The 40th anniversary of Che’s death also witnessed numerous charges that he was a “butcher,” owing to his role in overseeing the trials and executions of counter-revolutionaries following the Cuban revolution. Below we reprint an excerpt from Che Guevara: Symbol of Struggle by Tony Saunois replying to these attacks. You can read the book on-line at www.socialistalternative.org/publications/che or it can be purchased for $11 (including shipping) by sending a check or money order to: Socialist Alternative, PO Box 45343, Seattle, WA 98145.

From La Cabaña, Che oversaw the Revolutionary Tribunals that were used as a means of purging the army of its most pro-Batista elements. The trials centered on those who conducted torture and murder under the Batista dictatorship…

The Tribunals provoked a massive attack by U.S. imperialism, which denounced such measures as criminal. However, the reprisals had the support of the mass of Cubans, especially the poor, who had suffered horrific crimes at the hands of Batista’s thugs.

The Tribunals were not elected committees of workers, soldiers, and representatives of local communities as would have been advocated by Marxists during such revolutionary conditions.

However, the measures taken by the Tribunals were to defend the revolution and to try to exact some justice for the victims of Batista’s sadistic torturers. Those accused were given defense lawyers and the right to disprove or justify their actions…

[In the main,] only in the cases of brutal torture or death, which involved hundreds of cases, were executions the verdict. Former prisoners and the families of the dead or “disappeared” were asked to give evidence and show the scars they were left to carry for life.

These elementary rights are in marked contrast to the “justice” given during the 1980s throughout Latin America as military regimes fell one after another across the continent. Unlike in Cuba after the fall of Batista, the new pro-capitalist governments have permitted a conspiracy of silence to take place to protect the military and police … Despite hundreds of thousands suffering torture and death, few prosecutions have been made against those responsible for such crimes in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, and other countries…

The friends and families of “los desaparecidos” (the disappeared) still get no reply to their simple question, carried on placards throughout the continent: “¿Donde Están?” (“Where are they?”). In Argentina, after more than a decade of weekly protests in front of the Presidential Palace, the mothers of the disappeared are still asking this same question and still get no reply.

The silence of U.S. imperialism about these crimes, in which it and its agencies such as the CIA are directly implicated, has been deafening. It has been in marked contrast to its reaction to the tribunals headed by Che in Cuba.

A gruesome picture was painted by U.S. imperialism of what was taking place in Havana. The “terror” of the new regime was hypocritically denounced and Che was presented as Public Enemy Number One…

Che was determined to carry through this policy … Che repeated endlessly to his Cuban comrades during this period that [left-wing President Jacobo] Arbenz had failed in Guatemala because he failed to purge the armed forces and allowed the CIA to penetrate and overthrow his government [in 1954 after he nationalized the lands of the United Fruit Company]. He was determined not to allow history to be repeated in Cuba.

On January 22, 1959, a mass rally was called in Havana to support the government’s “war trials” policy. Estimates vary, but anywhere between half a million and one million participated in this mass demonstration…

Banners denounced U.S. imperialism for its double standards, compared the trials of Batista’s assassins with the Nuremberg trials of convicted Nazis after the Second World War, and demanded “revolutionary justice.”

Castro asked all those who agreed with revolutionary justice to raise their hands. Up to one million hands were raised to a cry of “¡Sí!”

Castro commented: “Gentlemen of the diplomatic corps, gentlemen of the press of the whole continent, the jury of a million Cubans of all ideas and all social classes has voted.”

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