May 15, 2010
Che and the WorkersBy Humberto Fontova
The hero of so many leftists was not really what they think him to be. A May Day march without Che Guevara posters and Mexican flags is like a fish with a bicycle. We observed the bemusing spectacle two weeks ago. Now it's time to reflect.
Some marchers, apparently wracked with guilt between the primacy of the two symbols , devised a handy modus vivendi for their tortured consciences.
It seemed that few groups of Mexican demonstrators forget to glorify the man on record (June 1956) as dismissing Mexicans en masse as "a rabble of illiterate Indians." In 1956, while residing in Mexico and training with the Castro brothers for their "invasion" of Cuba, Che Guevara sneered at his hosts and the "rabble" of Mexican citizens surrounding the training camp in those exact words. So recalls one of Che's military trainers of the time, the Cuban (but non-commie) Miguel Sanchez.
How many "Chicano activists" know this?
Labor groups were also prominent on May Day with their Che Guevara regalia. "The workers movement has no borders," proclaimed their abundant posters.
But labor groups cursed by fate to attempt activism under the regime co-founded by Che Guevara viewed the matter somewhat differently. Don't look for this on NPR or The History Channel, much less in your college textbooks, but among the first, the most militant, and the most widespread opposition groups to the Stalinism Ernesto "Che" Guevara (who often cheekily signed his named as "Stalin II") imposed on Cuba came from Cuban labor organizations.
And who can blame them? Here's a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) report on Cuba circa 1957: "One feature of the Cuban social structure is a large middle class," it starts. "Cuban workers are more unionized (proportional to the population) than U.S. workers. The average wage for an 8-hour day in Cuba in 1957 is higher than for workers in Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany. Cuban labor receives 66.6 per cent of gross national income. In the U.S. the figure is 70 per cent, in Switzerland 64 per cent. 44 per cent of Cubans are covered by Social legislation, a higher percentage than in the U.S."
In 1958, Cuba had a higher per capita income than Austria or Japan. Cuban industrial workers had the eighth-highest wages in the world. In the 1950s, Cuban stevedores earned more per hour than their counterparts in New Orleans and San Francisco.
Thousands of these took up arms against Che Guevara. The MRP (Movimiento Revolucionario del Pueblo) was among these Cuban resistance groups of mostly laborers. But don't take it from me. Here's how the FBI and CIA described them: "Heavily weighted labor membership, with socialistic leanings. Aimed for Castro overthrow from within; advocated nationalization of economy, agrarian reform, utopian social reforms."
In a TV speech on June 26, 1961, when Che Guevara was Cuba's "Minister of Industries," he proclaimed: "The Cuban workers have to start being used to live in a collectivist regimen, and by no means can they go on strike."
This "no strike" provision was unacceptable to Cuban laborers -- many of whom took up arms in protest. One of these was a 20-year-old boy named Tony Chao Flores, who was promptly captured by Che's goons. Within weeks, Che Guevara saw to it that Tony be bound to the execution stake.
But Tony Chao hobbled to it on crutches. He'd taken seventeen bullets from the Castroites' Czech machine guns during the firefight preceding his capture. On the way to the execution stake, Tony was forced to hobble down some cobblestone stairs. Another Cuban laborer imprisoned by Che watched the process from his prison cell. "I'll never understand how Tony survived that beating" recalls eyewitness and former political prisoner Hiram Gonzalez, who belonged to the MRP.
They dragged Tony from the cell and started pushing him to the firing-squad yard. But Tony fell and tumbled down the long row of steps. He finally lay on the cobblestones at the bottom, writhing and grimacing. One of Tony's bullet-riddled legs had been amputated at the hospital; the other was gangrened and covered in pus. The Castroite guards cackled as they moved in to gag Tony with their tape.
Tony watched them approach while balling his good hand into a fist. Then, as the first Red reached him, BASH! right across his eyes.
The crippled Tony was almost killed in the kicking, punching, gun-bashing melee, but finally his captors stood off, panting and rubbing their scrapes and bruises. They'd managed to tape the battered boy's mouth, but Tony pushed the guards away before they could bind his hands. Their Castroite commander nodded, motioning for them to back off.
Now Tony started crawling toward the splintered and blood-spattered execution stake about fifty yards away, pushing and dragging himself with his hands as his stump of a leg left a trail of blood on the grass. As he neared the stake, he'd stop and start pounding himself in the chest. His Castroite executioners seemed perplexed. The crippled boy was trying to say something. But his message was muzzled by the gag Benicio del Toro's idol made obligatory for his thousands of execution victims.
Tony's blazing eyes and grimace said enough. But no one could understand the boy's mumblings. Tony kept pushing himself, shutting his eyes tightly from the agony of the effort. His executioners shuffled nervously, raised their rifles, lowered them. They looked towards their commander, who shrugged. Finally Tony reached up to his face and ripped off the tape Benicio del Toro's pin-up boy required for his murder victims.
The 20-year-old freedom-fighter's voice boomed out. "Shoot me right here!" roared Tony at his gaping Castroite executioners. His voice thundered and his head bobbed with the effort. "Right in the chest!" Tony yelled. "Like a man!" Tony stopped and ripped open his shirt, pounding his chest and grimacing as his gallant executioners gaped and shuffled. "Right here!"
On his last day alive, Tony had received a letter in jail from his mother. "My dear son," she counseled. "How often I'd warned you not to get involved in these things. But I knew my pleas were in vain. You always demanded your freedom, Tony, even as a little boy. So I knew you'd never stand for communism. Well, Castro and Che finally caught you. Son, I love you with all my heart. My life is now shattered and will never be the same, but the only thing left now, Tony ... is to die like a man."
"¡Fuego!" Che's lackey yelled the command, and the bullets shattered Tony's crippled body, just as he'd reached the stake, lifted himself, and stared resolutely at his murderers. But Che's firing squads usually murdered a hero who was standing. The legless Tony presented an awkward target. So some of the volley went wild and missed the youngster. Time for the coup de grâce.
Normally it's one .45 slug that shatters the skull. Hiram Gonzalez recalls that Tony required -- POW! POW! ... POW! -- three. Seems the executioners' hands were shaking pretty badly. But they finally managed. The man Time magazine hails among the "heroes and icons of the century" had another notch in his gun. Another enemy dispatched -- bound and gagged as usual.
Castro and Che were in their mid-30s when they murdered Tony. According to the authoritative Black Book of Communism, Castro and Che's firing squads riddled another 14,000 bound and gagged freedom-fighters. Many (perhaps most) of their murder victims were boys in their late teens and early 20s. Some were even younger.
Compare Tony's death to Guevara's capture: "Don't shoot!" whimpered the arch-assassin to his captors. "I'm Che! I'm worth more to you alive than dead!"
Then ask yourselves: Whose face belongs on T-shirts worn by youths who fancy themselves rebellious, freedom-loving, and brave? Who deserves a Hollywood movie?
Humberto Fontova is the author of four books, including Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant and Exposing the Real Che Guevara. Visit hfontova.com.