The Guardian

The Guardian June 6, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Protecting Che's image

The man who shot that famous photograph of an intense Che Guevara gazing 
out from under a black beret has died in Paris. He was Cuban photographer 
Alberto Korda (whose real name was Alberto Diaz Gutierrez) and he was in 
Paris for an exhibition of his work. Korda died on May 25 of a heart 
attack. He was 72.

Under the Batista dictatorship, Korda had to be satisfied with taking 
fashion photographs, but after the victory of the Revolution in 1959 he 
became one of a small group of young photographers recording the Revolution 
for the world and posterity.

He accompanied Castro on trips and in meetings with foreign personalities, 
producing striking photos of Castro staring warily at a tiger in a New York 
zoo, playing golf and fishing with Guevara, skiing and hunting in Russia, 
and with US author Ernest Hemingway.

In 1960, Korda was covering a memorial rally in Havana. The rally was for 
the victims of the terrorist bombing of a merchant ship in Havana harbour, 
an act widely attributed to the CIA, which typically denies responsibility 
to this day.

"I was about eight or ten metres from the tribune where Fidel Castro was 
speaking", Korda later recalled. "Suddenly I noticed that Che was 
approaching the railing."

The photo he took of Che intently watching the rally he named "The Heroic 
Guerrilla". It became the most famous revolutionary icon of the second half 
of the 20th century.

Ironically, the newspaper he worked for, Revolucion, chose not to 
run it, preferring shots of Castro and visiting French writers Jean Paul 
Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

It was not until seven years later, in 1967, that Korda gave a copy of the 
photo to a visiting Italian. Shortly afterwards Che was killed by a CIA 
agent working with the Bolivian army, and the Italian began disseminating 
the photo.

The photo is still being distributed on posters and T-shirts all over the 
world, but Korda never received a cent in royalties. He was clearly proud 
to have his photo of Che used as part of the mass struggle of the people 
across the globe.

But when the advertising business began its current two-pronged policy of 
attempting to portray consumerism as "revolutionary" and simultaneously co-
opting revolutionary images to sell products, he drew the line.

He sued a British ad agency that used his photo of Guevara to flog Smirnoff 
vodka. The agency settled out of court for US$50,000. Korda gave the money 
to Cuban authorities for children's medical treatment.

The court case was brought with the assistance of the London-based Cuba 
Solidarity Campaign which has vowed to continue defending the picture of 
Che from "unscrupulous use" following Korda's death.

The organisation has been acting as agent for Korda since the photographer 
had an exhibition in London in 1997.

The day after Korda's death, Dr Stephen Wilkinson, National Co-ordinator of 
the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, who was a personal friend of Korda, said: 
"Our most abiding memory of him will be November last year when we took him 
a large sum of money from the sale of the photograph and he immediately had 
us hand it directly over to the Cuban Health Ministry to purchase much 
needed antibiotics for children."

* * *
Who's for democracy?
Those merry pranksters, the US administration in the White House, would have us all believe that they are totally committed to democracy. I mean, you have to laugh. Throughout the '90s the corrupt dictator of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, was their right-hand man in that particular neck of the woods. He or his army at any rate waged bloody war on the Shining Path guerrillas and anybody else who even vaguely looked like a leftist. But Alberto was just a shade too brutal, too corrupt and let's face it - - too undemocratic for the Peruvian people, and late last year they chased him out of the country. So they have had new elections. At the time of writing they are not yet over (but will be by the time you read this). There was no clear winner in the first round, so in the second round the choice is between Fujimori's predecessor Alan Garcia and a "US-trained economist", Alejandro Toledo. According to the opinion polls which of course are never manipulated to influence the outcome of the election Toledo has a commanding lead. But the White House is concerned that Peru's elections be seen to be "truly democratic". After all, George Bush knows all about fraudulent elections, disbarred voters, blockading polling booths, intimidating the vote counters, etc. That's how he got "into" the White House. Not that the White House would interfere directly, mind you. No, the stamp of approval is to be given by a 35-member multinational delegation organised by "two" US outfits, both of them "independent": the National Democratic Institute and the Carter Centre (set up by former Pres Jimmy Carter). So who do you think they selected to head this delegation? What paragon of democratic principles and ideals did they choose? Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the bomber of Belgrade. Like I said, you have to laugh.

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