Margarita Alarcon Perea
A few years ago I had the pleasure of lecturing to a group of students from UC Davis who were down here on a 10 week academic study program. The teacher that had brought the group down asked all the students to write an essay at the end of the trip which would in turn be part of their grade for the semester. Each student had to pick a topic and a lecturer to hand over the essay to. One part of the grade would rest on the lectures opinion and the other on the Davis teacher.
I was presented with 12 papers to read.
They were all good, some more decent than others but there was one which caught my attention more than the rest and it was not just the writing or the thesis behind the essay but the pupil and how he had arrived at the topic.
For the purpose of anonymity I will refer to him as “John”. Turns out that John had never really heard about Cuba or the Revolution and it was not until a song by Rage Against the Machine that he heard of “Ché”. He told me that on a poster of the band he noticed one of the members wearing a “really cool t-shirt of a guy with a beard and beret” and liked the image so much he decided to look him up. And he did. All the way around Latin America.
Turns out John, read so much about Ché, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, that he took a trip similar to the one Ernesto and his friend Alberto Granados took back in 1952 right before graduating from medical school.
John learnt a lot about the continent and this in turn paved the way for his years at UC Davis and taking the trip to Cuba.
Here on the island he continued his quest for more information on Ché. He went to Santa Clara to visit the site where his remains are; he wandered around town and would every now and again bump into posters, signs, billboards with the man’s face and a phrase uttered at one point or another in history. He saw the huge metal structure in front of the monument to Jose Marti in Revolution Square, and he asked questions.
By the time he handed in his essay he knew all there was to know about Ernesto “Ché” Guevara, but he had one last question which he left unanswered at the end of the piece.
How was it possible that the country to which a man like this one, a man who whole heartedly and selflessly had arrived to help in the creation of a better world and in the liberation of its people, one who gave his life to help mankind and his continent, how was it possible that this island was brandishing his good name and his history and all that he stood for by allowing that the face of this person become an icon stamped on all sorts of t-shirts with or without glitter, ashtrays, cigarette lighters, wrist watches, beach towels and who knows what else?
John came to me with the question before finishing the piece and I had no answer to give him. Did I agree with him that Ché would indeed be furious if he were alive to see this? Yes, of course, but then the contradiction lays in the fact that were he alive, there wouldn’t be a reason for the iconoclasms. Is it a contradiction that the Cuban Revolution allow this to happen? Yes, it is. In my view. Then by the same token it is also true that by murdering him the way the CIA did in Bolivia and then sending out the picture of his lifeless body out into the world, all they accomplished was to turn him into a Martyr and one that lives on today as the symbol of the true revolutionary.
Was it wrong when Absolute Vodka used the image of his face taken by Alberto Diaz “Korda” to promote the sale of its 40% proof elixir? Yes, it was, and Korda made sure they knew it and put an end to the phantasmagoric escapade.
Is it inappropriate for a company like Mercedes Benz to use the image of this man who by his own right and due to the circumstances in history has become larger than life? Yes, it is.
So I must agree that the use of the iconic image to help boost a publicity move for Mercedes Benz is an incorrect use of the man and his raison d’être, but not for the reasons expressed by some in Miami in today’s piece in the Sun Sentinal. Ché deserves better than a car dealership and a quick alcoholic fix, he wasn’t killed for that. He deserves, as John put it, that young people read his work and study his life and use him as an example of the true revolutionary, the true man of the future, a future he with his example is helping make possible in the hemisphere that gave him life the same way it took it away.