[Marxism] Marketing Che

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 9 11:10:16 MDT 2007

NY Times, October 9, 2007
A Revolutionary Icon, and Now, a Bikini

SANTA CLARA, Cuba, Oct. 8 — Aleida Guevara March, the 46-year-old 
daughter of Che Guevara, says she can bear the Che T-shirts, the Che 
keychains, the Che postcards and Che paintings sold all over Cuba, not 
to mention the world.

At least some of the purchasers truly cherish Che, she says. On Monday 
she was surrounded by thousands of Che fans wearing his image here in 
Santa Clara, where her father’s remains are kept, and where she sat in 
the front row of a ceremony to observe the 40th anniversary of his death.

Raúl Castro, the acting president, attended. A message was read from his 
older brother Fidel, who ceded power in August 2006 after emergency 
surgery, likening his former comrade-in-arms to “a flower that was 
plucked from his stem prematurely.”

But amid all the ceremony, what really gets to Ms. Guevara is the use of 
the man she calls Papi in ways that she says are completely removed from 
his revolutionary ideals, like when a designer recently put Che on a bikini.

In fact, 40 years after his death, Che — born Ernesto Guevara de la 
Serna — is as much a marketing tool as an international revolutionary 
icon. Which raises the question of what exactly does the sheer 
proliferation of his image — the distant gaze, the scraggly beard and 
the beret adorned with a star — mean in a decidedly capitalist world?

Even in Cuba, one of the world’s last Communist bastions, Che is used 
both to make a buck and to make a point. “He sells,” acknowledged a 
Cuban shop clerk, who had Che after Che staring down from a wall full of 

But at least here he is also used to inspire the next generation of 
Cubans. Schoolchildren invoke his name every morning, declaring with a 
salute, “We want to be like Che.” His quotations are recited almost as 
often as those of Fidel Castro.

“There’s no doubt that when Fidel dies someday, his image will be just 
like Che’s,” said Enrique Oltuski, the vice minister of fishing and a 
contemporary of both men. But Che’s mythic status as a homegrown 
revolutionary does not extend everywhere, even if his image does. When 
Target stores in the United States put his image on a CD carrying case 
last year, critics who consider him a murderer and symbol of 
totalitarianism pressed the retailer to pull the item.

“What next? Hitler backpacks? Pol Pot cookware? Pinochet pantyhose?” 
Investor’s Business Daily said in an editorial, calling the use of the 
image an example of “tyrant-chic.”

That famous image of Che, by a Cuban photographer, Alberto Korda Díaz, 
was taken at a March 5, 1960, funeral rally for dozens of Cubans killed 
in a boat explosion for which Cuba blamed the United States. The picture 
became famous after appearing in Paris Match magazine in 1967, just 
weeks before Che was killed by soldiers in Bolivia, apparently aided by 
the C.I.A.

Mr. Korda, who died in 2001 at age 72, never received royalties but did 
sue a British advertising agency over the use of the photo for a 
campaign promoting vodka. He won $50,000, which he donated toward buying 
medicine for children.

Ms. Guevara and her family, too, have tried to stop the marketing of 
Che’s image in ways that they find abhorrent. She says they have reached 
out to lawyers in New York, whom she would not identify, to pursue 
companies the family thinks are misusing the image, not to sue them for 
damages, but to ask them to stop.

“We’re not after money,” she said. “We just don’t want him misused. He 
can be a universal person, but respect the image.”

Some of Che’s star power has rubbed off on his four surviving children, 
one of whom is named Ernesto Guevara and drove to the memorial on a 
motorcycle, just like Dad. Cubans hug the Guevaras in the street, and 
tourists are giddy when they learn who they are.

“I have goose bumps,” said Alfredo Moreno, 32, a Mexican who posed for a 
picture with Ms. Guevara, clearly overcome with emotion. “I can’t 
describe to you what this moment means to me.”

As Mr. Moreno went on and on, Ms. Guevara told him to stop his fawning 

“I’m a child of Che,” she explained, “but I’m not Che.”

Ms. Guevara is in fact a pediatrician and mother of two who favors 
pantsuits over military fatigues. She resembles a Cuban soccer mom more 
than a revolutionary.

Her sister is a veterinarian. One brother manages a center devoted to 
Che in Havana. Then there is Ernesto, a Harley-Davidson aficionado. All 
are called on by the Cuban government from time to time to help continue 
their father’s legacy.

It is not hard to detect a bit of exhaustion in all this, particularly 
now, when Cuba and much of Latin America are holding major events to 
honor both his death and, next June, what would have been his 80th birthday.

“I can’t be everywhere,” Ms. Guevara said. “I can’t multiply myself.”

Ms. Guevara travels the world speaking at conferences dealing with Che. 
At one in Italy, she learned after signing T-shirts for some young 
people that they were fascists. “They knew nothing about him,” she said 
with a sigh.

Once, she said, she bumped into John F. Kennedy Jr. in Europe and 
discussed with him the challenges of being the offspring of a famous man.

She called him “a beautiful person,” and said she was able to separate 
him from his father, who ordered the Bay of Pigs invasion to try to 
topple the government that Che had helped put in place in Cuba.

But bring up United States foreign policy, and the resemblance to her 
father really emerges. The fiery speech flows when she discusses the war 
in Iraq. She calls the economic embargo of Cuba that has stretched on 
for 50 years “so brutal, so stupid, so irrational.”

And don’t even get her started about the Bush administration.

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