A look at the true legacy of Che Gue­vara 50 years af­ter his death

The Mercury - - BACKGROUND & ANALYSIS - Jorge Castañeda Com­pañero: The Life and Death of Che Gue­vara.

ON OC­TO­BER 14 a truck car­ry­ing about two tons of home-made ex­plo­sives blew up near Zoobe Junc­tion, one of the busiest streets in Mo­gadishu, the Somali cap­i­tal. More than 400 peo­ple were killed – nearly 150 of them burnt beyond recog­ni­tion – and hun­dreds wounded. Fam­i­lies wan­dered for hours search­ing for their loved ones in the rub­ble.

Hun­dreds of cit­i­zens lined up at hos­pi­tals for hours to do­nate blood. Doc­tors, nurses and am­bu­lance driv­ers did all they could to res­cue the wounded. Griev­ing and an­gry So­ma­lis gath­ered on Zoobe Junc­tion blamed Is­lamist al-Shabaab mil­i­tants for the atroc­ity. Lead­ers from Turkey, the US, Bri­tain, Canada, France and the UN con­demned the at­tack.

But con­dem­na­tion isn’t go­ing to help So­ma­lia bat­tle al-Shabaab and its bomb mak­ers. To de­feat al-Shabaab ter­ror­ism, So­ma­lia re­quires ex­per­tise and equip­ment that it lacks, and it needs a new par­a­digm of co-op­er­a­tion be­tween Somali se­cu­rity ser­vices and our in­ter­na­tional part­ners.

There is no doubt about al-Shabaab, which has links with al-Qaeda, be­ing the per­pe­tra­tor. Bomb­ings with home-made ex­plo­sives are a com­mon tac­tic for th­ese mil­i­tants in their bat­tle with the Somali gov­ern­ment.

The toll in the bomb­ing was so high, how­ever, that al-Shabaab did not dare to claim re­spon­si­bil­ity and ad­mit its mur­der­ous con­duct even to its own mem­bers and sym­pa­this­ers.

A few years ago, al-Shabaab con­trolled al­most all of south­ern So­ma­lia – about half of the coun­try. Since then, Somali and African Union forces have ex­pelled al-Shabaab from most ma­jor towns; Amer­i­can airstrikes and joint op­er­a­tions be­tween Somali and United States Spe­cial Forces have killed dozens of mil­i­tant lead­ers.

But al-Shabaab, which has about 8 000 fight­ers in its ranks, re­tains a pres­ence in ru­ral So­ma­lia, keep­ing many towns un­der an ef­fec­tive state of siege and dis­rupt­ing traf­fic along ma­jor roads.

The weapon of choice for al-Shabaab has been the im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice. It used such home­made bombs in 395 at­tacks last year, which killed 723 peo­ple and wounded more than 1 100 – an in­crease of 110% over 2015, when 265 at­tacks were re­ported.

Al-Shabaab also mag­ni­fied the po­tency of its weapons, in­creas­ing the av­er­age size of bombs from 5kg to 40kg, and the size of the ex­plo­sive charges in sui­cide ve­hi­cle-borne im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices (IED) from about 100kg to 200kg, to 800kg to 1 000kg from 2015 to last year.

The greater fre­quency and po­tency of bombs used by al-Shabaab have led to in­creased de­mand for ex­plo­sives and other com­po­nents. Where alShabaab mem­bers once re­lied on mil­i­tary-grade ex­plo­sives har­vested from land mines and ar­tillery shells, they have be­come in­creas­ingly adept at pre­par­ing home-made ex­plo­sives from fer­tiliser and other com­mer­cially avail­able prod­ucts.

To iden­tify and com­bat the bomb mak­ers, So­ma­lia needs to be able to use in­tel­li­gence from the crime scene: ex­plo­sives and ex­plo­sive residues, det­o­na­tors, com­po­nents, SIM cards, fin­ger­prints and DNA. Yet de­spite more than five years of ex­ter­nal sup­port, in early this year we had just four over­worked po­lice teams with no post-blast in­ves­ti­ga­tion kits, no foren­sic lab­o­ra­tory and just one bor­rowed de­vice for the ex­ploita­tion of cap­tured cell­phones.

So­ma­lia’s young gov­ern­ment is still strug­gling to pay reg­u­lar salaries for po­lice of­fi­cers and sol­diers, and has no re­al­is­tic prospect of train­ing and equip­ping spe­cialised bomb units from its own bud­get any time soon.

A grave short­age of jam­mers, ro­bots and other pro­tec­tive equip­ment means that th­ese teams of­ten op­er­ate at ex­treme risk to them­selves. Our in­tel­li­gence and anal­y­sis teams rely on 20th-cen­tury, offthe-shelf soft­ware plat­forms to in­ves­ti­gate.

We have been op­er­at­ing al­most com­pletely blind. In­ter­na­tional part­ners of­fered to pro­vide “tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance”, but their good in­ten­tions served to blind us even more: the ev­i­dence gath­ered from bomb­ing scenes is han­dled and re­moved by for­eign “men­tors” who treat in­tel­li­gence as a com­mod­ity rather than as a shared as­set in our bat­tle against a com­mon en­emy. Once taken away, it is rarely, if ever, re­turned.

Only frag­ments of post-blast in­ves­ti­ga­tions are shared with us; of­ten, we get no in­for­ma­tion at all. As a re­sult, we are still al­most en­tirely de­pen­dent on our for­eign friends, in­stead of ac­quir­ing the knowl­edge and skills to as­sume our share of the task. In­for­ma­tion shar­ing costs noth­ing, but for some rea­son, when it comes to IEDs that chiefly claim Somali lives, it ap­par­ently lies beyond the means of our in­ter­na­tional part­ners.

In May, So­ma­lia’s min­is­ter of in­ter­nal se­cu­rity as­signed high pri­or­ity to the de­tec­tion and dis­rup­tion of the bombers’ net­work and pro­duc­tion cells. The Na­tional In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity Agency, the agency that I head, was given the re­spon­si­bil­ity of analysing and ex­ploit­ing col­lected ev­i­dence in ter­ror­ist at­tacks, de­vel­op­ing a strat­egy to dis­rupt bomb­ing op­er­a­tions, and pre­vent­ing at­tacks.

We tight­ened the se­cu­rity cor­don around Mo­gadishu to curb the flow of fight­ers, weapons and ex­plo­sives. We iden­ti­fied the most com­mon bomb com­po­nents or “pre­cur­sors” im­ported com­mer­cially and ways in which we could re­strict or reg­u­late ac­cess to them.

At the same time, we ap­proached in­ter­na­tional part­ners, in­clud­ing the US, Bri­tain and the UN, for the train­ing and tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance that we lacked: to help us in de­vel­op­ing a ba­sic lab­o­ra­tory, a foren­sic unit com­posed of ex­plo­sives, chem­istry and elec­tron­ics spe­cial­ists, a joint Na­tional In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity Agency to pros­e­cute crim­i­nal cases, and a na­tional data­base and re­port­ing ca­pac­ity. We re­ceived no re­sponse.

We ap­pealed to our in­ter­na­tional part­ners to share all in­for­ma­tion and ev­i­dence that they gath­ered from bomb­ings in So­ma­lia, with the na­tional au­thor­i­ties. The si­lence was deafen­ing. Vi­tal in­for­ma­tion and ev­i­dence of crimes com­mit­ted on Somali soil con­tinue to be ex­ported and an­a­lysed abroad, deny­ing us the op­por­tu­nity to pro­tect our own cit­i­zens and to hold the per­pe­tra­tors to ac­count.

In Au­gust, my of­fice ap­proached the FBI for as­sis­tance on countering the IED threat in So­ma­lia.

The FBI’s Ter­ror­ist Ex­plo­sive De­vice Anal­y­sis Cen­ter is renowned for its ex­per­tise on road­side bombs. I re­quested a meet­ing to dis­cuss the threat, but re­ceived no re­ply.

This month’s bomb­ing in Mo­gadishu was a crime against the Somali peo­ple and a crime against hu­man­ity. But we have no way to as­sess the ev­i­dence, to ex­ploit the in­tel­li­gence and to build a case against those re­spon­si­ble. Such at­tacks are likely to con­tinue – not only in So­ma­lia, but also in other coun­tries where al-Shabaab op­er­ates.

We need help to en­sure that such car­nage does not hap­pen again.

To do that, we must not be afraid to con­front our col­lec­tive fail­ure to pre­vent this heinous at­tack.

We need more train­ing, bet­ter equip­ment and the ca­pac­ity to con­duct our own foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­side So­ma­lia.

We can­not any longer out­source our in­ves­ti­ga­tions and in­tel­li­gence anal­y­sis to pri­vate con­trac­tors driven by the profit mo­tive. We must ac­quire the means to ex­ploit in­tel­li­gence and ev­i­dence our­selves, to pros­e­cute the crim­i­nals in Somali courts and to de­velop a Somali-owned strat­egy to de­feat this en­emy. We owe it to the vic­tims of Mo­gadishu. – The New York Times

San­balooshe is the direc­tor-gen­eral of So­ma­lia’s Na­tional In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity Agency

MEX­ICO CITY: Ernesto Che Gue­vara died 50 years ago in the wilds of Bo­livia, near Val­le­grande. He was cap­tured in Que­brada del Yuro, a bar­ren ravine close to the town of La Higuera, where he spent his last night in a small school­house, which is still there. The fol­low­ing morn­ing he was ex­e­cuted, on the or­ders of the Bo­li­vian pres­i­dent and the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency of­fi­cer present dur­ing his in­ter­ro­ga­tion.

His body was flown to Val­le­grande, where it was ex­hib­ited to the press. That was when the iconic pho­to­graph of a Christ-like Gue­vara was taken and made fa­mous, along with the photo Al­berto Korda shot in Ha­vana in 1960, of Gue­vara with his starred beret. It ap­pears to­day on mil­lions of T-shirts and posters all over the world – a world he would not recog­nise.

Half a cen­tury since his death, Gue­vara’s legacy and rel­e­vance is prac­ti­cally nil, in terms of his as­pi­ra­tions and achieve­ments. He be­came a sym­bol of his­tor­i­cal changes that he did not iden­tify with, that he did not fight for and that only came of age af­ter his death. He is re­mem­bered far more for the events that took place less than a year af­ter he per­ished, when in 1968 hun­dreds of thou­sands of young peo­ple took to the streets in dozens of cap­i­tals and uni­ver­si­ties across the globe and changed the way they, their chil­dren and to­day their grand­chil­dren live.

Gue­vara, an Ar­gen­tine doc­tor, stood for var­i­ous ideas and causes. All failed or were dis­carded. Although ini­tially he was a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate of the young Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion’s al­liance with the Soviet Union, by the mid-1960s he be­came a critic of the cru­cial role Moscow was play­ing in Cuba. That mat­tered lit­tle. By July 1967, when the then-premier Alexei Kosy­gin vis­ited Ha­vana, Fidel Cas­tro had aligned his regime un­con­di­tion­ally with the USSR.

In Au­gust 1968, Cas­tro sup­ported the Soviet in­va­sion of Cze­choslo­vakia, and the end of the Prague Spring. Sim­i­larly, Gue­vara op­posed Cuba’s for­mer de­pen­dence on sugar cane. But by 1970, Cas­tro had com­mit­ted his coun­try to pro­duc­ing 10 mil­lion tons of sugar for the Soviet Union, dis­rupt­ing the is­land econ­omy, yet nonethe­less fail­ing to achieve his goal.

Gue­vara also fought for the cre­ation of a “new man” un­der so­cial­ism in Cuba, and against the vices of the for­mer regime, cen­tred on tourism, pros­ti­tu­tion and gam­bling. Lit­tle did he know that not only would there be no new man in Cuba but also, nearly 60 years af­ter the rev­o­lu­tion, one of Cuba’s main sources of in­come con­tin­ues to be tourism.

Wide­spread pros­ti­tu­tion has en­dured for half a cen­tury, at lev­els not dis­sim­i­lar to those dur­ing the Batista era, and thou­sands of Cubans try to leave the is­land nearly every day, any way they can.

Gue­vara was known for seek­ing to spread the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion. He sought to do so as an in­sight­ful, but ul­ti­mately mis­taken ob­server and par­tic­i­pant in what ac­tu­ally oc­curred in the Sierra Maes­tra: rev­o­lu­tion through the bar­rel of a gun. He preached the armed strug­gle to young en­thu­si­asts across Latin Amer­ica and in Africa; he gave his life for it, and they lost theirs.

Un­til 1979 in Nicaragua, not one of the fires he or Cas­tro tried to light through­out the re­gion sur­vived, let alone burst into flames. The re­sults were not glo­ri­ous snap­shots of the bar­bu­dos en­ter­ing Ha­vana in Jan­uary 1959, but rather mil­i­tary coups, tor­ture, dis­ap­pear­ances and thou­sands of stu­dent lives lost in vain.

When the Left fi­nally reached power in many Latin Amer­i­can na­tions, its path and fea­tures did not at all re­sem­ble Gue­vara’s vi­sion. Gifted labour union and in­dige­nous lead­ers, charis­matic in­tel­lec­tu­als, schem­ing mil­i­tary of­fi­cers and per­sis­tent may­ors and leg­is­la­tors made their way grad­u­ally up the ranks of their po­lit­i­cal par­ties, their elec­toral sys­tems and their coun­tries’ gov­ern­ments.

Once in of­fice, they did not gov­ern like Gue­vara would have wished. They were ev­ery­thing but ide­al­is­tic rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies: so­cial-demo­cratic re­form­ers, mod­er­ate glob­al­ists, na­tion­al­ist dem­a­gogues, cor­rupt cou­ples or dy­nas­ties and would-be dic­ta­tors. Some ex­tracted mil­lions of their coun­try­men from poverty and in­equal­ity. Oth­ers strength­ened demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. Oth­ers plunged their coun­try­men into des­ti­tu­tion and vi­o­lence as in Venezuela.

But the mil­lions of young peo­ple ev­ery­where who wear Gue­vara’s ef­figy on their chest are a prod­uct of what he came to sym­bol­ise. The stu­dents who took to the streets just months af­ter his death were al­ready car­ry­ing posters and ban­ners of the mar­tyred rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

They, un­like their hero, did largely change the world, though ob­vi­ously not in the man­ner he would have hoped. Theirs was an ex­is­ten­tial, cul­tural, gen­er­a­tional and anti-war re­bel­lion that laid the ground­work for the free­doms we en­joy to­day, at least in the Western na­tions, Latin Amer­ica and parts of Asia.

Women’s free­dom to use their bod­ies as they see fit and to fight back against abuses; the free­dom for peo­ple of colour to elect who they wish and fight racism where it shows its face; the free­dom for univer­sity stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate in the de­sign and ex­e­cu­tion of ed­u­ca­tional plans; the ex­pand­ing pos­si­bil­ity of peo­ple with dif­fer­ent sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions to come out from the shad­ows: all th­ese joys of life in the 21st cen­tury stem from those years in the 1960s.

Gue­vara be­came a cul­tural icon, not a po­lit­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal one. To­day’s world is an enor­mously bet­ter one than that in which the gen­er­a­tion that fol­lowed him grew up. It is far less poor, less un­equal and far more tol­er­ant, di­verse and en­light­ened.

So which Gue­vara should we re­call? The au­to­crat who ex­e­cuted hun­dreds of Batista col­lab­o­ra­tors out­side Ha­vana in 1959? The di­shev­elled guer­rillero cap­tured in Bo­livia? The war­rior whose ir­rev­er­ence is a sym­bol all over the world? Or the un­will­ing icon of the cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion of 1968, to which we owe the lives we live to­day? He would have pre­ferred be­ing re­mem­bered as the mar­tyred rev­o­lu­tion­ary, but those who sur­vive him to­day can only thank him, de­spite him­self, for be­com­ing the cul­tural icon he did. That is his legacy, rel­e­vance and glory. – The New York Times

Castañeda, Mex­ico’s for­eign min­is­ter from 2000 to 2003, is a pro­fes­sor at New York Univer­sity and the au­thor of


Somali se­cu­rity forces and oth­ers search for bod­ies near de­stroyed build­ings at the scene of the Oc­to­ber 14 blast in Mo­gadishu, So­ma­lia. More than 400 peo­ple were killed – nearly 150 of them burnt beyond recog­ni­tion – and hun­dreds wounded.

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