Rather than a Christian romantic, Guevara was a ruthless and dogmatic Marxist, who stood not for liberation but for a new tyranny. In the Sierra Maestra, he shot those suspected of treachery; in victory, Mr Castro placed him in charge of the firing squads that executed “counter-revolutionaries”; as minister of industries, Guevara advocated expropriation down to the last farm and shop. His exhortation to guerrilla warfare, irrespective of political circumstance, lured thousands of idealistic Latin Americans to their deaths, helped to create brutal dictatorships and delayed the achievement of democracy.
Sadly, Guevara's example is invoked not just by teenagers but by some Latin American governments. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez wants to create the guevarista “new man” (see article), just when Cuba is having second thoughts. As Jorge Castañeda, one of Guevara's biographers, notes, Che's lingering influence has retarded the emergence of a modern, democratic left in parts of Latin America. Sadly, most of those who buy the T-shirt neither know nor care.
On deaf ears, indeed.