Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Butcher and the Icon

Not two people, just one. Finally had the chance to read Humberto Fontova's most excellent Exposing the Real Che Guevara: And the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him, the first few pages of which reduced me to tears. In these, he tells the story of his family's flight from Cuba, how his father was forcibly taken away from the airport to an unknown fate. The petty tyranny of the officials, the family's fright, the harsh conditions of their new lives are echoes of many, many more, a million more stories. I was overwhelmed.

So powerful was the experience that it took me days to return to reading. But return I did. For me, it was not about discovering Che's evil. I knew what he was, although I understand why David Horowitz wrote "Every American should read this book." It's obvious that millions don't know why he was called the "Butcher of the Cabaña," or even that he earned that epithet. Fontova skillfully juxtaposes Che's murders and machinations with the celebrity and praise he garnered as a selfless champion of the downtrodden. It is particularly ironic to see Che being feted at a chi-chi party in NYC even as he is plotting to blow up portions of the city.

The book is chock a block full of facts and statistics about preCastro Cuba, as well as the crimes of Che Guevara, which were legion. I'd go further than Horowitz and suggest it might be fruitful for college history departments to use it in a case study on methods. Because what emerges most here is the disconnect between the authoritative biographies and what we Cubans know as reality. Fontova serves up the facts with a good dollop of incisive humor, as he demonstrates the fallacy of their methodology, relying on the regime for access to documents, the equivalent, as he points out, of writing a biography of Hitler using materials provided by his co-conspirators. This myopia is particularly highlighted in their praise of Che's guerilla skills, an almost laughable assertion, if anything about a mass murderer can be said to be comic.

The single biggest impression I took away from the book was the absolute carnage which took place in Cuba. I remember as a child seeing pictures of firing squads, and I learned the word paredon early on, but I confess I did not know the extent. Fontova lends immediacy to events. In addition to the numbers, he puts names and faces on the victims, recounts telling stories of the regime's treatment of the families. Pubescent boys, pregnant women, and countless men are taken to the wall where Che can observe the executions from his window with a view. A miliciano asks whether a woman is the wife of so and so and, hearing the affirmative, dumps a body at her feet, saying "There's your husband." And these are just some of the incidents he recounts.

I think that it was Churchill who said "history is written by the victors." Well, in this book Fontova argues for the truth and makes it that much harder for the elite establishment to ignore the reality of Che. Read it.

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