With an impeccable instinct for venerating murderous thugs, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has now added to its Memory of the World Register the writings of Cuba’s Ernesto “Che” Guevara. That means that the documents generated by Che during his bloody career will now be treated as historical treasures, protected and cared for with the help of UNESCO. What’s next? The teachings of Stalin and Pol Pot?
For those who know nothing about Che except that he wore a beret, smoked cigars and continues to turn up as a splash of radical chic on t-shirts and adolescent wall posters, UNESCO’s move might sound reasonable. But if you bother to learn anything about who Che really was, or what he did, that impression curdles fast. Writing on Slate in 2004, author Paul Berman gave an excellent summary of Che’s character and career:
Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a 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.
Berman went on to say, “The modern-day cult of Che blinds us not just to the past but also to the present … I wonder if people who stand up to cheer a hagiography of Che Guevara … will ever give a damn about the oppressed people of Cuba — will ever lift a finger on behalf of the Cuban liberals and dissidents.”
Well, not at UNESCO they won’t. Che’s works were nominated for UNESCO’s special attentions by Cuba and Bolivia, and to be added to the UNESCO Register the nomination had to be endorsed by UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova. You might suppose that as a former Bulgarian government functionary, from the days when Bulgaria orbited the Soviet Union, Bokova would be aware of the horrors behind Che’s radical “cool.” But Bokova appears to suffer from a longstanding infatuation with Cuba’s repressive regime. Just last November she dropped by Havana to sing the praises of Cuba’s educational system — either oblivious or indifferent to the censorship and dreary ideological indoctrination that are the hallmarks of Cuban schooling.
To endorse the Cuban-Bolivian nomination of Che’s papers for UNESCO enrollment, Bokova had to wade through such blathering propaganda as the following excerpts from the nomination form:
Ernesto Che Guevara de la Serna (1928-1967) embodies an outstanding combination of action and ideas forever inscribed in the political thinking of Latin America. … His contribution to revolutionary action and theory … enabled him to inject Marxist theory with creative, anti-dogmatic and humanistic elements … a new emancipatory ideal. … His works and his ethical symbology are of permanent value to all alternative processes of change that human kind may undertake.
The nomination goes on in this vein for 14 pages. Perhaps we should give Bokova the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that in her general enthusiasm for the Cuban regime she simply didn’t bother to wade through this paeon to the totalitarian founder of Cuba’s labor camps before endorsing it. Nonetheless, one might wish for a UN cultural organization endowed with at least some hint of a moral compass.
But this is the real world UNESCO, the one that seats the likes of Cuba, Syria, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China and Russia on its executive board, and on top of that seats Syria on its main policy committee dealing with human rights (a committee with the Kafkaesque name of the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations).
To this scene, let us add a note that since UNESCO’s General Conference over-rode U.S. objections in 2011 and admitted the Palestinian Authority to full membership, the U.S. government has been required by U.S. law to withhold funding from UNESCO. Regardless of U.S. law, UNESCO has been lobbying Washington for the money, and the Obama administration has been trying to persuade Congress to waive America’s own law in order to resume bankrolling UNESCO — proposing a top-up of more than $233 million in U.S. taxpayer money to this organization. How about sticking to U.S. law, and if UNESCO, from its palatial Paris headquarters, wants to glorify Che Guevara, then let Cuba, Bolivia and their ideologically ruinous cohorts come up with the dough.