Saturday, January 21, 2012

What does Che Guevara have to do with Mercedes-Benz? Nothing, say outraged Cubans who threaten to boycott car maker

Advertising director of German luxury manufacturer may be looking for a new job

Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1928-1967) was an Argentine-born Marxist theoretician. A major figure in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s, Guevara became an enduring icon for insurrectionists worldwide, especially those of the far left.

While living in Mexico City almost 60 years ago, Che met two young brothers named Fidel and Raúl Castro, joined their cause and sailed to Cuba aboard a leaky second-hand vessel christened Granma, with the audacious goal of toppling the U.S.-backed Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Guevara became a prominent member of the insurgents and played a major role in the successful guerrilla war which ultimately deposed Batista. Years later, after freelancing in several far flung civil war hotspots, Guevara was captured and and executed by CIA-assisted Bolivian troops in a remote jungle region of that country. He remains a national hero in Cuba, as one of the founding fathers of the Castro regime. His picture is plastered all over Havana, and probably on more than a few college dorm walls as well (in my day, anyway, but perhaps Che's image has since been replaced with some other youthful symbol of rebellion and resistance to authority).

Back to German car manufacturer Mercedes Benz -- actually, Daimler AG. At the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 10, Mercedes director Dieter Zetsche appeared in front of an enormous screen while delivering a speech for a company campaign called CarTogether, encouraging owners of luxury vehicles to carpool more frequently to cut down on harmful emissions and reduce traffic congestion. On the screen behind him was the very famous image of Che Guevara in this post. But instead of a red star on Che's beret -- enduring symbol of the Communist International -- viewers saw the company emblem. As if comrade Che would really drive a Mercedes . . .

In Zetsche's words: "Some of my colleagues thought that the notion of sharing a Mercedes bordered somewhat on a communist approach, so we decided, well, if that's the case, then ¡Viva la Revolución!" (and those exact words also appeared right below Guevara's image on the big screen). Perhaps Zetsche and his team had in mind that old Karl Marx slogan, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." It backfired big time.

Word spread quickly in the Cuban community in the United States, where hundreds of thousands of rabidly anti-Castro expatriates live in the hope of someday returning to and retaking their island homeland. Many of them, not surprisingly, are in Florida, and many of them have enjoyed quite enough business success (thanks to entrepreneurship and good old capitalism) to drive a Mercedes. They reacted with predictable outrage, demanding that the car manufacturer pull the ad. Worse, many of them swear they'll never touch the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz again. Even a Havana-born U.S. congresswoman complained.

Mercedes-Benz has apologized profusely for the marketing glitch and plucked its coveted emblem from Che's beret. But historically speaking, the company may have been on the right track. Several sources have reported that Guevara (and Fidel Castro in those days as well) regularly wore Rolex GMT wristwatches. A rebel wants to be well-dressed when he's out and about.

Fulgencio Batista's last New Years Eve in Havana: http://mexicogulfreporter-supplement.blogspot.com/2011/11/us-embargo-of-cuba.html
Have a free drink at the Hemingway Bar in Washington, D.C.: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2011/11/hemingway-bar-opens-in-cuban-diplomatic.html.

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