Thursday, December 30, 2004

Guevara Watch Off Library's Shelves After Complaints by Cuban-Americans

December 29, 2004 Edition > Section: New York

Guevara Watch Off Library's Shelves After Complaints by Cuban-Americans
BY MEGHAN CLYNE - Staff Reporter of the Sun
December 29, 2004

Time's up, it seems, for the Che Guevara watch at the New York Public Library.

The week before Christmas, the library stopped selling the watch, which had infuriated many Cuban-Americans and others who complained of what they called the continuing transformation of the murderous Guevara into a pop-culture icon. The New York Sun reported on the complaints in a front-page article December 14.

A spokeswoman for the library, Tina Hoerenz, said, "Once an item is out of stock, we take it off the Web site, and in this case we don't have any plans to reorder it at this time."

The library would not provide further comment, and neither apologized for having sold the watch nor acknowledged the outrage of Cuban-Americans and others who sent letters to the library protesting the watch's sale.

One of the library's critics on the matter was the president of the Free Society Project, Maria Werlau. The nonprofit human-rights organization seeks to document the victims of Cuba's communist revolution. Ms. Werlau called that lack of acknowledgment "disappointing and disheartening."

While Ms. Werlau, who coordinated efforts to get the library to stop selling the Guevara timepiece, is accepting the library's action without further protest, she said the institution's handling of it amounted to "a pretty awful public-relations job," showing a lack of sensitivity to Cubans and Cuban-Americans.

Also dissatisfied is Rolando Castano, who gave the following harrowing account of his father's execution by Che Guevara personally.

Mr. Castano's father served first as a liaison between the American and Cuban armies under Fulgencio Batista - the Cuban leader overthrown by the revolution led by Fidel Castro - and later in a counterrevolutionary intelligence organization that monitored communist activity in Cuba. When Batista fled the country, the elder Mr. Castano was seized by the Castro forces and imprisoned. After a sham trial, he was sentenced to death by firing squad, with the execution to be carried out that very night. Immediately after Mr. Castano's father was condemned, intervention by the American Embassy led Mr. Castro to order a stop to the execution. Disobeying his boss's diktat, however, Guevara took the elder Mr. Castano "into his office in la Cabana, and put a bullet in his head," right at Guevara's desk, Mr. Castano said. He added that his father was denied a proper funeral and was buried before family members were notified.

The younger Mr. Castano was 19 at the time and came to America four or five years after the execution, he said.

Getting the New York Public Library to stop selling the watch, he said, is just part of a larger mission to teach the world about the real Guevara.

"Right now, Che Guevara is famous, idealized," Mr. Castano said. "To create a different personality about him is going to take a little while, but we have to start with at least one step right now."

The library was marketing the watch as a bit of "whimsical pop culture." The timepiece was available for $40 online and in library gift stores. Similar watches bearing the familiar faces of Freud and Shakespeare were available from the library Web site yesterday.

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