Oct. 9 marked 50 years since Ernesto “Che” Guevara was shot and killed in a CIA operation in Bolivia. A man remembered either as a socialist saint or an armed militant, El Che was best known for leading guerilla revolutions all over the world. The remnants of his movement can still be felt in Latin America’s complicated relationship with socialism, his ideals leaving a trail of violence that can still be felt today. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia only recently disarmed after 52 years of fighting for a dream that El Che inspired; a dream that left 6 million people displaced and 220,000 dead.
Venezuela’s imitation of a socialist regime are the remnants of Hugo Chavez’s socialist dream, one that was inspired by El Che and his distaste for economic and ideological imperialism. The result, however, has been raging hunger, poverty and the beginning of a dictatorship.
Even though socialism has never been achieved in Latin America, and revolutions have done more harm than good for a region that knows bloodshed too well, El Che has become a symbol for romanticized revolution because he represented something Latinos did not have during the Cold War: a choice.
Throughout all of South America, the Cold War represented losing an independence that was long fought for during the 1800s. Latin America became a toy to the United States and Russia, and although El Che believed in socialism, he did not want to depend on Moscow to achieve it.
Fifty years after his death, the lesson El Che leaves behind is that decolonization and the way out of underdevelopment were inextricably linked, either of these two goals alone was incomplete. Sadly, Latin America cannot walk away from underdevelopment on its own, yet its same relationship with the first world is what stifles its growth.
Fifty years after his death, the difference between civil war and revolution must become clear. A civil war is violent, chaotic, and lends itself to an unstable foundation where development and growth crumble along with the memory of why the war began in the first place. For example, the reason the U.S. civil war is called as such is because it did not change a racist system at its core, it just removed a symptom of it.
Revolution, on the other hand, does not have to be an overhaul of a system that isn’t working, but the overhaul goes hand in hand with a reboot, with a road to development and a betterment of human rights.