Ireland’s Che Guevara

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | October 9, 2017 0

50 years ago today, Che Guevara was murdered by Bolivian soldiers in the presence of CIA operatives.

One CIA agent at the time commented that: “There was no person more feared by the company (CIA) than Che Guevara because he had the capacity and charisma necessary to direct the struggle against the political repression of the traditional hierarchies in power in the countries of Latin America.” His last words, moments before he was killed, were: “I know you are here to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.” The man may be dead but, “la lucha continua” and Che remains a potent symbol for everyone fighting against oppression and injustice. He faced his death safe in the knowledge of the immortality of the Revolution – his ideas are alive. Even today, for all its faults exacerbated by the illegal US Boycott contrary to International Law and UN Resolutions, Cuba remains a beacon in healthcare, literacy and equality in the Americas with its citizens living longer, healthier lives than those in the United States.

To commemorate his death and Irish connection An Post, the Irish Postal Service has put Che on the €1 stamp which features a famous image of Guevara, a leading figure in the Cuban revolution, by Dublin artist Jim Fitzpatrick. The iconic two-tone portrait of Che Guevara was created in 1968 and based on a photo by Alberto Korda. Designed by Red&Grey, the stamp is based on Mr Fitzpatrick’s artwork, which appears on t-shirts, posters, badges and clothing worldwide and is now rated among the world’s top 10 most iconic images. It is available from main post offices, from the stamp counters at Dublin’s GPO or online at

Fitzpatrick, believe it or not, met Guevara in a bar in Kilkee back in 1962. The artist had a summer job, and Guevara’s flight was fog-bound in Shannon. “I recognised him immediately,” he has said. “I was only about 16; I wasn’t expecting to speak with Che Guevara. I asked him vaguely about his roots, because he told me his granny was Irish. His great-granny, Isabel, was from Galway, but he told me his ancestors were from Cork. I am pretty sure that’s what he said.”

Later, when Guevara was killed in Bolivia, Fitzpatrick came across a photo that Korda, Fidel Castro’s “official” photographer, had taken of him. Using a process known as “line drop”, he outlined Guevara in black, and put the image onto a red ground. The yellow star he coloured in with a felt-tipped pen. Fitzpatrick never wanted money for the poster, which he distributed through a network of friends around the world. “It would be like taking blood money. I just wanted to make sure he was not forgotten.”

Born in Argentina, Guevara helped Fidel Castro overthrow the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. His father was Ernesto Guevara Lynch, a civil engineer of Irish descent. A quote from Ernesto, “in my son’s veins flowed the blood of Irish rebels,” features on a cover envelope to accompany the stamp. His ancestor Patricio (Patrick) Lynch was born in Co. Galway.

It has not taken long for Irish reactionaries to crawl out of the woodwork and make common cause with that most reactionary rump, the refugees and boat people indulged by America, the Cuban Exiles. Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, a prominent Cuban-American journalist described An Post’s decision to feature Guevara on their latest stamp as “objectionable”.

Ninoska Perez of Miami 710 Radio said that Che Guevara was a “mass murderer” and that Ireland’s latest stamp was “offensive” to those affected by his actions. “It doesn’t matter that it’s an image created by an artist, it’s the image of a mass murderer,” she said. “Every time that I see someone with a t-shirt or that I see a country put his face on a stamp, I think what did he do to deserve this? What have been his achievements? Ireland’s latest stamp also attracted widespread condemnation on social media, with Guevara again labelled a “mass murderer”.

Independent politician Paddy Manning tweeted: “An Post, the Irish postal service, has issued a stamp of mass murdering Argentinian Marxist, Che Guevara. Ask your local PO not to stock it.” While Conservative councillor Patrick Rochford wrote: “Absolutely disgraceful that An Post’s are having a Che Guevara stamp honouring a mass murderer.”

And what of Che’s death and legacy? Of course, the Americans have long denied responsibility for the killing – a claim neatly dismantled by American lawyers Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith in their book “Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away with Murder”.  Cuban-American CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, present at Guevara’s demise in the Bolivian hamlet of La Higuera, has helped promote the US line that the fatal decision was all the Bolivians’ doing.

Rodriguez has, furthermore, vociferously objected to the romanticisation of a man he says was nothing more than “an assassin” who “enjoyed killing people” – a pretty rich allegation coming from someone who also volunteered to assassinate Fidel Castro and who, Ratner and Smith note, has referred to the Dominican Republic’s former blood-drenched dictator Rafael Trujillo as a “so-called tyrant”. Yet the “assassin” card continues to be played by plenty of folks, many of them with dodgy right-wing track records.

At the time of Guevara’s murder, for example, the US was engaged in a spectacularly bloody affair known as the Vietnam War, in which up to several million people were ultimately eliminated. As if that weren’t enough, The New Yorker reported last year that “[s]ince the end of the war, in 1975, more than forty thousand Vietnamese have been killed by U.X.O. [unexploded ordnance]”.

It’s worth emphasising, too, that Guevara’s abhorrence of Yankee imperialism didn’t materialise out of nowhere. He personally witnessed the 1954 CIA coup in Guatemala against the democratically elected president, who had stepped on the toes of the US banana company, United Fruit, and other enemies of Guatemalan democracy. In the ensuing decades-long civil war – in which the US, as usual played, no minor role – some 200,000 people were massacred.

In a final letter Guevara wrote to his children, to be given to them in the event he was killed, he advised: “Remember that the Revolution is what is important and that each one of us, on our own, is worthless.”

Somehow I think Che’s legacy is safe from the nattering Nabobs of reaction be they unedifying Cuban exiles or Irish Parish Pump Politicians. Well done to An Post for rightly commemorating both Che and Jim Fitzpatrick, an important and influential Irish Artist.

As for Che If he was alive today and stopping over in Shannon airport he would be most likely to say “Viva la revolución!” and least likely to say “The financial markets will sort everything out.”

The Skibbereen Eagle

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