By Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). She is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 18th congressional district and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Whether or not the city council of Galway, Ireland, constructs a much-discussed monument to Che Guevara, the possibility that it might occur ought to insult all of us who care about the cause of democracy and historical accuracy.
The romanticized reputation of Ernesto “Che” Guevara as a liberator and freedom fighter is nothing more than a myth of the Cuban revolution. In reality, Guevara was a mass murderer and a bigot.
Che Guevara embodied hatred. Using his own words, he exulted “hatred as an element of the struggle” to transform a person into a “violent, selective and cold killing machine.
During his time as director of La Cubana prison in 1959, we know of nearly 100 extra-judicial killings of Cubans without any due process, which all of us now take for granted. Thousands more languished in internment camps, especially those he considered deviants: dissidents, opposition voices and homosexuals. Many of them died.
Guevara was not shy about his heinous crimes.
In New York in December 1964, while attending a meeting at the United Nations, he famously declared: “We have executed, we are executing and we will continue to execute.”
During the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, Guevara expressed support for unleashing nuclear war with the United States and was reportedly furious when the Soviet Union withdrew the offensive weapons later that autumn after the crisis was defused.
Apparently, the millions of Cuban, Russian and American lives that would have been lost as a result of an exchange of nuclear forces were a price he was willing to pay for what he termed “a better world.”
In the early years of the Castro regime, Guevara forcefully advocated for eliminating the rights of assembly, due process, free speech and free press, replacing these cherished entitlements with isolation, injustice, terror and death.
As the chief of Cuba’s Central Bank, Guevara precipitated the downward spiral of the Cuban economy, taking Cuba from boasting the highest per capita income in the region to having one of the lowest in the span of a few years.
Yet the legacy of Guevara in film and art rarely depicts his crimes against humanity.
Instead, we are routinely presented with compassionate portrayals and iconic images that conceal the hatred and violence of the real Che Guevara. His life has been romanticized into a story of youthful revolt and impassioned coming of age.
The image has spread the myth of Guevara around the world, and the proposed monument in Galway will only serve to further nurture the myth.
Advocates of the memorial hope to celebrate the town’s connection with a so-called freedom fighter. Instead, they are declaring their affiliation with a mass murderer.
Galway’s beautiful beaches and vibrant arts festival will be marred with a memorial to a man who wished to end their way of life and violently replace it with tyranny.
Celebrating Che Guevara glorifies oppressors and weakens democracies around the world. Already under threat from the regimes of Chavez in Venezuela, Ortega in Nicaragua, Correa in Ecuador, Morales in Bolivia and the Castro brothers in Cuba, democracy in Latin America must instead be encouraged and protected.
It is my hope that the council of Galway rejects the proposal. We should honor the prisoners of conscience and other victims who have perished for the cause of human rights and liberty — not those, such as Guevara, who wished to see it destroyed.
The democratically elected council in Galway can ignore the objections of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, but it cannot ignore the truth of history. The planned monument only spreads the myth of Guevara, and rewrites a disturbing history that must not be forgotten.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.