"The CIA might claim Che's body, but it will never be able to shackle his spirit."


Not one, not two, not three, but four films about Che Guevara will soon hit theaters, all from major studios. And that barely scratches the surface of Che chic. Writing in the Miami New Times, Brett Sokol takes stock of the guerrilla's media moment:

While it's certainly true that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, with Che Guevara that maxim has become downright surreal. Today the revolutionary icon's writings are simultaneously admired by teenage Howard Dean volunteers in Burlington and Taliban leaders in the Afghan countryside; they are parsed for strategies by narco-guerrillas in Colombia as well as counterinsurgency experts at the U.S. Southern Command.

Meanwhile the same Che T-shirt spotted on several masked anarchists cavorting through downtown Miami during November's FTAA protests was also sported by actress Elizabeth Hurley as she club-hopped across London. Hurley, though, chose to accessorize her sartorial ode to class struggle with a $4500 Louis Vuitton handbag. And just to add a further dash of the ridiculous, consider the recent sight of supermodel Gisele B?ndchen strutting down the catwalk in a Che bikini, Madonna's Che-inspired CD cover, or Smirnoff vodka's Che ad campaign.

For many local Cuban exiles, however, Guevara's current cultural moment is hardly a laughing matter. To them the very mention of Guevara—let alone the thought that his visage adorns countless dorm rooms—is deeply disturbing. The Argentine-born rebel, after all, was Fidel Castro's right-hand man during Cuba's 1959 revolution, personally presiding over several key events that forced so many to flee to South Florida: commanding scores of firing-squad executions of political opponents inside Havana's La Caba?a waterfront fortress; managing the wholesale nationalization of private businesses and homes; hunting down anti-Castro groups in the Escambray mountains; even demanding that the Soviets launch their island-based nukes at Washington, D.C., during the 1961 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Sokol draws the obvious conclusion that Che's iconic stature owes less to who he was or what he did than to what he seems to symbolize. Which may beg the question So just how did a guy like this come to be such an appealing symbol?, but at least it spares us the suspicion that Hurley and B?ndchen fantasize about commanding firing squads of their own.

Footnote: Libertarians have not been immune to Dr. Guevara's charms. Consider Murray Rothbard's obituary for the man. Here's the opening:

Che is dead, and so we all mourn him. Why? How is it that so many libertarians mourn this man; how is it that we just received a letter from a brilliant young libertarian, a former objectivist and Birchite, which said, in part: "if they finally did get Che…I am sure that his memory will live to haunt both Latin America and the U.S. for decades to come. Long live Che!"