Revisiting an Old Flame: Bolivia adopts Revolutionary Slogan

Via presidential order, the Bolivian army’s new slogan is “Patria o muerte, venceremos!” (Fatherland or death, we shall overcome!), adopted from early revolutionary Cuba and the iconic Argentine guerrilla fighter (he has been labeled in a variety of ways), Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

This declaration has brought about a fair amount of analysis and discussion by international specialists. Conservative analysts from the Heritage Foundation have blogged that

“ In a sharp contrast with Bolivia’s history – it was in fact Bolivian troops which executed the violently homicidal Cuban Communist leader Che Guevara in 1967 […] the country’s leftist President Evo Morales has now ordered the Bolivian army to adopt a chant popularized by Guevara and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.”

It is impossible not to notice some of the over-the top, adjectives used to describe Guevara.

There is a plethora of books and even DVDs discussing the Che, his ideology, actions and his “dark side” (as the Heritage blogger called it). However, comparisons between Morales and the Che may become a new trend. In 2007 the Bolivia president declared himself an admirer of the Argentine. He even brought a cake to Camilo Guevara, Che’s son, for the 78th anniversary of the Argentine’s birth.

Indeed, a topic that should be analyzed in greater depth (instead of looking for new adjectives to describe Guevara) is to what extent is Morales’ admiration of Che is affecting the Bolivian head of state’s domestic and foreign policy decisions. So far, the Bolivian president seems to be making new enemies within the armed forces. There are reports that Bolivian military leaders are not happy with the slogan change.

In addition, retired soldiers that fought in the Ñancahuazú guerrilla war, in which the Che was eventually captured, were not invited to march in the March 23rd military parade (to celebrate El Día del Mar – the Day of the Sea – and during which the new slogan was used), for the first time in 19 years. A veteran that fought in the war that ended Che’s life explained that “Patria o muerte, nosotros ya lo aplicamos en combate y vencimos a esas personas que han venido a Bolivia, a esos mercenarios que han venido para generar miedo y violencia.” (Fatherland or death, we already applied this in combat and we killed those people that came to Bolivia, those mercenaries that came to bring fear and violence).

Is Morales trying to become a democratically-elected version the Che?

One thing is known, in early March retired general Gary Prado, who captured Guevara in 1967, was summoned by Bolivian authorities investigating an alleged plot against President Morales. Also summoned was Prado’s son, who is running for mayor of Santa Cruz.

Bolivia has a very rich history of military coups. Morales, even though he is the democratically re-elected head of state of the country, may be wise not to unnecessarily infuriate his armed forces considering that Bolivia’s military has trouble being subordinated to civilian power.

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