Galway City Council has certainly exposed a hornet’s nest by voting to allow a statue of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara in Eyre Square in the center of Galway.
The reaction was immediate, with local multi-millionaire businessman Declan Ganley saying it was a profound mistake and would damage Ireland’s image, especially in America.
Then Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the powerful head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny asking that asking that the statue be stopped.
Ros-Lehtinen called the proposal “an outrage” in a statement to the Huffington Post.
She said, “Despite the image makeover which some try to give him, the real Che Guevara was a mass murderer and human rights abuser.
“To honor him with a monument would be an outrage, and would be a futile attempt to hide the brutal acts which he committed.”
She was joined in her criticism by fellow Congressman Mario Diaz-Balert, who also urged the Irish people not to go ahead.
If you turned the table on this and Irish leaders were requesting Cuban Americans not to erect a statue to Cromwell in, say, in Miami the response would be immediate.
It would be an immediate “mind your own business,” and not put as politely as that. And the Cubans would be right.
What statues Ireland erects is a matter for Ireland, not America and vice versa.
As the Galwegians have pointed out, Guevara’s grandmother named Lynch came from the area and Guevara himself was very taken with his Irish roots.
As to what kind of person he was, one man’s terrorist will always be another man’s freedom fighter, and we have ample evidence of that from Irish history.
Which is why if the Galway City Council voted freely to have a statue of Guevara in their main square, well, that is their business.
Any American who is offended can register that protest by not traveling there, or writing a letter.
But having two Cuban American political leaders try and force the Irish government to overturn a democratically reached decision is completely out of order.
Guevara will be a controversial figure as long as there are people around to discuss the Cuban revolution. It is thus with most revolutionaries. The Galway episode has certainly added to that discussion.