Gov Accountability

Combating the cult of personality around 'the face that launched a thousand t-shirts'

Trinidad, Cuba — February 5, 2016 — Local business kiosk selling Cuban souvenirs like Che Guevara t-shirts, and shopping bags with Cuban flags on the side. Photo: DayOwl /

A pop culture icon as much he is as a historical figure, Ernesto “Che” Guevara has been called “the face that launched a thousand t-shirts.” But according to Franco Lopez, executive director of Fundación Bases, plastering Che’s face on t-shirts and posters romanticizes the life of a controversial figure responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Fundación Bases, headquartered in Che Guevara’s birthplace of Rosario, Argentina, has been working to combat the cult of personality surrounding the Marxist revolutionary.

“Che Guevara's acts went far beyond a regular war or rebellion,” Lopez said. “He committed violent crimes against defenseless populations during the guerrilla [war].”

As the 50th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death approached, Fundación Bases met with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation – Argentina to discuss creating a campaign to publicize the problematic aspects of Che Guevara’s legacy. Despite the fact that Che Guevara left Rosario early in his life and never returned, the city is home to numerous monuments to “el Che,” including statues, banners, and Che Guevara Square. Fundación Bases decided to petition the local government to remove these monuments and tributes, piquing the interest of The Economist, which recently ran an article featuring their efforts.

Fundacion Bases had originally wanted to produce videos highlighting the crimes committed by Che Guevara and his fellow revolutionaries and play them around Rosario. During a Lights, Camera, Liberty! workshop, Lopez and filming director Jose Guillermo Codina, worked to design the video campaign. They returned to Argentina ready to produce these videos, and made plans to collaborate with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation – Argentina to play them in giant LED screens throughout the city.

The team had everything ready to go when the company that was leasing out the screens backed out at the last minute. “They feared that the content could attract acts of vandalism that could end in damage to the equipment,” explained Marcelo Duclos, communications coordinator at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation – Argentina. This was not the only potential threat that the video campaign faced. Federico Fernandez, president of Fundación Bases, added that Norberto Galiotti, secretary of the local Communist party, accused the group of colluding with President Mauricio Macri to try to “erase Che Guevara from history.”

Fearing similar acts of retaliation in a city that reveres Che Guevara, Fundación Bases decided to limit the video campaign to social media. It also decided to petition the local government to remove all monuments, taking issue with the fact that taxpayer money is being used to celebrate this controversial figure.

“It is not healthy for a society that its government honors someone who personally executed people, persecuted minorities, and helped established a totalitarian system that still today oppresses millions,” Fernandez said. “We don't want our taxes to be used for this.” However, Fundación Bases is aware that it is highly unlikely that the monuments will actually be removed by the municipal government. “We think that the main objective of the campaign is to educate people about the crimes of Che Guevara and communism,” said Lopez.