Part V of VI: Castro, Che & Cuba
The “Cult of Che” & the Execution of Rojas
One of the last parts of Beck’s documentary contains a truly disturbing element far above the mere falsification of history we have seen so far. In this portion, Beck sets his sights on the Cuban Revolution with a sob story about the execution of a former soldier who served the regime of Cuba’s former brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista. The various enforcers of the Batista dictatorship are portrayed as loving humanitarians who gave their people everything and were “patriots and saviors.” While there is a general consensus on the negativity of the Batista regime across the planet Earth, in this documentary Beck seeks to rehabilitate and redeem the legacy of the former Cuban dictator, portraying those who died in the service of his regime as heroes and a martyrs, and those who executed them as the most heinous of villains.
Beck begins the segment by attacking the cult of Ernest “Che” Guevara, the politics of which have been watered down by commodity fetishism. He then makes a reference to the recent “Che” biopic by Steven Soderbergh, claiming “Nowhere is Che seemingly loved more than in Hollywood, USA.” It is quite odd to hear such a rabid advocate of so-called “free market” complain about capitalizing on a revolutionary figure to sell T-shirts and coffee mugs.
After this, the documentary turns to Barbara Rangel, a woman born in Cuba, the granddaughter of Colonel Cornelio Rojas, a man executed by firing squad (surely a merciful death compared to the many thousands tortured to death under Batista’s reign) in a famous black-and-white film clip from the Cuban Revolution. Speaking of Che Guevara, Mrs. Rangel claims that “They portray him [Che] in the movies as a hero and as a humanitarian. He was a cold killer.” Bizarrely, Beck literally tries to blame Che Guevara on the premature birth [!!] of Barbara’s mother’s baby. Barbara Rangel’s mother says about the executed Colonel, “Che Guevara took away the greatest thing in my life because my father was the greatest. He was a good father. Che Guevara took that away from me and that is why I have been suffering for 50 years. I will never forget what he did to me.” Rangal herself continues that her grandfather was “a freedom fighter” and “a descendant of patriots” who was “executed by cowards” but who “died like a hero.”
So, here emotional anecdotes are posited as an argument on the legitimacy of the legacy of Che Guevera, but also by association the legitimacy of the entire socio-economic system in Cuba post-January 1959.
Rangel’s story in no way contradicts the official image of Che Guevera; Che was a revolutionary, and incidentally being a revolutionary generally includes armed struggle, or the aspiration to engage in armed struggle.
Ms. Rangel’s grandfather was not a civilian, but a military man who served the regime that the 26th of July movement was engaging in armed conflict with. Cornelio Rojas, whether or not he was a “good father,” was a chief of police under the Batista regime. Now, in a regime known for the regular arrest and torture of political dissidents, the position of police chief carries with it a malicious connotation rather than a heroic one.
The discussion on the merits of the Batista regime and the actions of those who served it is not explored. Instead, a tear-jerking story of the execution of a “good father,” who just happened to be a police chief in a murderous dictatorship, is leveled at the legacy of an internationally recognized and cherished revolutionary figure.
What was Cuba like Under Batista?
Nick Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief of Reason.com, says that Guevera “became known as the butcher of La Cabana prison in revolutionary Cuba where he personally oversaw the execution of anywhere from 175 to several hundred people.” Gillespie, a man who is apparently qualified to psychologically diagnose a man he’s never met (or any man for that matter), pronounces sentence on the famous revolutionary: “You can probably call him clinically a sadist.” With all this talk about Che and Castro’s “brutality” towards the torturers and murderers of the Batista Regime, one wonders exactly the historical context of such actions. Let us for a moment take our eyes off of individuals such as Colonel Rojas in order to see the bigger picture—specifically, the bigger picture of exactly what type of regime Rangal’s father worked for.
For over 25 years, Fulgencio Batista “ruled Cuba with an iron fist, and the full blessing and endorsement of the United States government” (1). During Batista’s reign, he “subverted the constitution and terrorized political opponents. He enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle from the money generated by the influx of tourism and American corporations to the island, while the country’s poor became even more impoverished. He did so with the explicit support of American mobsters and with the acquiescence of the American government” (1).
Batista’s repression did not stop at corruption. Under Batista, “the average Cuban family had an income of $6.00 a week, fifteen to twenty percent of the labor force was chronically unemployed, and only a third of the homes had running water” (4). Under Batista, Cuba was effectively a colony of the United States. “At the beginning of 1959 United States companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands – almost all the cattle ranches – 90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions – 80 percent of the utilities – practically all the oil industry – and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports” (4). Batista’s terrorism against Cuban civilians was not kind. Under Batista, “[h]undreds of mangled bodies were left hanging from lamp posts or dumped in the streets in a grotesque variation of the Spanish colonial practice of public executions” (5). In this period, it “has been estimated by some that as many as 20,000 civilians were killed” (5).
Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., when asked by the US to analyze Cuba, remarked that the “corruption of the Government, the brutality of the police, the regime’s indifference to the needs of the people for education, medical care, housing, for social justice and economic justice … is an open invitation to revolution” (2). During phony “elections” held by Batista in an unsuccessful attempt to lend his regime legitimacy, “the people showed their dissatisfaction with his government by refusing to vote. Over 75 per cent of the voters in the capital Havana boycotted the polls. In some areas, such as Santiago, it was as high as 98 per cent” (2).
Under the reign of Batista, “Brothels flourished. A major industry grew up around them: Government officials received bribes, policemen collected protection money. Prostitutes could be seen standing in doorways, strolling the streets, or leaning from windows… One report estimated that 11,500 of them worked their trade in Havana [alone]…Beyond the outskirts of the capital, beyond the slot machines, was one of the poorest – and most beautiful – countries in the Western world” (2).
In order to build the reputation of Cuba as a colony for gambling, prostitution and other criminal activities, “Batista established lasting relationships with organized crime, and under his guardianship Havana became known as “the Latin Las Vegas” [….] A summit at Havana’s Hotel Nacional, with mobsters such as Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, Santo Trafficante Jr., Moe Dalitz and others, confirmed Luciano’s authority over the U.S. mob, and coincided with Frank Sinatra’s 1946 singing debut in Havana. It was here that Lansky gave permission to kill Bugsy Siegel” (3).
Due to the corruption of this dictatorship, Castro’s rebels soon gained massive support. Batista feared his own overthrow. During the Cuban revolutionary period, “Many innocent people were tortured. Suspects, including children, were publicly executed and then left hanging in the streets for several days as a warning to others who were considering joining Castro” (2). Batista’s reign was so unpopular in fact, that even the CIA had decided to form a coup against him when he became too oppressive even for American interests. Upon Batista’s ousting by the 26th of July movement, and his subsequent unfortunate escape, “[t]ens of thousands of Cubans (and thousands of Cuban-Americans in the United States) joyously celebrated the end of the dictator’s regime” (6).
Even the imperialist and anti-communist US President JFK, the man who personally helped engineer the Bay of Pigs incident, once remarked, “I believe that there is no country in the world, including the African regions, including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba […].” He continued, “I believe that we [the United States] created, built and manufactured the Castro movement out of whole cloth and without realizing it [….] In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries” (7).
Under Batista, “some 1.5 million people (25% of the population) struggled to survive. Big sugar companies kept hundreds of thousands of acres uncultivated, while landless peasants were forced to plant on the sides of roads, until the brutal, machete-wielding rural police, the Guardia Rural, would drive them out” (8). And finally, in the Cuban rural areas under Batista, “75% of rural dwellings were huts made from palm trees, more than 50% had no toilets of any kind, 85% had no inside running water and 91% had no electricity. There was only 1 doctor per 2,000 people in rural areas and more than one-third of the rural population had intestinal parasites. Only 4% of Cuban peasants ate meat regularly; only 1% ate fish, less than 2% eggs, 3% bread, 11% milk; none ate green vegetables. The average annual income among peasants was $91 (1956), less than 1/3 of the national income per person. 45% of the rural population was illiterate; 44% had never attended a school” (8).
In the cities, “25% of the labor force was chronically unemployed, 1 million people were illiterate (in a population of about 5.5 million) and 27% of urban children, not to speak of 61% of rural children, were not attending school. Racial discrimination under Batista was widespread, the public school system had deteriorated badly, corruption was endemic; anyone could be bought, from a Supreme Court judge to a cop, and police brutality and torture were common” (8).
(5) Invisible Latin America, by Samuel Shapiro, Ayer Publishing, 1963, pg 77
Rangal’s father worked for Batista, who was known the world over as a military dictator indifferent to the plight of his people, one who is now conversely being painted as a Cuban patriot, as are those that served his regime. If Rangal’s grandfather was a patriot, why did he serve a government which was so despised for its brutality? Surely a patriot would sympathize with the general poverty and suffering of the people of the island nation? Certainly a great patriot, such as Rangal’s grandfather, would have objected to his homeland being kept firmly under the thumb of a foreign power, and reduced to a position of an exploited neo-colony? Patriots, if nothing else, bristle with nationalism at foreign intervention to the detriment of their own country, no?
Another Fake Quote
Glenn Beck attributes a fake quote to Stalin. “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” There is no evidence Stalin said this. It is falsely attributed to him, but to this day no one has been able to find the source for it.
Beck continues by tossing out a few quotes from Che, such as the following: “We’re going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing.”
Other infamous quotes mentioned are: “The Negro is indolent and lazy, and spends his money on frivolities, whereas the European is forward-looking, organized and intelligent,” and, “[t]he blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing, have seen their territory invaded by a new kind of slave: the Portuguese.”
The American Party of Labor has already extensively covered accusations of racism from a person such as Glenn Beck. For further notes on this issue we recommend you read the first and third parts of this series.
The above quotations have a source which Beck does not mention. One is page 92 in Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson. It is worth noting that Ernesto “Che” Guevara made these statements when he was young and uneducated about socialist theory. To tear individual quotes that Che made during his youth before he had a chance to study Marxist ideas out of context is misleading. Notably, this occurs in a chapter entitled “An Unquiet Youth,” which on the same page says, “Ernesto had rarely been around black people.” The next chapter is fittingly also entitled, “I Am Not the Same I Was Before,” surrounded by quotation marks from Che himself. Due to his sudden ideological change into a revolutionary upon reaching adulthood, Che was clearly not a “raging” racist, homophobe or anti-Semite.
In fact, casual racism was probably typical of a person of working class Argentine origin, especially given that Argentina is the most “European” of all Latin American countries, as far as ancestry is concerned. What was not typical, however, was Che traveling to the Congo to help the Congolese people fight against European imperialist control. It’s far-fetched to believe that Guevera held racist attitudes towards a people that he risked his own life for, fighting for a country that was not his own, nor did he have any personal stake in bettering.
As far as the quotation “We’re going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing” is concerned, this quotation is allegedly taken from Che’s Congo diaries, on his participation in the armed revolution in that country. The Congo Diaries of Che Guevera are generally about Che’s bitterness at the failure of that revolution, and his analysis was that he mostly blamed it on the people of the Congo themselves. Now, one could say that this is his own way of taking no responsibility for his own actions or the failure of his revisionist and anti-Marxist “foco” theory, but this certainly does put the whole quote into perspective. Given Che’s general outlook on the revolution in the Congo, the above quotation wasn’t a racial comment per se, but rather bitterness at what Che saw as the Congolese people’s indifference to the revolution that he tried to start. Regardless, Beck jumps on the chance to paint Guevera as a common bigot.
As well, there many other quotes which Beck does not mention, which show that if Che was indeed racist, he later shed that view. In Cuba: A Revolution in Motion, Isaac Saney quotes Che speaking on December 28th, 1959 on the role of universities: “I have to say [the university] should paint itself black, it should paint itself mulatto, not only it’s students but also the professors; that it paint itself worker and peasant, that it paint itself people, because the University is the heritage of none, it belongs to the Cuban people […] and the people that have triumphed, that have been spoiled with triumph, that know their own strength and that they can overcome, that are here today at the doors of the University, the University must be flexible and paint itself black, Mulatto, worker and peasant, or it will have no doors, the people will break them down and paint the university the colours they want.”
Also, from the BBC: “Guevara, with limited knowledge of Swahili and the local languages was assigned a teenage interpreter Freddy Ilanga. Over the course of seven months Ilanga grew to ‘admire the hard-working Guevara’, who according to Mr. Ilanga, ‘showed the same respect to black people as he did to whites.’” Source: “DR Congo’s Rebel-Turned-Brain Surgeon” by Mark Doyle, BBC World Affairs, December 13, 2005
“…A quarter of a century after the revolution, employment, infant mortality and life expectancy rates were better for blacks in Cuba than for anywhere in the world, even the United States.” Source: Marable, Manning 2000. In Hisham Aidi, ‘Is Cuba a Racial Democracy?’ January 28.
” At this time, we must continue consolidating the just policy of promoting blacks and women in particular as cadres … The party must insist on the applications of this policy in all spheres of society.” From: Communist Party of Cuba , ‘The Party Unity, Democracy and the Human Rights that we Defend,” 1997. In addition, Article 42 in the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba reads that, “discrimination because of race, color, sex or national origin is forbidden and is punished by law,” and Article 295 of the Cuban criminal code establishes fines and sanctions of between six months and two years for discrimination and incitement of hatred on the basis of gender, race or national origin.
For a country with alleged racists in high positions of state authority, it seems Cuba did quite well to make some of the greatest progress on Earth for a majority black and mixed society. While in other societies, racists in positions of state legislative power result in racist state policies, in Cuba their allegedly racist legislators somehow produced policies that greatly benefited the very people that the legislators were allegedly prejudiced against. What are the odds of that?
The tarring of Che Guevera as a racist is typical projection, making use of the valid sensibilities of the masses of people against racism to inoculate them against Marxism-Leninism. Worst case scenario: Che Guevera was a racist. In this case though, from how things played out in Cuba, one can see that at the very least then Che must have been a racist who didn’t allow his personal prejudices to interfere with the affirmation of rights for all Cubans regardless of ethnicity or heritage, because he advocated and helped legislate measures against racism during his time in Cuba. So, in the case of leftism, the absolute worst case scenario is that we have individuals with personal prejudices, whereas in the case of the United States and all capitalist countries we have racism legislated, institutionalized and propagated from the highest organs. Institutionalized slavery, Jim Crow Laws and official segregation found in the history of the United States (and many other capitalist countries) trump any distasteful prejudices that a figure from the past may or may not have had.
Finally, the whole matter becomes extreme hypocrisy anyway, because it is most likely that if the same quotes were said by some conservative talk show host or professor (as they are on a regular basis, too numerous to cite every single incident and individual), and that person found themselves in hot water over said comments, pundits like Glenn Beck would be decrying the “political correctness” and “reverse discrimination” of it all.
One Last Note: Che’s Execution Was Engineered by a Nazi War Criminal
From the article: “Che Guevara’s capture by the CIA in the forests of Bolivia 40 years ago was orchestrated by Klaus Barbie, the Nazi war criminal called the ‘Butcher of Lyon’. Barbie was the Gestapo chief in Lyon whose crimes included the murder of 44 Jewish children, taken from an orphanage and sent to Auschwitz.
Barbie’s record was disregarded when he was recruited by US intelligence after the Second World War as a useful tool against communism. He evaded French justice by fleeing to Bolivia where, living under the alias Klaus Altmann, he was welcomed by fascist sympathisers. Meanwhile, in 1966 a disguised Guevara arrived in Bolivia to organise the overthrow of its military dictatorship.
Alvaro de Castro, a longtime confidant of Barbie, says: ‘He met Major Shelton, the commander of the unit from the US. Altmann [Barbie] no doubt gave him advice on how to fight this guerrilla war. He used the expertise gained doing this kind of work in World War Two. They made the most of the fact that he had this experience.’
In October 1967 the Bolivian army, with CIA help, captured the 39-year-old Guevara and killed him. Barbie was involved in torture again in Bolivia and dreamed of establishing a Fourth Reich in the Andes.”