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UNESCO decision to honor Che Guevara proves it doesn't deserve US support

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    FILE - In this July 7, 2008 file photo, manuscripts and photographs belonging to Cuba's revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara are displayed for the press in La Paz, Bolivia. UNESCO is including the writings of Cuban Revolution leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara in its Memory of the World Register. The documents include original manuscripts from "Che's" youthful "Motorcycle Diaries" days, to his diary from the mountains of Bolivia where he was executed by that nation's military in 1967. (AP Photo, File)

He’s long adorned the T-shirts of clueless campus liberals. Now he’s been feted by UNESCO.

Last month, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization -- in an appalling act -- listed the “Life and Works of Ernesto Che Guevara: from the originals manuscripts of its adolescence and youth to the campaign Diary in Bolivia” among the valued contributions of mankind meriting inclusion in its Memory of the World Programme, along with other rare and unique records and works of art. 

Cuba and Bolivia jointly nominated the life and works of Guevara for consideration by the program’s International Advisory Committee (IAC) on the basis that his “contribution to revolutionary action and theory, as seen in his theoretical works, in his essays, as well as in his articles and speeches, is of extraordinary worth due to its depth and scope.” 

Despite an inexplicable celebrity appeal among the leftists and the ignorant, Guevara was a thug.

The inventory of documents will include 431 manuscripts by Guevara and 567 documents about or related to him, including “valuable iconographic material by and about Che, films, letters and museum pieces.”

What won’t be included is a full listing and account of the people whose lives he destroyed.

Despite an inexplicable celebrity appeal among the leftists and the ignorant, Guevara was a thug responsible for the murder, torture, and labor camp imprisonment of thousands of dissidents, artists, homosexuals and other undesirables in Cuba. That the IAC and UNESCO thought it appropriate to honor a life’s work of atrocities among the historical records, art, and other achievements of mankind demonstrates an inexcusable lack of perspective.

To its credit, the U.S. formally objected to the decision to honor Guevara:

The United States Government objects to the decision of the Memory of the World International Advisory Committee to recommend the writings of Che Guevara for inscription in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.  Che Guevara is a controversial figure who advocated violence and made no apologies for executing people in the pursuit of revolution.  The content of his writings is not in keeping with UNESCO and United Nations values. UNESCO’s Memory of the World program must not be used as a tool to glorify or legitimize violence.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) also condemned the decision as “more than an insult to the families of those Cubans who were lined up and summarily executed by Che and his merciless cronies but it also serves as a direct contradiction to the UNESCO ideals of encouraging peace and universal respect for human rights.” 

Unfortunately, this was not UNESCO’s first misstep, but only the most recent:

These troubling actions are at odds with UNESCO’s claims to be a voice of moderation, ethical standards, and human rights.

Most troubling, however, was the 2011 decision to grant full UNESCO membership to the Palestinians over U.S. objections. This decision triggered an immediate freeze on all U.S. funding to the agency in accordance with a U.S. law adopted in the early 1990s.

Despite UNESCO’s marginal utility, questionable judgment, and poor performance, the Obama administration has tried since 2011 to convince Congress to change the law to permit resumed funding for UNESCO because once the U.S. is two years in arrears, America will likely lose its vote UNESCO’s General Conference. 

President Obama’s FY 2014 budget states the administration’s desire to amend the law and requests funding for FY 2014 and to reimburse UNESCO for funds withheld in previous years –a total of $233 million.

When pressed on why the U.S. should change the law to allow payments to UNESCO, the administration often responds that we need to be present and paid in full in order to stop the organization from doing things we don’t like. During her confirmation hearing, Samantha Power reiterated this point:

The one caution is that when we are out of U.N. agencies, which would be the consequence ultimately of de-funding U.N. agencies, we can’t stand up for Israel, we can’t stand up for American values, we’re not there leading on a range of other U.S. interests. And so I just think we have to find the right balance.

This claim is belied by recent history. The U.S. is has been a voting member of UNESCO and been on UNESCO’s Executive Board while the organization has repeatedly acted over U.S. objections. Also consider that UNESCO has done these things while it is desperate to convince Congress to restore U.S. funding.

If this is UNESCO at its most cooperative, imagine how minimal U.S. influence will be if the Obama administration succeeds in changing the law to allow continued funding? A liberated UNESCO, unfettered by the need to try and placate Congress, would be even less pliant to U.S. concerns. 

The bottom line is that UNESCO is not critical to U.S. interests, as President Reagan recognized when he decided in 1984 to withdraw from UNESCO because of its poor management and hostility to the “basic institutions of a free society.”

The U.S. rejoined UNESCO in 2003 in recognition of management reforms, not because of any perceived damage to U.S. interests from America’s absence. The decision to honor Che Guevara only underscores that UNESCO is undeserving of U.S. membership and support.

Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.