by Paul Buhle
Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith: Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away with Murder. Introduction by Ricardo Alarcon. New York: OR Books, November 2011, ISBN 978-1-935928-49-2, paperback, 195 pages; ISBN 978-1-935928-50-8, ebook.
(Swans - April 9, 2012) It was never exactly a secret that the assassination (or execution, properly speaking) of a captured Che Guevara, in Bolivia, October 9, 1967, was done with the approval of the US State Department and with the probable participation of the CIA. But like so many other incidents of this kind, denial remained for a long time the first and most normal form of evasion. At last, through the determined efforts of the two writers know best for their connections with the Center for Constitutional Rights, suspicions can be confirmed. As the authors state blankly, "the US government, particularly its Central Intelligence Agency, had Che murdered, having secured the participation of its Bolivian client state." (p.25).
We might regard this as not much more than the other shoe falling. That would be, however, an underestimation of the value of the document. More than a hundred pages is devoted to reproduced copies of the FOIA findings, redacted severely, but not enough to disguise the crimes committed and the rationale for committing them.
For Che specialists, and for any of us seeking to grasp the fine points of assassinations by bomb, poison, or drone, this is of enduring significance. Consulting with US and Cuban researchers, working through the increasingly-available documentation, the two authors have done something invaluable, and not only in regard to the assassination itself. The aftereffects of the Cuban Revolution, one successful overthrow followed by successful repression, actually cast the die for the Vietnam era to follow. Unlike Vietnamese leaders who stayed with their tasks at home (faced with massive ecological damage, hundreds of thousands of dead, and so forth, not to mention integration of South into North or both into a single nation), Che ventured far, a revolutionary spirit of the time. He had made clear to Fidel, long before, that nothing could stop him in his global quest. His adventure ended with political murder, but he bequeathed the spirit to all of us, and to our successors in the left.
The most obvious details, useful for the young reader in particular, are likely to concern the documentation of assassination plots on Castro and Che, plots denied for decades by the US State Department. In this case, the authors suggest with solid evidence, the CIA probably did not inform the State Department or Lyndon Johnson, thus preserving "deniability." No matter: a government that approved massive brutality across the globe had no "need to know" the precise details. The facts were clear to them, and are now clear to us all.
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About the Author
Paul Buhle retired from college teaching to produce radical comics fulltime. His latest include Studs Terkel's Working, A Graphic Adaptation [reviewed in these pages], The Beats, A People's History of the American Empire (aka an adaptation of Howard Zinn's classic) and a pictorial biography of his childhood hero, The Art of Harvey Kurtzman. His last production (2011) is Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & the New Land, edited with Harvey Pekar, and reviewed in these pages. (back)