Cuba without the Che brand
By Claire Harlin
He's a teen heartthrob, a rock star icon and a blessing to money-hungry
T-shirt company owners worldwide. Millions tout his image in the name of
passion, rebellion and leadership. But Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a
communist idol who worked alongside Fidel Castro to kill capitalism, has
become a classic archetype and a capitalist brand.
And as Castro remains in a serious state of illness, many, including
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, are comparing the Cuban dictator to
Che, saying he "will never die."
Let's just hope we don't see Castro's face pop up on stylish T-shirts 40
years from now.
Along with Castro, Guevara managed to inspire tens of thousands of Latin
Americans to quit working or drop out of universities to form guerrilla
insurgencies almost 50 years ago. Once a leader of Castro's firing
squads, Che's cause was to join the Soviets and crush any and all U.S.
capitalism and imperialism.
Many Che loyalists today are liberals who believe in his rebellious
attitude and opposition to the ruling class (hasta la victoria!), but it
makes little sense that these two-fold peaceful anti-war activists tout
his representation. It's a clash of ideals to be against armed war in
Iraq, but a fan of someone who once wrote, "hatred is an element of
struggle ... which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations,
making him into an effective, violent, selective and cold-blooded
Not to mention, he has become a brand himself, a capitalist's dream.
If your heart fills with happiness when you see the Argentine man in his
black beret looking aimlessly into the sky, American companies are ready
to feed your need.
Thechestore.com is an online Che supercenter, which claims to fulfill
"all your revolutionary needs" by working with 15 big companies
worldwide to provide anti-capitalist merchandise.
Here in Austin, you can even purchase Che Guevara lip balm at Waterloo
Records. Target once carried Che CD cases, but yanked the merchandise
off their shelves in response to widespread opposition. That ruckus
probably made Guevara goods more popular.
But it does no good to point fingers at people who make senseless
fashion statements. Anti-war and animal-rights activists wear camouflage
all the time, and nobody ever dies because of it.
Whether or not you do your part in displaying Che-mebilia, it's
important to actually understand Guevara's legacy in order to promote
the best possible future for Cuba upon Castro's death. His violent,
anti-imperialist struggle is dead, and now Cuba needs democratic change.
Last summer, Castro handed power to his 75-year-old brother, Raul. His
age tells us that the future could hold a chance for Cubans to escape
the Castro dynasty through democratic change. With a unified dialogue
among the Cuban public, this could be realized.
History proves that patience and unity among the public can cause
oppressive governments to fear and eventually fail. We've seen the rise
of democracy in many Latin American countries in recent decades,
including the fall of a nearly 100-year dictatorship in Mexico, and
there's still hope for Cuba.
One idea spread by Guevara that Cuba can again learn from is the
construction of a "New Man," a plan that served as a basis for his
socialist revolution. This idea promoted not only a widespread change of
thought, but a search for a new leader to serve mankind unselfishly. As
it ended up, Castro became that figure, and Cubans must explore a change
of thought once again, but for a different cause.
Supporting Che's ideals in the name of a modern-day revolution, this
time for democracy without U.S. involvement, would be a step in the
right direction for Cubans. This could also be the first step toward
mending Cuban-U.S. relations, allowing Americans to one day travel to
Cuba's magnificent beaches, and assisting the Cuban economy by opening
trade. It could also bring hope to many Cuban exiles in the United
States that dream of one day visiting or returning to their home country
- especially those that spent years in Florida under Jeb Bush's control.
Change is necessary in Cuba, but it is one that Cubans can and need to
handle on their own, as U.S. intervention and coups have exploited and
haunted Latin American countries such as Chile and Guatemala in the past.
A 2006 Gallup poll shows a 47 percent approval rating for Castro. His
support has been slowly but surely fading without our help.
Just as the future of Iraq should be decided by Iraqis, and Tibet's
future should be decided by Tibetans, Cubans shall choose their future,
and changes will inevitable come from inside their country.
Just like those T-shirts - communism is out, and democracy is in.
Harlin is a Latin American studies
and journalism senior.