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Vol. 80/No. 6      February 15, 2016

(Books of the Month column)

Sankara: ‘You cannot kill ideas —
a tribute to Che Guevara’

Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-1987 is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for February. Under Sankara’s leadership, the revolutionary government mobilized peasants, workers, craftsmen, women and youth to carry out literacy and immunization campaigns, to sink wells, plant trees, build housing and begin to transform their oppressive and exploitative condition and, in the process, themselves. Sankara looked to the Cuban Revolution as the preeminent example of revolutionary struggle. The excerpt “You Cannot Kill Ideas: A Tribute to Che Guevara” was presented at the 1987 opening of an exhibition honoring the Cuban revolutionary leader, killed 20 years earlier in Bolivia. A week later, Sankara was assassinated and the revolutionary government overthrown. Copyright © 1988 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

We’ve come this morning, in a modest way, to open this exhibition that seeks to trace the life and work of Che. At the same time, we want to tell the whole world today that for us Che Guevara is not dead. Because throughout the world there are centers of struggle where people strive for more freedom, more dignity, more justice, and more happiness. Throughout the world, people are fighting against oppression and domination; against colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism; and against class exploitation.

Dear friends, we join our voices with everyone in the world who remembers that one day a man called Che Guevara … his heart filled with faith, took up the struggle alongside other men and, in so doing, succeeded in creating a spark that powerfully disturbed the forces of occupation in the world.

We simply want to say that a new era in Burkina Faso has come, a new reality is on the march in our country. That’s how Che Guevara’s call to action must be understood — Che, who wanted to light fires of struggle throughout the world.

Che Guevara was cut down by bullets, imperialist bullets, under Bolivian skies. And we say that for us, Che Guevara is not dead.

One of the beautiful phrases often recalled by revolutionaries, by the great Cuban revolutionaries, is the one that Che’s friend, his companion in struggle, his comrade, his brother, Fidel Castro himself repeated. He heard it from the mouth of a man of the people one day during the struggle — one of Batista’s officers who, despite being part of that reactionary, repressive army, managed to connect with the forces fighting for the well-being of the Cuban people. Right after the assault on the Moncada garrison had failed, when those who had attempted it were about to be put to death by the guns of Batista’s army — they were going to be shot — the officer said simply, “Don’t shoot, you cannot kill ideas.”

It’s true, you cannot kill ideas. Ideas do not die. That’s why Che Guevara, an embodiment of revolutionary ideas and self-sacrifice, is not dead. You have come here today [from Cuba], and we draw inspiration from you.

Che Guevara, an Argentine according to his passport, became an adopted Cuban through the blood and sweat he shed for the Cuban people. He became, above all, a citizen of the free world — the free world that we’re building together. That’s why we say that Che Guevara is also African and Burkinabè.

Che Guevara called his beret la boina. He made that beret and its star known almost everywhere in Africa. From the north to the south, Africa remembers Che Guevara.

Bold young people — young people thirsting for dignity, thirsting for courage, thirsting also for ideas and for the vitality he symbolized in Africa — sought out Che Guevara in order to drink from the source, the invigorating source represented in the world by this revolutionary captain. Some of the few who had the opportunity and honor of being in Che’s presence, and who are still alive, are here among us today.

Che is Burkinabè. He is Burkinabè because he participates in our struggle. He is Burkinabè because his ideas inspire us and are inscribed in our Political Orientation Speech. He is Burkinabè because his star is stamped on our banner. He is Burkinabè because some of his ideas live in each of us in the daily struggle we wage.

Che is a man, but a man who knew how to show us and teach us that we can dare to have confidence in ourselves and our abilities. Che is among us.

What is Che, I’d like to ask? Che, to us, is above all conviction, revolutionary conviction, revolutionary faith in what you’re doing, the conviction that victory belongs to us, and that struggle is our only recourse.

Che is also a sense of humanity. Humanity — this expression of generosity and self-sacrifice that made Che not only an Argentine, Cuban, and internationalist combatant, but also a man, with all the warmth of a man.

Che is also, and above all, demanding. The demanding character of one who had the good fortune to be born into a well-to-do family… Yet he was able to say no to those temptations, to turn his back on the easy road in order, on the contrary, to assert himself as a man of the people, a man who makes common cause with the people, a man who makes common cause with the suffering of others. Che’s demanding character is what should inspire us the most.

Conviction, humanity, a demanding character — all this makes him Che. Those who are capable of mustering these virtues within themselves, those who are capable of mustering these qualities within themselves — this conviction, this humanity, and this demanding character — they can say that they are like Che — men among men, but, above all, revolutionaries among revolutionaries. …

Comrades, I would finally like to express my joy that we have been able to immortalize Che’s ideas here in Ouagadougou by naming this street after Che Guevara.

Every time we think of Che, let’s try to be like him, and make this man, the combatant, live again. And especially, every time we think of acting in his spirit of self-sacrifice, by rejecting material goods that seek to alienate us, by refusing to take the easy road, by turning instead to education and the rigorous discipline of revolutionary morality — every time we try to act in this way, we will better serve Che’s ideas, we will spread them more effectively.

Homeland or death, we will win!
Related articles:
‘In Cuba, a prisoner is another human being’
Cuban Five: It’s different in US prisons, where the system is organized to dehumanize you
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