Shirts, caps, posters, and hoodies with his face printed on it. In the last two decades, there has been an increase in the marketing and production of merchandise praising one Latin American political figure: Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
He was an Argentinian soldier who led the Cuban revolution alongside Fidel Castro and today is admired by hundreds of thousands of people in leftists movements worldwide – mostly the younger generations – without knowing much of his ideals against the LGBTQ+ and Feminist movements. I believe these groups should be more educated on the history of the people they admire, like Guevara, to not contradict their movement and stop romanticizing El Che specifically. As Michael Casey, former editor of the Dow Jones Newswires, observes in his book “Che’s Afterlife,” Guevara’s face became one of the most widely disseminated images in the world. It is particularly ironic how El Che went from being a symbol of resistance to the capitalist system to one of the most marketable and marketed brands around the globe, how the guerrilla fighter became a logo as recognizable as the Nike swoosh or McDonald’s golden arches. Nonetheless, these groups choose to ignore the fact that Guevara’s ideals even go against this commercialization.
Moreover, they also ignore how his ideals go against many of these new groups’ ideals – especially when we talk about gender and sexual preference equalities. Guevara considered homosexuality contrary to his ideal of the “new man” (the archetype of a man who, in his words, should rise above established powers and any form of domination). According to the journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner, this should be “a vigorous, dashing, hard-working, patriotic, disinterested, straight, monogamous and austere worker.” This led him to consider gays and lesbians as “sexual perverts” and “sick people” who should make way for the aforementioned “new man, politically healthy and a product of communist Cuba.”
In addition to Montaner’s, there is an endless list of investigations, research projects, and testimonies that prove Guevara’s notorious homophobic behaviors. According to various projects by Guillermina Sutter Schneider, research assistant for the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Guevara campaigned to have gay people placed in prison, and when they were interned, they were treated worse than the rest of the prisoners, to the point of even being beaten mercilessly and raped. Yet, groups today still to ignore this, praise him, and even wear apparel with his face in Pride Marches.
Additionally, in camps where the revolutionaries sent homosexuals, there were signs saying “Work Will Make You Men” – influenced by the infamous “work will set you free” slogan on Nazi Concentration Camps. Yet, despite many of these groups in Europe constantly condemn the Nazi actions in the war, they still praise him. Furthermore, there have been many testimonies of women who worked as maids of Guevara and some even minors at the time, have said he abused them and threatened them to have sexual intercourse with him or else be murdered. Just as he has expressed these homophobic and sexist ideals in his diaries’ writings, he has also shared in his writings his racist ideals against black men, as well as his iconic “We cannot do a revolution with freedom of the press” quote. Yet, these groups who defend black lives and claim their freedom of expression, still praise him.
It is not only ironic but ignorant to disregard these facts about Guevara and to choose only to admire his “revolutionary” thoughts to free Cuba from Batista’s regime – even though today’s aftermath of the revolution turned Cuba in an underdeveloped authoritarian regime where there are almost no liberties, especially no freedom of thought and expression.
Moreover, being born and raised in Venezuela, a country that has had a dictatorship for the last 20 years inspired by the Cuban ideals – especially those of Argentinian Che Guevara’s. I have witnessed how one of the richest countries in the continent has become one of the poorest, with the worst economies, despite having the biggest oil reserves in the world. A country where the luckiest people have 30 minutes of water a day and pray for the internet to function or have electricity for a week. A country where there is not a TV channel, radio station, or newspaper with views in opposition with the government because they have all been censored. A country where people are not able to democratically elect their leaders because international observers have proved the last couple of elections to be fraudulent, and cannot exercise their right to protest peacefully because of severe repression among other human rights violations by the military. All of these actions and more, are now causing the biggest immigration crisis of the continent where millions of Venezuelans leave the country through any medium they find to survive, just like Cubans have done since the Castro regime. Yet, people still admire one of the people who inspire these ideals.
Overall, I just want to share the irony of the support for El Che while also supporting causes he was against to, and how also admiring him is admiring the causes that have cost the lives of thousands and also forced millions to flee the place they called home. In my years since I left Venezuela, I have met so many Americans and Europeans who admire El Che and still do not realize they admire people who go against many liberties they underestimate and are lucky and privileged to have. Just put yourself in the shoes of a person who has suffered the consequences of these regimes and tell me if you still admire El Che.