The top act at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week featured Mercedes-Benz Chairman Dieter Zetsche peddling his company’s new gadgetry under a huge picture of Che Guevara, who sported the Mercedes logo on his beret. “Viva la Revolucion!” beamed the cheeky Herr Zetsche while unveiling his brilliant ad campaign.
In other words: to sell cars in the U.S., Mercedes-Benz is relying on the mass appeal in the U.S. of the mass-murdering Stalinist who craved to destroy the U.S.
“The U.S. is the great enemy of mankind!” once raved Mercedes-Benz new U.S. sales icon. “Against those hyenas there is no option but extermination! We will bring the war to the imperialist enemies’ [Americans] very home, to his places of work and recreation. The imperialist enemy [Americans] must feel like a hunted animal wherever he moves. Thus we’ll destroy him! We must keep our hatred [against the U.S.] alive and fan it to paroxysm! If the nuclear missiles had remained [in Cuba] we would have fired them against the heart of the U.S. including New York City. The solutions to the world’s problems lie behind the Iron Curtain. The victory of socialism is well worth millions of atomic victims!”
No doubt Mercedes-Benz chuckles at the ironic cheekiness of using a Communist “man of the people” to tout a luxury product. After all, Time magazine’s encomium to Che Guevara in 1999 as “Hero and Icon of the Century” asserted that: “Nothing could be more vicariously gratifying than Che Guevara’s disdain for material comfort and everyday desires.”
Alas, Time’s (and Mercedes’) “research” overlooked some important details. In fact, quite unwittingly, Mercedes-Benz has chosen an ideal sales emblem—and one utterly devoid of irony. To wit:
“Che’s mansion was among the most luxurious in Cuba,” wrote Cuban journalist Antonio Llano Montes in 1960. After a hard day at the office signing firing squad murder warrants and blasting defenseless teenagers’ skulls apart with the coup-de-grâce, Che Guevara retired to his new domicile just outside Havana on the pristine beachfront (today reserved exclusively for tourists and regime apparatchiks). Until a few weeks prior, it had belonged to Cuba’s most successful building contractor, who escaped Cuba just ahead of a Guevara firing squad. “The mansion had a boat dock, a huge swimming pool, seven bathrooms, a sauna, a massage salon and several television sets,” continues Llano Montes. “One TV had been specially designed in the U.S. and had a screen ten feet wide and was operated by remote control (remember, this was 1959). This was thought to be the only TV of its kind in Latin America. The mansion’s garden had a veritable jungle of imported plants, a pool with waterfall, ponds filled with exotic tropical fish and several bird houses filled with parrots and other exotic birds. The habitation was something out of A Thousand and One Nights.”
The “austere idealist,” Che, hadn’t done too badly for himself in this real estate transaction, known in non-“revolutionary” societies as armed robbery.
Llano Montes wrote the above in exile. In February 1959 he didn’t go quite into such detail in his article which appeared in the Cuban magazine Carteles. He simply wrote that, “Comandante Che Guevara has fixed his residence in one of the most luxurious houses on Tarara beach.”
Two days after his article ran, while lunching at Havana’s El Carmelo restaurant, Llano Montes looked up from his plate to see three heavily armed soldiers instructing him to accompany them. Shortly the journalist found himself in Che Guevara’s La Cabana office, seated a few feet in front of the Stalinist hangman’s desk, which was piled with papers.
It took half an hour but Che finally made his grand entrance, “reeking horribly, as was his custom” recalls Llano Montes. “Without looking at me. He started grabbing papers on his desk and brusquely signing them with ‘Che.’ His assistant came in and Che spoke to him over his shoulder. ‘I’m signing these 50 executions so we can take care of this tonight.’
“Then he got up and walked out. Half an hour later he walks back in and starts signing more execution [“murder,” actually – “execution” implies some form of judicial process] warrants. Finished signing, he picks up a book and starts reading – never once looking at me. Another half hour goes by and he finally puts the book down. ‘So you’re Llano Montes,’ he finally sneers, ‘who says I appropriated a luxurious house.’”
“I simply wrote that you had moved into a luxurious house, which is the truth,” replied Llano Montes.
“We’re not going to allow all the press foolishness [freedom] that Batista allowed. I can have you executed this very night. How about that?!”
“You’ll need proof that I’ve broken some law,” responded Montes.
Montes continued to recount: “‘We don’t need proof. We manufacture the proof,’ Che said while stroking his long hair, a habit of his. One of his prosecutors, a man nicknamed ‘Puddle-of-blood’ then walked in and started talking. ‘Don’t let the stupid jabbering of those defense lawyers delay the executions!’ Che yelled at him. ‘Threaten them with execution. Accuse them of being accomplices of the Batistianos.’ Then Che jerked another handful of execution warrants from Mr. Puddle and started signing them.
“This type of thing went on from noon until 6:30 PM when Che finally turned to his aides and said. ’Get this man out of here. I don’t want him in my presence.‘”
This was Che’s habitual manner of dealing with defenseless men. Against armed men on an equal footing his behavior was markedly different, particularly upon his capture in Bolivia. “Don’t shoot!” he whimpered. “I’m Che! I’m worth more to you alive than dead!”
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