The legacy of Che Guevara – 50 years since his death
A bicycle taxi rides past a building painted with a Cuban flag and an image of Che Guevara, along with the slogan "Always toward victory!" in Havana, Cuba, March 19, 2016. | Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Half a century ago, on October 9, 1967, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, was assassinated by Mario Terán, a Bolivian army officer, following orders from the CIA. The Argentinian-born Cuban revolutionary hero died leading a guerrilla struggle against the U.S.-backed Bolivian military regime of René Barrientos, eight years after playing a leading role in the Cuban revolution.

Over the last 50 years, Che’s image has become a globally recognized symbol, seen by millions the world over as the embodiment of the Cuban revolution and the struggle for a better world.

The enduring legacy of the Cuban revolution has been at the heart of the longevity of Che’s legend. It has delivered sovereignty, dignity, and independence to the Cuban people, with achievements including free and universal healthcare, education and social care, despite all the difficulties imposed by the U.S. blockade.

Che said Cuba “is one of the places where the principles upholding the right of small countries to sovereignty are put to the test day by day, minute by minute.”

The U.S. has certainly put Cuba’s sovereignty to the test, with the blockade, the Bay of Pigs invasion, subversion, assassination attempts on its leaders, regime change attempts, the deliberate introduction of dengue fever onto the island, and U.S.-backed groups have carried out terrorist attacks, killing over 3,400 Cubans. But Cuba has defied all the odds and successfully resisted these attacks from its superpower neighbor.

The island continues to be a beacon to the global south, with its spirit of internationalism and an unwavering resolve to make Che’s vision of “another world is possible” a reality.

Che, a qualified doctor, dreamed of a world in which medics would use their expertise “in the service of the revolution and the people.” Cuban medics have led by this example.

The country’s health internationalism began in 1960, following an earthquake in Chile. Cuban medics were sent beyond Latin America for the first time in 1963, to Algeria, following a request from the government.

From the mountains of Kashmir, to the Amazon rainforest, Cuban medics have saved lives all around the globe, with more than 325,000 professionals sent to 158 countries since the revolution.

It is a testament to the morality of the revolution that almost 40 years after murdering Che, Cuban doctors performed a cataract operation on Che’s assassin, Mario Terán, restoring his eyesight, as part of the “Operation Miracle” program. He is one of the six million people in Latin America whose eyesight has been restored by the program, free of charge.

Why is Che still so important today? Beyond his unique abilities as a guerrilla, a doctor, and a government minister, his analysis of U.S. imperialism is as important today as it was over 50 years ago. Much of Che’s iconic speech at the U.N. in 1964 can be applied in 2017. He called for “a halt to the economic blockade” and for “withdrawal from the Guantanamo naval base and return of the Cuban territory occupied by the United States.”

He also highlighted the hypocrisy of U.S. intervention in Latin America taking place under the guise of “freedom,” while it continued to oppress its own African-American and Latino communities.

“It must be clearly established,” he said, “that the government of the United States is not the champion of freedom, but rather the perpetrator of exploitation and oppression against the peoples of the world and against a large part of its own population.”

During Che’s brief time in New York at the U.N., two terrorist attacks on him failed – a snapshot of the constant attacks that Cuba has endured since the revolution. A woman attempted a knife attack on his entrance, and while he was delivering his speech, three men fired a bazooka at the U.N. headquarters, falling just short.

The New York Times reported how the blast was clearly heard in the hall, but Che, “paused not a moment in his speech.” True to his word, Che never gave an inch to imperialism.

According to the U.S. State Department, the motive of the blockade was to “create hunger, desperation, and the overthrowing of the Cuban government.” This has clearly failed, and Che noted how the policy of economic warfare instead led to “a national awareness and fighting spirit within the Cuban people to overcome.”

Over 50 years later, through Cuba’s resistance and international solidarity, the U.S. blockade now faces international condemnation.

Next month, on November 1, the U.N. General Assembly will vote for the 26th consecutive year on Cuba’s resolution to end the blockade.

191 countries are expected to vote in favor, with only the U.S. and Israel to vote against, following President Donald Trump’s new hard line on Cuba.

So much has changed in the world in the last half a century, but the blockade remains in place, an outdated Cold War relic. In the summer of 2015, diplomatic relations were re-established between the U.S. and Cuba, following former president Barack Obama’s rapprochement – but the blockade remained in place.

Trump’s arrival in the White House has led to the blockade being tightened further, and last week he reduced the U.S. diplomatic staff in Havana by 60 percent and expelled the same percentage of Cuban diplomats from Washington. U.S. hostility to Cuba is again on the ascendance.

Throughout the last half century, and the diplomatic negotiations of the last few years, Cuba’s position has remained the same; the blockade must be lifted and the U.S. must respect Cuba’s sovereignty.

Che’s words from an ABC interview in 1964 remain pertinent. When asked, “What would you like to see the United States do, as regards Cuba?” He replied: “Nothing. Nothing in all respects. Nothing for or against us. Just leave us alone.”

Ollie Hopkins is the campaigns officer for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the U.K. This article originally appeared in Morning Star.



Ollie Hopkins
Ollie Hopkins

Ollie Hopkins is the campaigns officer for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the U.K.