a huge poster…The poster reads, ‘Fight Oppression!’”

For college students who reject the real political oppression still brutally enforced in Cuba, I encourage you to join Young America’s Foundation in observing “No More Che Day” today. As part of YAF’s Freedom Week (which also commemorates the fall of the Berlin Wall and Veteran’s Day), No More Che Day is a day to remember victims of the Castro regime, from Che’s time to the present.

Of course, rebuking a left-wing hero might not go over well with your professors. But at least you’ll stand apart from the conformists who think the perfect complement to their iPods and fashionably disheveled hair is a T-shirt glorifying a mass murderer.