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Totalitarian Chic

Following this post and subsequent comments, here are some brief extracts from Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s article on the improbable “social justice” icon, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

“It is customary for followers of a cult not to know the real life story of their hero, the historical truth. It is not surprising that Guevara’s contemporary followers, his new post-communist admirers, also delude themselves by clinging to a myth - except the young Argentines who have come up with an expression that rhymes perfectly in Spanish: ‘Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué,’ or ‘I have a Che T-shirt and I don’t know why.’”

On killing and boredom:

“Guevara might have been enamoured of his own death, but he was much more enamoured of other people’s deaths. In April 1967, speaking from experience, he summed up his homicidal idea of justice in his Message to the Tricontinental: ‘Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine’... In a letter to his mother in 1954, written in Guatemala, where he witnessed the overthrow of the revolutionary government of Jacobo Arbenz, he wrote: ‘It was all a lot of fun, what with the bombs, speeches, and other distractions to break the monotony I was living in’...”

On vanity economics:

“His stint as head of the National Bank, during which he printed bills signed ‘Che’, has been summarized by his deputy, Ernesto Betancourt: ‘[He] was ignorant of the most elementary economic principles.’ Guevara’s powers of perception regarding the world economy were famously expressed in 1961, at a hemispheric conference in Uruguay, where he predicted a 10 percent rate of growth for Cuba ‘without the slightest fear,’ and, by 1980, a per capita income greater than that of ‘the U.S. today.’ In fact, by 1997, the thirtieth anniversary of his death, Cubans were dieting on a ration of five pounds of rice and one pound of beans per month; four ounces of meat twice a year; four ounces of soybean paste per week; and four eggs per month.”

Carlos Santana, please take note.

Read the whole shebang. Alvaro Vargas Llosa is the author of The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty.   

More. Related. Some true believers. (H/T, Daimnation!)



David, you might be interested in this article ("Return of the Idiot") by Vargas Llosa, too:

It's about the resurgence of strong-man leftism in Latin America and the uncritical enthusiasm Western lefties show for it. I highly recommend Vargas Llosa's book, "Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot" (written with Carlos Alberto Montaner and the excellently named Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza). It's an entertaining introduction to the basket-case politics of Latin America, but also serves as a good guide to the thinking of North American and Western European idiots, too.



Much appreciated. I recently saw John Pilger’s fanciful and faintly nauseating piece on Hugo Chavez. Loving the brute is, it seems, a popular pastime - for the Greater Good, of course. This urge to sanitise and excuse totalitarian figures makes little sense in rational terms, or in terms of basic self-defence, but it may appeal to some other, less obvious, urge. As demonstrated so vividly by the disgusting Robert Fisk.


I see that the evil Mr. Chavez is up to more of his disgusting tricks:

Bastard. And the mush-brained socialist is driving the Venezuelan economy into the ground:

When will the Americans liberate his suffering people and relieve his fearful neighbours? How long, Lord....?


Dr Dawg,

You do like your mischief and it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly how serious you’re being. But (as I suspect you know), I was referring to Pilger’s description of Chavez as a “social democrat.” I’m guessing those democratic credentials include his own self-declared “continuous re-election”, his closure of RCTV as an “enemy of the Motherland” (despite a majority of “the people” wishing otherwise), his bizarre anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and his disassembly of an independent judiciary, along with his less charitable approach to a free press, or to criticism of any kind. I won’t linger on charming details like the televised musical eulogies to The Great Leader.

But, hey, for the Greater Good. What could possibly go wrong…?



You're better than this.

"Continuous re-election?" You mean, abolishing term limits? Why, that means that both Canada and the UK are dictatorships too. Have any of the elections that keep Chavez in office been characterized by fraud? To the despair of his enemies, they have not. And he's more popular than ever.

He keeps winning; and, when a cack-handed plot to oust him was overcome, where was the bloodbath? A Supreme Court stacked at the time with his political enemies declared that the coup plotters were not guilty of anything. Chavez, the brute, said he'd have to live with that.

RCTV? The cheering supporters of the Keystone Koup? Well, let me ask you this. If a private network in Britain had supported a coup attempt against the government, how long would it keep broadcasting after the coup was put down?

Anti-Semitism? Utter balderdash, with all due respect. One has to be careful with that kind of charge. You are, no doubt, referring to his speech about the rich elites of history, such as those who wanted Christ dead, and went on to talk about the enemies of Bolivar and such. I have the speech in the original Spanish if you would like to see it. Someone said that the reference to rich elites in it must refer to the Joooos, left out the part about Bolivar, and the "story" exploded from there--or, rather, was a bit of a damp squib. Chavez actually expelled an economic crank (Ceresole) from Venezuela for anti-Semitism.

The press and electronic media, mostly hostile to Chavez, continue. One has to look a little further afield for bloodstained, anti-democratic tyrants.


Dr Dawg,

“You're better than this.”

Your knack for being patronising is charming, as ever. Perhaps you’re a fan of the Great Man. If so, there’s no arguing with that, I fear.

I think it was London’s leftist mayor, Ken Livingstone, who referred to Chavez as “a beacon of democracy.” A more realistic description was offered by Oliver Kamm: “Chavez is not a dictator, but he is an authoritarian populist who has arrogated power to the office of president, hamstrung the judiciary, bypassed parliamentary government, curbed political rights and lauded Robert Mugabe.”

I don’t have my notes to hand, and Chavez isn’t really the subject of this thread, but if you want to browse more critical perspectives from reputable left-leaning blogs, I’d recommend Oliver’s site or Harry’s Place, both of which are likely to have passed comment more than once and probably in detail. And, again, what interests me is the readiness with which Pilger and others will dismiss statements of public record, including Chavez’ own words, as nefarious “attempts to discredit” the Great Man, while treading very careful around the particulars.

And hence my reference to “other, less obvious, urges.”



I'm not usually patronizing. I apologize. But I did find your comments on Chavez somewhat less intellectually critical than much of your commentary on other subjects--commentary that keeps me coming back here.

I had meant to post this reference on the RCTV matter:

I enjoyed Kamm's comment: "Chavez is not a dictator, but he is an authoritarian populist who has arrogated power to the office of president, hamstrung the judiciary, bypassed parliamentary government, curbed political rights and lauded Robert Mugabe."

With the obvious exception of lauding Mugabe, this would describe, with some precision, the presidency of George W. Bush.


Dr Dawg,

Yes, I thought Bush would get a mention; it was only a matter of time. Maybe we should revisit this subject in five years or so.

And I should point out that while your readiness to patronise is not your most endearing quality, I do, however, very much appreciate your perseverance, often against multiple opponents. On a good day, it’s possible to learn from such lengthy exchanges and the turns they take. What really irks are the hit-and-run posters who just want to express their ill-feeling, badly, without making it clear why they’re so miffed. Those guys, they *really* piss me off. :)


I wonder if Dr Dawg would be in favour of Bush announcing legislation ending term limits for Presidents...


Truth is, I've never been sure where I stood on term limits. The arguments on both sides of this issue seem about evenly weighted. It came up from time to time in my union, and I simply couldn't take a position--which is unusual for me. :)

But my earlier point was that Chavez's abolition of term limits was much ballyhooed as anti-democratic in the Western press. By itself, that argument seems a little flabby.


As a brief aside... So much seems to have been hung upon despising Bush that I’ve wondered what a large part of the left will do when he’s out of office and nodding quietly in some retirement home. I’m certainly not saying there aren’t good reasons to dislike the man and his policies – I’m no great fan myself – but hating Bush so vehemently, which has become a defining feature of so many on the left, isn’t much of a policy or a practical alternative. And one has to ask why the Democrats couldn’t find a more appealing candidate than a man who’s apparently so despised.

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