Ernesto <em>'Che'</em> Guevara by Alberto Korda
Guerillero Heroico
by Alberto Korda (1960)

Fifty years ago, on January 1st, 1959, Cuba's dictator Fulgencio Batista fled Havana's Presidential Palace — where he had just hosted a New Year party — to the Dominican Republic, giving up power to the revolution headed by Fidel Castro, in which Ernesto 'Che' Guevara had taken a big part.

Everybody knows the portrait on the left side: 'El Che' stares into the middle distance with fiery resolve, military beret perched on his head, leather jacket zipped up to his neck, hair blown by the wind. Taken in 1960 by Alberto Korda, a Cuban photographer, this picture is one of the most widely reproduced images in the history of photography. It has been endlessly reproduced on posters, T-shirts and so on, and has remained remarkably durable as a symbol of revolution and youthful rebellion.

Hasta Siempre by Carlos Puebla
(Soledad Bravo

Such a romantic view of the character is somewhat odd when you know that, after Fidel Castro took the power in Cuba,  Ernesto Guevara was the supreme prosecutor of suspected war criminals from the regime of Batista and oversaw without leniency trials and executions of many people.

Yet 'El Che' became a romantic hero, an icon of freedom and fight against oppression, when he decided to leave the comfort of Cuba where he was a minister, and try to export revolution to other countries: Congo-Kinshasa first, then Bolivia. He even gained a Christ-like stature at the end, when he was captured in Bolivia in October 1967 in a military operation supported by US Special forces, and summarily executed.


Alberto Korda never earned any royalties from his famous photograph, although the portrait was declined in hundreds of reproductions.

The original picture (on the left) is usually reframed so that El Che appears alone on it. Very often, it is turned into a high contrast black and white picture that is especially found on tee-shirts. The high-contrast version of the portrait was also used in an artistic way in a pop-art serigraphy in colours, an imitation of a famous serigraphy by Andy Warhol featuring Marilyn Monroe.

Image Image

ImageVery often too, the picture is used in a way that would make El Che turn in his grave: "The revolutionary struggle of the cherries was squashed as they were trapped between two layers of chocolate", reads the copy on this ice-cream's wrapper. "May their memory live on in your mouth".

Poor Che... Taken over by Capitalism, at the end.

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