Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Che Guevara and Manifest Destiny

I have been listening to the biography of Che Guevara on tape as I drive an hour to and from work each day. Che’s life, even so many decades ago, sounded very modern and little different than the lifestyle we enjoy in this United States. The author portrays Che, and his buddy Fidel, as products of their environment. Both were descendants of the wealthy, privileged class, and were bothered by the social injustices brought about by the invasion of Europeans to the Americas. The European settlers confiscated the land from the indigenous people and treated them worse than dirt. In addition, the United States came in and exploited the natural resources for their own exclusive profit at the expense of the citizens of each country.

The United Fruit Company, and companies that owned the coffee plantations, the mines, and the forest products made huge profits and collaborated with oppressive militias to enrich themselves and keep the locals in servitude. Beginning with Guatemala in 1953, every time a populist leader was elected, the CIA would assassinate him and install a dictator who protected the North American industrialists. A few Caucasian locals who collaborated with the North American companies got filthy rich while the rest of the population lived in squalor. Both Che and Fidel descended from such wealthy landed families.

I mentioned this to T.A., an acquaintance of mine at the post office the other day. He replied that if the indigenous people weren’t organized enough to manage their own natural resources, it is only right that the North Americans would come in and take the natural resources, just like they did with the Native Americans. I am aware that T.A. is a Christian and I supposed he was referring to the Christian belief of “manifest destiny” which justified the robbery and exploitation of Native Americans in the USA.

I didn't reply to this at the time because I am slow on the uptake and try to think about things before I speak. The more I think about what T.A. said, the more I realize how immoral it is to take what someone else has just because I am bigger, stronger, more organized, or believe it is my manifest destiny. T.A. was partly referring to historical patterns; when rich natural resources exist, historically someone comes in to exploit it. But, just because the historical record illustrates the pattern, that doesn’t make it right.

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