The Boston Globe Newsletter: Arguable with Jeff Jacoby, October 16, 2017
A stamp for 'Stalin II'
By Jeff Jacoby
Ireland’s postal service last week issued a commemorative stamp honoring Che Guevara on the 50th anniversary of his death. The 1-euro stamp features the famous portrait by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, an image that has been emblazoned for decades on t-shirts, posters, hats, and jackets. A 2-euro postal card issued the same day also contains a quote from Guevara’s father, who was of Irish descent: “In my son’s veins flowed the blood of Irish rebels.”
Actually, in Che Guevara’s veins flowed the blood of a mass murderer and a sadistic terrorist. He was a fanatical zealot who celebrated the power of “unbending hatred” to turn a human being into “an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine.” He was Fidel Castro’s vicious henchman , a monster who helped usher in Cuban communism on a tidal wave of slaughter, a KGB-trained totalitarian who on occasion signed his letters “Stalin II.”
Like his idol, Che Guevara attached no value to innocent human lives. As chief prosecutor of the new Castro regime, he set about exterminating opponents and dissidents with fervor, to the shock of conscientious attorneys who had believed the revolutionary leaders’ rhetoric about justice and democracy. In a chilling, infuriating 2007 book, the Cuban-born journalist Humberto Fontova describes how idealistic members of the Castro government’s new legal team were ruthlessly told the facts of life:
“What’s the holdup, here?” Che Guevara barked at a commissioner, José Vilasuso, as he stormed into his office in La Cabana. Vilasuso, an honorable man, answered forthrightly that he was gathering and assembling evidence and attempting to determine guilt. Che set him straight. “Quit the dallying! Your job is a very simple one. Judicial evidence is an archaic and secondary bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! We execute from revolutionary conviction.” José Vilasuso quickly fled.
Under the new order, Che emphasized, there was no room for human rights and due process of law. “To execute a man we don’t need proof of his guilt,” he declared. “We only need proof that it’s necessary to execute him.”
Of course Che was motivated by more than mere bloodlust. There was psychopathic cruelty as well.
One mother, Rosa Hernandez, recalls how she begged for a meeting with Che in order to try to save her 17-year-old son, who was condemned without trial to the firing squad. Guevara graciously complied. “Come right in, señora,” said Che as he opened the door to his office. “Have a seat.” Silently he listened to her sobs and pleas, then picked up the phone right in front of her. “Execute the Hernandez boy tonight,” Che barked.
But why should any of this matter to Ireland’s postal authorities? Che Guevara had Irish blood. That’s apparently enough to get him honored on an Irish postage stamp. Who, I wonder, will Dublin honor next? Lee Harvey Oswald? Timothy McVeigh? James “Whitey” Bulger? They had Irish blood too.
This isn’t the first time an Irish government has been keen to honor Castro’s evil sidekick. In 2012, city councilors in Galway proposed to erect a statue in Che Guevara’s honor. Eventually the plan was blocked, perhaps in part because of an impassioned plea by Carlos Eire, a distinguished professor of literature at Yale. He attempted to explain the truth about Che in terms any Irish patriot ought to understand, likening the depraved butcher to a figure from Irish history.
“To praise Che, one must overlook mountains of evidence concerning his crimes,” wrote Eire, who had fled Cuba as a child.
Everyone in Galway and Ireland should know this: Che has a lot in common with Oliver Cromwell.
Like Cromwell, Che proclaimed himself a liberator and felt justified in committing thousands of atrocities in a land other than his own, all in the name of a higher cause. Like Cromwell, Che stole everyone’s property too, for a sacred purpose.
As for reputation: Cromwell received plenty of good press and adulation from those on his side, just like Che.
To Cromwell’s admirers — and he had plenty who would eagerly build him monuments — the Irish people were inconsequential obstacles to a higher goal, or worse, despicable papist wretches who deserved no mercy.
At least one Irish politician is appalled by the new stamp. Neale Richmond, a Fine Gael senator, condemned the “terrible” decision to honor Che, “given his role as a barbaric interrogator, jailer, and executioner.” But the controversy has, if anything, boosted the stamp’s sales: The first run of 122,000 stamps sold out within days. Ireland’s postal service is gearing up to print more, as the blood of Che’s victims cries out from the ground.