"All our liberties are due to men who, when their conscience has compelled them, have broken the laws of the land." ~ William Kingdon Clifford
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You've probably seen one by now; perhaps you've even donned one. I'm referring to the mass market Che Guevara T-shirts. The image of the dead revolutionary icon has circulated the globe since the late '60s but has had a strong resurgence in recent years. Many popular entertainers, including Carlos Santana, have worn the fashionable tees. But does the image of Che really stand for any of the things that those who exhibit it think it does?
Those who wear the T-shirts think they are expressing revolutionary zeal. Was Che a revolutionary? In some respects he was, but once the Cuban revolution triumphed, Guevara seemed more than willing to join the powerful. He was second only to Castro, holding positions such as Minister of Industry and President of the National Bank of Cuba : not very revolutionary jobs by most standards. The results of his tenures at these positions (as well as that of the whole Cuban Revolution) were indisputable failures. Cuba 's economy--once vibrant and a beacon financial success to Latin America --has yet to recover from the policies forcefully implemented by Guevara and his fellow revolutionaries.
Another popular reason for going out in public with a Che tee is that it is a symbol of social justice. Mr. Guevara had ample opportunity to show his respect and reverence for justice. Unfortunately for approximately 500 Cubans and their families, he showed only impatience and disdain. Shortly after the triumph of the revolution, Che was given command of the Caba'a prison in Havana , were he presided and even participated in summary executions of prisoners. Perhaps there's a misunderstanding in that Che did not stand for social justice but rather for sociopathic justice.
Free speech is another virtue associated with the Che tee, especially in South Florida , where many Cuban exiles directly affected by the Cuban Revolution take offense. Those who brazenly exhibit theses tees in South Florida loudly complain when someone else uses their right to free speech and criticize their poor sartorial and political taste. Those who wear the tees are more in line with Guevara's thoughts on this, since--once in power--the Cuban Revolution has violently silenced any opposition.
Others point to economic equality as a reason to idolize Che. He was very concerned with this issue, and showed it. When it came to economics, the policies he inspired and implemented while part of the Cuban government made everyone except for the leaders of the revolution 'equally' miserable. When Che was executed (do unto others) in Bolivia , one of the personal items taken from his body was a Rolex watch--hardly the brand of the struggling masses.
It is surprising how many people wear the Che tee to anti-war protests, since Mr. Guevara spent most of his adult life waging war. Another place you may find the popular tee is an anti-death penalty protest, not really very appropriate considering his penchant for summary executions. The Che tee is also popular with the kind of folks who protest Wal-Mart's capitalist expansion. Why, because they don't sell Rolex watches?
Unfortunately, Che is not the only dead revolutionary making a sartorial comeback. Mao, Salvador Allende and Lenin are all giving Che Guevara a run for his dinero. Which brings up another ironic twist: Those marketing and selling the tees are merchants turning a hefty profit, proving that even the vilest forms of human excrement can be used in production of useful goods in capitalist societies.