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Marxist revolutionary seizes market place from beyond grave


July 24, 1997
Web posted at: 6:17 a.m. EDT (1017 GMT)

From Correspondent Mark Scheerer

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Che Guevara died fighting capitalism. So how did this communist icon become the ultimate huckster of material delights?

Fidel Castro's comrade-in-arms, killed in a Bolivian jungle while attempting to foment revolution in South America in the late 1960s, can now be found on CD covers, keychains watches, beer bottles and rafts of other modern kitsch.

Historians say its the power of his revolutionary image being recycled. But would Che be proud of his new-found marketing power?

Thirty years ago this October, the Cuban revolutionary was hunted down by the forces of capitalism and left to molder in the jungle.

His recently unearthed remains were returned to Havana in early July. There, he is revered as a hero and his image appears everywhere, from exhibitions to tourist's souvenirs.

"There is no figure in 20th Century history that has produced such a body of fascinating, varied and compelling imagery as Che Guevara," says UCLA art history professor David Kunzle who's readying an exhibit celebrating Che, the pop icon.

Che lives


With Che's image being used to sell everything from Rage Against the Machine's CD, to swatches and beer, it's hard to miss this left-wing revolutionary.

New books by and about Che abound, including his "Motorcycle Diaries," about a young Ernesto Che Guevara on a Kerouac-like road trip.

Hollywood has even gotten into the act.

In the movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita," Antonio Banderas, as Guevara, and Madonna hook up even though Che and Eva Peron never actually met in real life.

Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, a legend in his own right, has even optioned a screenplay based on Che and a fellow Guerrilla known as "Tanyia." And actor Benicio Tel Toro is tabbed to play Che in another film to be based on Jon Lee Anderson's new biography.

"In popular culture, there have been movies about The Doors or Jimi Hendrix, but Che, that other poster boy has yet to be explored in the public domain," Anderson says.

Colin Robinson, publisher of Guevara's "The Motorcycle Diaries," says Che has become a powerful symbol of rebellion.

"He's a very powerful symbol these days because he was young and died young, because he was very handsome, because he was charismatic," Robinson says.

"He represents more than just the principle of armed struggle," Kunzle says. "He represents the idea of a better world.

Jaime Suchlicki, an International Relations professor at the University of Miami, disagrees.

Che's bones

"I think what he symbolized is a violent revolution, a pro-Chinese, Marxist line," Suchlicki says.

Suchlicki finds no small irony in the marketing of Che.

"What is ironic is that the capitalist market economy is selling a revolutionary that was against capitalism," he says.

And if Che himself could see what's happening to his image?

"I think he would roll over in his grave," Anderson says.

As the Cuban expression goes, "Che Vive." Che lives.


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