[Marxism] WSJ: In Argentina, Che Guevara Finally Gets More Than a Lousy T-Shirt

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sat Jun 14 00:48:20 MDT 2008

(The WSJ hates Che for he is a symbol of revolutionary opposition 
to injustice and oppression, no matter how much his image is also 
used in merchandising. No matter whatever happens, there will NEVER 
be an image of Bush suggesting anything positive or fighting against 
injustice. My companera Paula Solomon wears a T-shirt with Fidel on 
the left and Bush at right. Under Fidel is says "Fidel". Under Bush 
it says "Infidel". 

(An audience of over a hundred people came out here tonight to hear
Isaac Saney talk about the political meaning of Che's life and his
Struggles here at the Che conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.
A very spirited evening in a packed house. The house was all decked
out with posters, Cuban, Venezuelan and Bolivian flags. Isaac Saney
gave a pointed, eloquent speech defending Cuba and Che against those
who today are - yet again - claiming that Cuba is selling out the
socialist project. 

(So what are YOU doing to mark Che's 80th birthday this weekend?)

June 14, 2008

In Argentina, Che Guevara Finally Gets
More Than a Lousy T-Shirt
Rebel's Birthplace Unveils a Statue of Him
As It Reconsiders His Complex Legacy
June 14, 2008; Page A1

ROSARIO, Argentina -- No Argentine has left a bigger mark on the
world than legendary revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, yet there
is no major monument in his homeland to the face that launched a
million T-shirts.

That changes Saturday with the unveiling of a 12-foot bronze statue
in this town where he was born 80 years ago.

Since he was killed trying to foment revolution in Bolivia in 1967,
the Marxist guerrilla has been a source of inspiration for
revolutionary movements from Northern Ireland to East Timor, a symbol
of rebellion for three generations of Western youth, and a marketing
phenomenon selling everything from snow boards to air freshener.

For four decades since his death, Mr. Guevara's presence has loomed
large over the Latin American region.

Until recently, however, Argentina itself has played down its ties to
this larger-than-life character, whose nickname comes from the
country's most common slang, a catch-all word meaning "hey" or
"dude." For many Argentines, he evokes painful memories of the 
bloody 1970s, when young Che-wannabes took up arms in the name of
revolution. The ensuing turmoil gave rise to a brutal right-wing
military dictatorship.

Even today, Mr. Guevara's image is often associated with social
conflict, a link that has been reinforced lately as pro-government
protestors have hoisted Che banners during confrontations with
critics of populist President Cristina Kirchner.

When a government tourism official told Argentine travel agents at a
conference last November that Mr. Guevara's high name recognition
among Europeans meant he deserved a place in Argentina's "national
brand," he drew boos from his audience.

"Che motivated a lot of idiots to go about killing people either
because they had money or a uniform. How unenlightened is that?" said
Michael Poots, a Buenos Aires travel agent.

Among Mr. Guevara's enduring critics in Argentina are members of his
own extended family. In an article titled "My Cousin, El Che,"
Alberto Benegas Lynch wrote last year that to wear a Che T-shirt "is
like flaunting the gloomy image of the swastika as a peace symbol."

Troubles at Home

Even in Mr. Guevara's birthplace of Rosario, a genteel port city of
1.3 million, he remains a divisive figure. The local soccer team's
fans have embraced his iconic photo as a kind of unofficial mascot,
and the city itself has been in Socialist hands for 16 years. 
But the city has long met opposition when it tried to commemorate 
Mr. Guevara. For a decade and a half, the middle-class residents of the
stately apartment building in which the infant Ernesto spent his
first two months blocked the city's efforts to place a small plaque
near the entrance. The residents feared they would be invaded by
long-haired radicals and drum-banging protesters.

Michael Casey speaks with Argentinians about the style and mystique
that still surround long-departed revolutionary Che Guevara. (June

Finally, in 2006, the city compromised: Instead of a plaque on the
building, it placed a thin, vertical red sign on the sidewalk with an
arrow pointing to Mr. Guevara's birthplace.

Until Saturday's statue unveiling, Rosario's only other reminder of
its native son was a mural in a small, community park a few blocks
away. Yet even that was subject to cynical put-downs: For some time,
a graffitist with a permanent marker changed the plaque there to
dedicate the plaza to "Cli-Che Guevara."

During the 1990s, guerrilla graffiti wars over Mr. Guevara broke out
in Buenos Aires. Admirers would spray-paint a well-known Cuban
saying, "Seremos Como El Che" (We Will Be Like Che) on walls around
the capital, to which rival graffitists would respond by putting a
single word underneath it: "fiambres." That literally means cold
cuts, but in Argentine slang it means "dead."

A People's Statue

Sculptor Andrés Zerneri, who crafted the statue, wanted to avoid such
clashes. Rather than rely on public money, Mr. Zerneri called on
people to donate household objects for the bronze casting. Each donor
was given a vote in deciding where to erect it. The artist says his
statue honors Mr. Guevara "as a symbol ... chosen by the people and
not dictated by power, as is the case with other monuments."

A year ahead of schedule, Mr. Zerneri reached his target of three and
a half tons of bronze after doorknobs, fire-pokers, plaques and
thousands of door keys flooded into his Buenos Aires studio from
14,000 people around Argentina and the world, most of whom voted for
Rosario as the statue's future home. Among the donated items were
keys that belonged to victims of Argentina's military dictatorship of
the late 1970s and early 1980s.

As in this Mexico City stall, Che Guevara's photo on T-shirts has
become an iconic image of rebellion world-wide.

Mr. Zerneri, a 35-year-old artist more known for his abstract work,
became inspired by his countryman after reading his writings. To
convey the idea that Mr. Guevara represents more than just warfare,
the artist rendered the revolutionary without weapons.

Mixed Emotions

Ambivalence about Mr. Guevara is not surprising, considering his
complicated legacy. As a medical student, he traveled throughout
Latin America and became convinced that global revolution was the
only cure for endemic poverty. In Mexico, he met Fidel Castro and
played a prominent military role in overthrowing Cuban dictator
Fulgencio Batista in 1959. He then served in several high-ranking
positions in the new Cuban government, including a brief stint
running the central bank.

Mr. Guevara was an unflinching revolutionary with a reputation for
strict discipline or cold brutality, depending upon who tells the
history. In Cuba, he oversaw tribunals that executed hundreds from
the Batista regime. During his time as a guerrilla, he also executed
at least one suspected traitor. He secretly left Cuba in 1965 in an
unsuccessful attempt to start revolutions elsewhere, including the
Congo and Bolivia, where he was captured and killed.

In the 1970s, students across Argentina sought to imitate Mr. Guevara
by joining armed revolutionary movements. An era of fratricide
between the left- and right-wing factions of the country's Peronist
political dynasty ushered in a military coup and still more violence.
In the following seven years, a period known as the "Dirty War," the
regime arrested, tortured, exiled or murdered tens of thousands of
people. As many as 30,000 people were never seen again.

No Beards, No Berets

The military government was so anti-Che that it banned his image and
writings, and even put pressure on anyone wearing a scruffy beard or
a beret. It was also difficult to carry the Guevara name in
Argentina. Some family members, including the revolutionary's mother
and his youngest brother, Juan Martín, were jailed for sympathizing
with Mr. Guevara's politics. Even today, Juan Martín -- who runs a
wine bar in Buenos Aires and holds the import license for Habano
cigars from Cuba -- keeps a deliberately low profile.

Che Guevara's image improved here in recent years, partly because a
2001 economic collapse after a decade of free-market policies
generated a sharp, leftward swing. A big slump in the Argentine peso
that same year also made the country a much cheaper destination for
tourists, including European backpackers eager to see Mr. Guevara's

Capitalists' Tool

If Argentina seems to be finally embracing its wayward son, it might
be partly thanks to his afterlife as a marketing phenomenon. The Che
posters that now dominate Buenos Aires souvenir stands are targeted
at a stream of young visitors. Maps of "Che's Route," based on his
book "The Motorcycle Diaries" and the 2004 movie of the same name,
are available in many bookstores. And the national tourism
secretariat has launched a "Footprints of Che" program to promote
towns, such as Rosario and Córdoba, where Mr. Guevara once lived.

Aldo Marinozzi, a tourism consultant in Rosario, says the revival is
also helped by the fact that Argentina has been dictator-free for 25
years, ensuring that a younger generation of Argentines knows Mr.
Guevara not as symbol of Cold War conflict but as an icon of popular
culture. Citing the frequency with which Argentine rock bands adopt
Che as a symbol, Mr. Marinozzi says: "You could say he has been
rehabilitated by rock music."


     Los Angeles, California
     Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
     "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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