Murderous Che Guevara Still Chic at the NYT

Che Guevara chic still reigns at the Times: The "revolutionary icon" is at least being "used to inspire the next generation of Cubans."

In Marc Lacey's Santa Clara (Cuba) Journal on Che Guevara chic Tuesday ("A Communist He Was, but Today, Che Sells") the reporter interviewed the murderer's daughter on the 40th anniversary of his death andcame awaysatisfied that the Communist and killer, excuse me, "revolutionary icon" Cheis being "used to inspire the next generation of Cubans."

"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.

"Raul 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 T-shirts.

"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.

Lacey at least briefly dipped into the murderous reality behind the adolescent Che mystique:

"'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.'

Near the end:

"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."

They wouldn't know much about Che's murderous ways by reading the Times, either (here's an earlier Times encomium to Che chic). For a sobering corrective, read Alvaro Vargas Llosa's article from the New Republic.