An Editorial Tribute
WHY CHE GUEVARRA’S LEGACY ENDURES
Roland G. Simbulan
This month of October 2007, many social reformers around the world and Latin American governments especially, commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of the Argentine medical doctor and Latin American revolutionary, Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevarra. Today, the presence of this bearded revolutionary heartthrob wearing a beret with a red star not only endures in the omnipresent T-shirts, tobacco brands, couture bags, and other souvenir items that many Filipinos consciously, or unknowingly, wear or use .
The name “Che” continues to be an inspiration to many Latin American governments and social movements all over the world which have emerged and continue to defy the forces that celebrated too soon his demise 40 years ago: Yankee imperialism and its stooges. A colleague in the academe who visited South America in 2001 observed that pious Catholic peasants and indigenous peoples of the Andes mountains of South America or the Amazon even compare his charismatic image, life and murder in the hands of CIA assassins with Jesus Christ.
The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre did say that Che “was the most complete human being of our age.” Today, Che’s militant battlecry continues to inspire those who resist the forces of U.S.-led globalization that dominate the world. He was the inspiration of our own murdered heroes Bobby de la Paz and Juan Escandor, medical doctors who–like Che–joined and offered their lives in the struggle for fundamental social change. During the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship, both Filipino doctors opted to serve the rural poor. They lived, persevered and were killed trying to heal the social cancer and became part of the Filipino people’s struggle for national and social transformation.
Less known to many, is the fact that Che introduced in Cuba the concept of “social medicine”, where medicine becomes a collective responsibility. In 1965, in a speech before Cuban doctors and health workers, Che outlined his idea of social medicine:
“The battle against disease should be based on a principle of creating a robust body — not creating a robust body through a doctor’s artistic work on a weak organism, but creating a robust body through the work of the whole social collectivity. One day, medicine will have to become a science that serves the struggle against the fundamental causes of disease and poverty. ”
October 8 is the official commemoration of the death of this revolutionary hero and icon. But according to a recent biography of Che by Mexican journalist Paco Ignacio Taibo II, the date of his death should be Oct. 9, because Che was still alive when captured at Quebrada del Yuro on Oct. 8, 1967, by Bolivian Rangers and their CIA/U.S. Green Beret advisers. He was executed on Oct. 9, according to the eyewitness account of a Bolivian teacher at a rural schoolhouse at the Vallegrande, where he had been brought the day before on a stretcher. The official Bolivian government version then was that he was already dead when captured by Bolivian government forces on Oct. 8. But even the chief then of the Bolivian Armed Forces, General Alfredo Ovando who was to become president of Bolivia, later admitted that Che “died” on Oct. 9, not on the 8th when he was captured wounded but alive.
Who is this man whom Cuban President Fidel Castro admires so much that when once asked how he wanted Cuban children to be, he said, ” We want them to be likeChe “. Who was Che Guevarra, and why does his memory, and legacy, endure today not only in Cuba where he helped win a revolution in 1959 with the highest rank of Commandante of the guerrilla army of Castro’s July 26th Movement, but also among social reformers all over the world, especially in Latin America where he remains a beloved icon? He is now revered and honored even by Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, whose government forces Che once fought against.
After the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, where he emerged as a brilliant theoretician of guerrilla warfare, Che was appointed by President Fidel Castro to head key centers for the restructuring of the Cuban economy: the National Agrarian Reform Institute and the Industrialization Program which managed all the American companies in Cuba that were nationalized. He later headed the National Bank of Cuba, and subsequently served as Industry Minister. Even as an economic manager in Cuba, Che led and showed by his example the “New Man” that he envisioned: working voluntarily for the “collective,” emulating manual labor and forging an inseparable bond between leaders and the masses who toil hand in hand to build the new socialist order.
But after a few years, Che gave up the comforts that went with being a government bureaucrat and minister. Soon it was reported that Che Guevarra was leading a group of Cuban volunteers in support of guerrilla struggles in Africa. Then, he decided to lead a guerrilla foco (armed contingent) in Bolivia, a country at the very center of Latin America straddling five countries around it, and spearheaded the continental revolution in Latin America as an internationalist, to create, in his own words , ” two, three, four more Vietnams against Yankee imperialism.”
Today, 40 years after his death and martyrdom in the hands of advisers and hatchetmen of the United States , Che’s spirit of struggle against injustice lives on in the hearts of those in the South fighting the domination of U.S. imperialism and its corporate control over the world economy. Today, it is not only in Cuba where Che Guevarra is admired and remembered. While experiencing devastating quagmires and quicksands in far-flung military interventions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is facing a “revolt” of sorts in the Latin American continent with the emergence of democratically elected progressive governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua , among others. Their progressive national leaderships have joined hands to resist U.S. corporate domination and U.S. militarism right in the empire’s back door–“Our America”, as Che fondly called the entire Latin American continent in his speeches and writings. There, Che’s spirit lives , entrenched and unperishable: ” Many shall perish, victims of their errors…but new fighters and new leaders shall appear in the warmth of the revolutionary struggle.” Indeed, Che’s life-long struggle and his ideals are an inspiration for generations of progressive peoples and revolutionaries.
Che’s legacy lives on with those who defy oppression and the tyranny of imperialism. For he professed with the example of his life what he taught in his writings — that every revolutionary leader should be leading his squad in battle. Che’s spirit endures because he embodies the vigor, spirit and idealism which some of us have lost or seem to have forgotten with time, with the fading of one’s youth. Che Guevarra’s martyrdom at the hands of the Bolivian 2nd Ranger Battalion, which was–like the Armed Forces of the Philippines–trained, armed and advised by U.S. Special Forces (Green Berets) and the CIA, did not end the revolutionary and progressive struggles in Latin America. Che himself predicted this when he wrote, ” Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this, our battlecry, may have reached some receptive ear and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons and other men be ready to intone the funeral dirge with the staccato singing of the machine guns and new battle cries of war and victory.” #
* Roland Simbulan is a Professor at the University of the Philippines and is Senior Fellow of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG). This tribute was read before students of the University of the Philippines, Oct. 10, 2007.
* Article by Roland G Simbulan – For a full professional background of Professor Roland G. Simbulan (Click Here)