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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


October 15, 2007

NEW YORK – In long-ago 1963, I was attending Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service School in Washington DC. A classmate, whose father was Ecuador’s ambassador, told me the following story.

Ecuador’s then president, Carlos Arosemena, a nationalist firebrand with no love for the Yankees, showed up drunk at a dinner for American officials and Peace Corps workers. Instead of delivering the usual platitudes, he yelled, `why don’t all you damned gringos go home and stop exploiting our country!’

An hour later, Ecuador’s army chief called the Pentagon and asked permission to overthrow the government. The Pentagon gave the green light, the army’s tanks rolled, and `El Presidente’ was bundled off into exile. In those days, truant leaders in Central and South America where quickly deposed by Washington whenever they stepped out of line or angered the large US firms that dominated the region’s economy.

Had I been a Latin American student in those distant days, I might well have become a revolutionary.

An Argentine medical student, Ernesto Guevara, nicknamed `Che,’ did. Outraged by the endemic poverty across Latin America, Guevara determined to launch a crusade against the American Empire, on which he blamed the continent’s ills. But the dashing `Che,’ who has become a worldwide icon and cult figure of youthful struggle against injustice, ended up the tool of another empire, and a truly malign one, the Soviet Union.

Che Guevara joined Fidel Castro’s revolution against Cuba’s US-supported Batista regime. Guevara quickly became Fidel’s right-hand man and hero of the revolution. Cuba was transformed from sleepy banana republic to Marxist police state. This was the only successful battle in which Guevara participated.

However, Guevara was no desk-bound revolutionary, and Cuba was too small for two big revolutionary egos. Che saw himself as natural leader and apostle of anti-western `liberation struggles’ across the Third World. He went off, improbably, to Africa to launch world-wide revolution.

Commemorating the 40th anniversary last week of Che’s death, Fidel Castro hailed him as the `messenger of militant internationalism.’ Old warhorse Castro added. `he still fights with us and for us.’

Fidel is right. The image of the sexy, cigar-chomping Che, raffishly bearded, sporting jaunty black beret, is universal. Youngsters born 25 years after Che was killed wear his image on T-shirts and quote his fuzzy revolutionary maxims. He has become the Mother Theresa of the left.

Today, the Third World has another version of militant revolutionary Che. Osama bin Laden. Like Che’s vow to `liberate’ Latin America, Osama launched a violent, one-man crusade to drive US influence from the Muslim World. Bin Laden commands a similar degree of celebrity across the Muslim World as did Che in 1960’s Latin America.

But for all his panache and swashbuckling, Che failed miserably as a guerilla leader, first in eastern Congo, then, fatally, in Bolivia.

Guevara believed `oppressed’ Congolese would rise up and stage a communist revolution – led, of course, by Che – to overthrow the puppet government installed by Belgian mining interests and CIA. Instead of a revolutionary proletariat, he found tribesmen just creeping out of the stone age who listened to their witch doctors, not the teachings of Karl Marx.

CIA quickly organized a small mercenary army, supported by US pilots flying B-26’s attack bombers. Included in this force were the legendary mercenaries, `Mad Mike’ Hoar and the `White Devil,’ as Africans called him, `Col. Bob Denard,’ who just died this past weekend in France. The CIA’s boys whipped Che’s Cubans and sent them packing.

Che next chose Bolivia, Latin America’s poorest nation, as a target for revolution. Che believed Bolivia’s subsistence farmers would revolt against the ruling, US-backed oligarchy. In reality, Bolivia’s peasants turned their backs on Che and his band of Marxist insurgents and informed the army on their whereabouts.

Guevara was hunted down by a special US unit, led by legendary, Cuban-born CIA agent, Felix Rodriguez. The wounded Che was captured and executed, either by Bolivian soldiers or Rodriguez, on 9 October, 1967. Who killed Che remains a subject of debate and mystery. Interestingly, in 2005, old warrior Rodriguez called for `special action’ against a new Marxist menace, Venezuela’s anti-American leader, Hugo Chavez.

The cult of the sainted Che has obscured the fact he was an ardent Communist. Revelations from KGB files show that `anti-imperialist’ revolutions in Bolivia, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and leftwing groups in Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile, were secretly funded and armed by the Soviets. Moscow used both Fidel’s Cuba and Che to undermine US influence in Latin America. Both were eager to cooperate.

Guevara and Castro were hard line Communists from day one, not socialist agrarian reformers, as they pretended, and as myth now holds. Being dedicated Communists meant they were part of history’s most lethal political system that killed nearly 100 million people in the 20th Century – or ten times the number of victims of Hitler’s Nazi system. It is worth recalling that Communist revolutionaries came to power in Russia and China calling for justice and `liberation’ for peasants, yet ended up by slaughtering them by the millions during Soviet collectivization, or causing tens of millions to starve during Mao’s crazy Great Leap Forward.

Che and Fidel had nothing to do with Soviet crimes in Europe, of course, but they did defend and support them, and the political philosophy that engendered them. They supped with the devil in Moscow to advance their cause of anti-Yankee revolution.

In the end, Marxist revolutions failed everywhere except Cuba. But Che and Fidel did have one positive effect. They scared the United States sufficiently to make it cease treating Latin America like a plantation, cease dealing through military juntas, and afford Latin Americans a measure of respect and dignity that had previously been absent.

Now, three decades later, democratic parties of the left have been elected across Latin America, including Bolivia – and the sky has not fallen. Hugo Chavez’s calls for populist socialism and reduction of America’s worldwide influence often echo the fiery orations of Che and Fidel from long ago.

However, this time around, the KGB is long gone, and CIA is busy chasing a new revolutionary menace, this time a new Che Guevara in a turban, Osama bin Laden.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007.

Published at since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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