UNESCO's Grotesque Embrace of Che Guevara

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.