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Galway's shameful proposal to honor Che Guevara

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The most famous image of Che Guevara -
by Irishman Jim Fitzpatrick.
Galway City Council wants to erect a statue to Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara. Che, who was born in 1928, had Irish roots going back to the early 18th century. Che's distant ancestor Patrick Lynch was from Galway, which is the City Council's justification for wanting to erect a statue to a man who spent one night in Ireland, accidentally, thanks to fog at Shannon Airport. He never set foot in Galway.

Che's father did once try to explain his son's revolutionary ways saying the "blood of the Irish rebels" flowed in his veins. That is a load of hooey, as I'm sure Che's father knew, but that doesn't stop those Irish people who admire him from latching on to him as one of their own. Che's one night in Ireland was spent in Kilkee, Co. Clare, where last fall the townsfolk honored the memory of that one night with a 3-day festival. Galway obviously feels cheated that its 300-year-old link to Che is not getting the proper recognition, hence the statue proposal.

According to the Galway Advertiser the idea for the Galway statue came from a member of the City Council, Labour's Billy Cameron, who is "an ardent admirer of the revolutionary." Cameron is hardly alone. Che shirts and posters have been de rigueur for the hippest, coolest protesters and revolutionary-wannabees for decades. However, you're supposed to grow out of that phase. Cameron clearly has not.

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The proposed statue has not made much news in Ireland, but one man, businessman and sometime political campaigner Declan Ganley, has been on a mission to scupper this plan for the past week. Ganley (@declanganley) is a Galway man himself and worries that such a statue would damage Galway's reputation, especially in America, hurting the chances of investment and putting Americans off visiting the city.

That seems a bit of a stretch to me. I doubt too many tourists would know much of Che beyond recognizing his face and, well, business is business.

However, yesterday, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a press release asking Galway City Council to reject the proposal to erect the Che Statue. "The romanticizing image that this monument would portray would serve to diminish the brutality that was committed by Che and the painful suffering endured by many Cuban-American families and his other victims far and wide."

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a Cuban-American and Cuban-Americans know far more about Che than the average American and, I daresay, than the average Irish revolutionary wannabee. And they don't like him, not one bit. Whereas the average American may not take much interest in whether Galway honors Che Guevara, people from South Florida and other Cuban enclaves may take a keen interest.

Galway City Councillor - Billy Cameron,whose idea
it was to erect a statue ofChe Guevara
The Cuban government has pledged to help pay for the statue so I guess Galway's Councillors can rest easy knowing Fidel's on their side. Whether the Cuban people admire Che as much as Councillor Cameron and the rest is impossible to say because, as Representative Mario Diaz-Balart put it: "Galway is a city where people have the right to vote, the right to worship freely, the right to speak freely, and access a free press -- all of which 'Che' Guevara and his murderous associate, dictator Fidel Castro, ruthlessly suppressed."

There's no way that Councillor Cameron or anyone who shares his views will take that seriously. They know better than those Cuban-Americans just like they knew better than to listen to all those exiles from Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc.

There's a part of me that half hopes the statue goes up and is defaced and damaged by Cubans who live here in exile. There are some. Or, better yet, I'd like to think that when Cubans do finally shake off the shackles of Castro's rule some of them will find their way to Ireland and pull the statue down and curse those who put it up. It's a dream.

The proposal is hideous, but I'm not surprised by it. It suits the mind-set of a small segment of the Irish people. I'd love to know what Ireland's President, a Galway man too, thinks of the idea. I suppose I should just consider it fortunate that no one ever found any Irish link to Lenin or Stalin or Mao. Honoring one mass-murderer is enough.

{Photo of Cameron from Labour.ie}

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