Cubans protest Che Guevara ads

Images of Communist revolutionary with headphones pulled out of Target stores

December 24, 2006|By McClatchy-Tribune

MIAMI -- In some circles, Ernesto "Che" Guevara may live, but in Target stores, he's history.

Images of the Communist revolutionary figure - his ears donning an iPod-esque set of earphones and splashed on the latest CD cases - have been pulled from the shelves.

"The stores don't have pictures of Osama bin Laden or Adolf Hitler," said Miguel Saavedra, founder of the anti-Castro group Vigilia Mambisa. "It's disrespectful to the Cuban community."

Miami's Cuban exile community collectively gasped at the use of Fidel Castro's one-time right-hand man to sell music accessories, with community leaders saying Guevara was one of history's brutal mass murderers.

Exiles weren't the only ones who angrily questioned Target's move to cash in on Guevara's cult status in some circles, particularly rebellious youth.

Investor's Business Daily lamented in an editorial this month that "all this reflects an indifference to history . . . he was a psychopath with a central role in Cuba's 1961 mass executions. ... Guevara signed at least 600 death warrants and executed children against firing squad walls; he was responsible for at least 2,000 deaths."

"We have made the decision to remove this item from our shelves," Target responded in a statement. "It is never our intent to offend any of our guests through the merchandise we carry and we sincerely apologize for any discomfort this situation may have caused our guests."

Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady praised Target's "admirable decision" Friday while asking "What's next ... Pol Pot pajamas?"

The Argentine-born Guevara began his young adulthood as a medical student but soon abandoned that pursuit for the life of a hard-line Communist soldier. He played a key role in the Communist takeover of Cuba, earning the rank of commandant and Cuban citizenship for his success on the battlefield.

Guevara held a variety of high-ranking positions in the Cuban government - during a stint as president of the National Bank of Cuba, currency on the island was printed with the signature "Che" - and tried to foment Communist rebellions in other nations. Guevara was captured and executed in Bolivia in 1967 at age 39.

But Guevara's cult status among disaffected youth and others unhappy with the state of the world has endured - with Guevara's well-documented reputation for brutality sometimes overlooked.

In 2004, The Motorcycle Diaries, a film that romanticized Guevara's formative years, received a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival. Writer Paul Berman lamented in Slate magazine that year that "Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice."

On occasion, even in staunchly anti-Castro Miami, Saavedra has come across people wearing the Che T-shirts. While doing air conditioning repair work in Miami Beach several months ago, the Vigilia Mambisa founder says he saw the teenage son of his customer wearing one.

Saavedra privately approached the father, who was unaware of Che's biography, and offered a free lesson in world political history.

The customer asked Saavedra to take the T-shirt with him on the way out.

"He said, `I don't want to see criminals on my son's body,'" Saavedra recalled.

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