Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system–the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination.
And yet the Cult of Che persists, with college students wearing t-shirts with his mug on them, with posters, bars and now a film:
Walter Salles' movie The Motorcycle Diaries will now take its place at the heart of this cult. It has already received a standing ovation at Robert Redford's Sundance film festival (Redford is the executive producer of The Motorcycle Diaries) and glowing admiration in the press. Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom.
The other day, while at a shop I like in Santa Monica, I noticed they sold t-shirts with Mao's face on them. That's Mao, who if you believe the authors of the Black Book of Communism, is responsible for more deaths than anyone in history. Now I'm all for putting anything you want on your chest, but when did murder become arty?