Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who is that guy on your T-shirt?

"On October 9th, 1967, Ernesto "Che" Guevara was put to death by Bolivian soldiers, trained, equipped and guided by U.S. Green Beret and CIA operatives. His execution remains a historic and controversial event; and thirty years later, the circumstances of his guerrilla foray into Bolivia, his capture, killing, and burial are still the subject of intense public interest and discussion around the world."

Ernesto (Che) Guevara was born to Celia de la Serna y Llosa and Ernesto Guevara Lynch in Rosario in Argentine on June 14, 1928. He was the eldest of five children in a white Argentine family of Spanish, Basque and Irish descent. Very early on in life Ernestito (as he was then called) developed an "affinity for the poor." Growing up in a family with leftist leanings, Guevara was introduced to a wide spectrum of political perspectives even as a boy.
Years later, a February 13, 1958, declassified CIA 'biographical and personality report' would make note of Guevara’s wide range of academic interests and intellect, describing him as "quite well read" while adding that "Che is fairly intellectual for a Latino."
In 1948, Guevara entered the University of Buenos Aires to study medicine. However, his "hunger to explore the world" led him to intersperse his collegiate pursuits with two long introspective journeys that would fundamentally change the way he viewed himself and the present economic conditions in Latin America. The first expedition in 1950 was a 4,500 kilometer (2,800 mi) solo trip through the rural provinces of northern Argentina on a bicycle on which he installed a small motor. This was followed in 1951 by a nine month 8,000 kilometer (5,000 mi) continental motorcycle trek through most of South America. For the latter, he took a year off from studies to embark with his friend Alberto Granado, with the final goal of spending a few weeks volunteering at the San Pablo Leper colony in Peru. His experiences and observations during these trips led him to conclude that the region's ingrained economic inequalities were an intrinsic result of monopoly capitalism, neocolonialism, and imperialism, with the only remedy being world revolution. This belief prompted his involvement in Guatemala's social reforms under President Jacobo Arbenz, whose eventual CIA-assisted overthrow solidified Guevara's radical ideology. Later, while living in Mexico City, he met Raúl and Fidel Castro, joined their 26th of July Movement, and travelled to Cuba aboard the yacht, Granma, with the intention of overthrowing U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Guevara soon rose to prominence among the insurgents, was promoted to second-in-command, and played a pivotal role in the successful two year guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime.
October 9, 1967. After a few false starts and Che's telling them to get it over with, six or more shots are fired into Guevara's torso. One version of his reported last words were: "I knew you were going to shoot me; I should never have been taken alive. Tell Fidel that this failure does not mean the end of the revolution, that it will triumph elsewhere. Tell Aleida to forget this, remarry and be happy, and keep the children studying. Ask the soldiers to aim well." Others have claimed his last words to have been: "Shoot, coward! You are going to kill a man."
"Cryig Che" by figment'68
 Che Guevara's relevance is two-fold. Primarily, his life represents the archetype of revolutionary in the late 20th century political theater. The publication of a slew of books, and the timely recovery of his bones in conjunction with the mainstream media movies led the recent surge in the popularity of the nineteen-sixties guerrilla leader. The famous photograph of Che in black beret taken by Korda has become an icon all over the world. On the other hand, the blatant and nothing less than pornographic whoring of this image vividly illustrates the dangers of mediated manipulation and recontextualization of a threatening personality. His image is used by everyone from politically subversive rock bands to advertisers seeking credibility. In Cuba and many parts of Latin America, he is spoken of in an almost Christ-like reverence. The Cuban government actively cultivates a "Che mythos", exploiting the nostalgia for the good old revolutionary days. It would be a sad, but telling, fate if Che ended up only being remembered as fashionable martyr-rebel icon for Madsion Avenue. The imperative here is to not become seduced by the advertized images and empty slogans; but to see through it into the complexities and, at times, difficult aspects of the extraordinary person that was Che Guevara.

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