It’s hard to find a marketing campaign more effective than the one that turned Che Guevara, a racist and homophobic psychopath who murdered countless innocent victims, into a revolutionary hero.
“The ‘Che myth’ has been the most successful marketing campaign of modern times”: An Interview with María Werlau
María Werlau is the co-founder and executive director of Cuba Archive, a non-profit think tank that defends human rights, and author of numerous books in English and Spanish on diverse topics related to Cuba. Her published works include Cuba’s intervention in Venezuela and The forgotten victims of Che Guevara. She has a bachelor’s degree in foreign service from the University of Georgetown and a master’s degree in international studies from the University of Chile.
“Yes, we have shot, we shot and we will continue to shoot,” said Che at the United Nations. Is this the phrase that best portrays Che Guevara?
Yes, because he enjoyed killing. I have spoken to many people who knew him, including the parish priest of La Cabaña, the fortress that was the prison where Che was in charge of revolutionary justice. He liked it and told the priest so, a man who couldn’t stand it any longer and had to leave after six months and after accompanying 55 people to the wall. Che wrote about this and was very clear about it.
He didn’t deceive anyone.
Not about this, but he did deceive when he went on television and said that he was not a communist, although I give him credit for being consistent and for having become a guerrilla for his ideals. The unusual thing is how propaganda has turned him into a myth. It was a deliberate campaign to cleanse the image of the Cuban revolution and turn both it and Che into romantic myths. To carry it out, Cuban intelligence enlisted the help of the KGB and its satellites. This is told by Ion Pacepa, former director of the Romanian Securitate, who recounts how they were asked for their help to turn Che into a martyr. I think it has been the most successful marketing campaign of modern times because there is no country where the image of Che Guevara has not been seen. Even in Poland, a country that has suffered so much from communism, I have seen images of Che. And that was the reason for writing this book, because there is a huge bibliography devoted to Che, but nothing about his victims.
Maybe because the bibliography is really about the myth.
Not necessarily, but what happens is that the best known biographers of Che Guevara, such as Lee Anderson or Castañeda do a very poor job with respect to the victims, they dedicate barely two lines to them.
Could it be that this is due precisely to the weight of propaganda, to the power of the myth?
The myth weighs heavily. I have met both of [the authors] and corresponded with Castañeda because of a photo of the golf club in Argentina where Che’s family used to go and where he would have learned to play while he was a caddy. The reality is that he was a member of the club like the rest of his family. I’ve also talked to Lee Anderson, who has also bought into the myth. And I suppose the advantage of preserving the Che myth also allows access to the archives in Cuba and sells more books. It’s still a question of capitalism and the reason why many young people wear a Che t-shirt, young people that Che would have sent to a concentration camp.
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