HAVANA – The famous image of Che Guevara, immortalized by the photographer Korda, is again seen in every corner of Cuba in honor of the man called a heroic guerrilla, a pop icon whose picture is sold as souvenirs in stores everywhere.
In the emblematic Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana, the most sought after, most photographed attraction is the image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) on the Interior Ministry building: pictures taken by tourists, often by those wearing replicas of his legendary black beret with a star in front, are mostly of him.
That beret plus T-shirts, paintings and post cards bearing his picture are widely sold in the street markets of Old Havana, the city’s historic center, which attract thousands of tourists looking for souvenirs of their trip.
“His image is as popular as the vintage American cars or the famous Bodeguita del Medio restaurant,” EFE was told by Freddy, an artisan who sells his works – collages in which he paints those symbols of Cuba on models of Fidel’s vessel Granma – in the San Jose Warehouses of Old Havana.
The painter Juan Manuel Hernandez Fuentes sells in those same warehouses his pop art inspired by Andy Warhol, in which Campbell soups are rechristened “Revolution” and Che shares space in this pop pantheon with such figures as Mickey Mouse, Marilyn Monroe and Barack Obama.
“In Cuba, Che is a hero, a historic figure. But everywhere else in the world he is also a pop icon,” he said.
“As a tribute to his legacy and not to make money,” Neida, a veteran artisan with 20 years in the business, sells for a “reasonable price,” about $15, posters with the hand-painted portrait of Che.
Beyond the commercial use of the snapshot taken in 1960 by the Cuban Alberto “Korda” Diaz, the image and legacy of Che – raised into a venerable “Saint of the Revolution” – serves as an example for the new generations.
Not in vain, Cuban scholars every morning before beginning their classes sing the Cuban national anthem, raise the flag and chant the slogan: “Pioneers of Communism, we will be like Che.”
And when students finish primary, secondary and university levels, they frequently receive as graduation presents his key works of revolutionary literature, such as “Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War” or “The Bolivian Diary of Ernesto Che Guevara.”
Working since 1983 to preserve and disseminate his legacy and thought is the Che Guevara Studies Center, based in Havana and directed by Aleida March, who was his second wife.
As a living example of the multiple ways Che is honored in Cuba, Ernestos and Ernesticos are a plague on the island, above all among the generation born in the 1960s and ‘70s, the glorious years of the Cuban Revolution, for which he fought since the rise of the Rebel Army of Sierra Maestra.
Far from the messianic and heroic air that impregnates the official account of the Revolution, fully documented biographies like “Che Guevara,” by writer and journalist Jon Lee Anderson, reflect a man with a conflicted personality, unremitting in disputes and basically unorthodox.