Friday, March 02, 2007

The flipside of the "che" coin.

As I spend my final months here in Chicago it humors me to see various non-Cuban inner-city street youth with shirts and coats portraying images of the fictional Cuban character Tony Montana (from the movie Scarface.) Now, as any Cuban-American knows, there is a copy of the movie Scarface in almost every Cuban household, and as I've debated on buying a copy, I have recently pondered the danger in this fictional image of a Cuban gangster.

At first, I thought that I would rather have someone with an image of Scarface instead of an image of ernesto guevara*, however, I got to thinking and realized that both images can be seen as two sides of the same fictional coin.

mr. guevara's image on the shirts of ignorant college students world round has little to do with the historical events of mr. guevara's life, and is more the recreation of an icon representing the idealized "revolutionary struggle" against corruption in power. Scarface's image, on most inner-city youth, is an image of this corruption in search of power. If mr. guevara is the fictional image of struggle, then Scarface's Tony Montana has become the fictional image of guevara's opponent.

Image perpetuates myth and myth distorts the truth. As every hero needs a villian, this heroic image of mr. guevara (as understood here in the US) has one in the villianous image Scarface. And though I am sure that there are many who would side with Scarface simply to spit on the image of mr. guevara, I have to warn that this would be a grave error. Tony Montana's self-destructive character is in the end this negative, and erroneous, image of the Cuban exile community, to promote his image would subsequently justify the erroneously positive image of mr. guevera.

It should also be noted that both images in the end perpetuate the LIE: that those Cuban's who fled Cuba are corrupt and that the revolution was necessary.

In lieu of this, I'll hold off on getting a copy of Scarface until I'm convinced otherwise.

*Given that ernesto guevara was called "che" by his closest friends, direct reference to him from now on will be by his real name. In respect of the fact that he never finished his medical degree, I will refer to him from now on as mr. guevara. And finally, since I hold his past actions and writings accountable for the much of the current turmoil and unrest that is persistant in most of Latin American (especially in centeral Colombia and southern parts of Mexico), his name will be written in the lower case –respect is given only when respect is due.

La verdad es más sencilla, ella no quiere adornos extranjeros, pues los suyos bastan para hacerla apreciable.
-Felix Varela (Miscelánea Filosófica, Parte II, 174)


Gusano said...

is Monatana guevara's "new man"?

"a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate"

AmandaDufau said...

Welcome back, my friend.
Well said!

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Tony Montana is not the flipside of Guevara, but represents the culmination of Castro's legacy — the "New Man" which the Revolution purports to have created in the image of "Che." This "New Man," who is only an old gangster, is transplanted to the U.S. and continues true to the criminal instincts which Castroite society fosters. It is, of course, much more offensive to wear a tee-shirt with "Che's" image than one with Tony Montana's. Tony Montana is fictional. "Che" was real. Tony Montana killed fictional people. "Che" Guevara killed real people.

John R. said...


Fair enough. Perhaps I didn't explain myself clearly, I was strickly speaking of these images in respect to US pop culture where the murderous reality of mr. guevara is ignored and the fictional character of Tony Montana is admired.

The youth who sport Scarface clothing know nothing of the new man, nor do they know any fact of mr. guevara. All they know is that the image of Tony Montana represents a corrupt hunger for power, and that the Korda image of mr. guevara is struggle against corruption. Clearly Montana is fictional as it is clear that mr. guevara was real and indeed corrupt.

These kids don't know this. All they know is what these images contain and promote: an image seperate from the reality of mr. guevara, seperate from the fictional character of Tony Montana, and seperate from the reailty of Cuba and its people on an off the island.

John R. said...

Gusano, yes, we can interpret him as such, but I'm curious if this is what De Palma intended when he made Scarface.

Unknown said...

As a young Cuban-American male, I have to admit that I had never thought of the Scarface image as being anywhere near as dangerous as Che's. After reading this post, I still don't.

It is precisely because people know Scarface's legacy is purely fictional that it is no more dangerous than t-shirts displaing the image of any comic book supervillain/superhero. Scarface represents a certain "badassery" that I think - at least generally speaking - young people know is only fun on film. I wouldn't wear Scarface on my shirt, but only because I think it looks bad/tacky.

Che's image, on the other hand, represents (for those misguided and misinformed souls who help make him an icon) real, historical, justifiable murder that is not only possible, but correct to re-enact. No sane youth in a Scarface t-shirt will tell you "I think it's OK to kill people to advance yourself in the cocaine business, and I would do the same if I was in his place."

Ask any of those kids wearing Che t-shirts if they think living a life similar to the one (they believe) he lived, and it becomes obvious (at least to me) that these two images don't belong in the same discussion. The earnest, honest, and sincere way in which those kids will tell you they admire Guevara makes my blood boil, as I'm sure it does yours.

Maybe Scarface's image is better compared to t-shirts with rappers' faces on them - these are real life characters, but like Scarface, they typically have fictional personas that young people enjoy watching, but would not usually be happy to imitate. Those kinds of images are harmful, but in far more subtle ways that Che's.

John R. said...

"The earnest, honest, and sincere way in which those kids will tell you they admire Guevara makes my blood boil, as I'm sure it does yours."

You better believe my blood boils! Yet, would I be wrong in saying the honest and sincere (and erroneous) way they admire mr. guevara has no relation to the corrupt image that Scarface represents?

Unknown said...

No. I don't think you would be wrong. I don't seee them as being related People don't "admire" Scarface. They're amused by him. They find his story to be entertaining.

They wear his image for the same reason they might wear Hannibal's. Silence of the Lambs fans don't condone cannibalism any more than Scarface fans condone murder and drug trafficking.

Part of my point is that even the most miguided people put Che into SOME real historical context: The Cuban Revolution.

I think most fans of Scarface see the character as a badass drug lord who happened to be Cuban. To most people, the Mariel history means nothing.

Maybe for those of us who know the history it is harder to understand that other do not make these connections, but I really do think that these people see the "Cuban" angle as being far less significant to the story than you and I do. To them it just means he talks with a funnny accent.

So maybe that's the other true danger of Scarface: It's thanks to Al Pacino that so many thousands of American kids think their terrible Cuban impersonations sound right.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

"The earnest, honest, and sincere way in which those kids will tell you they admire Guevara makes my blood boil, as I'm sure it does yours." — Nicolas

Perhaps because I am much older than you, Nicolas, it does not make my blood boil, but inspires an infinite sadness in me to think how those kids have been ill-served by their parents, the educational system and the culture itself into espousing an "idealism" that is corrupt and corrosive.

Mizzoubanazo said...

Manuel, maybe you're right. I'm reminded of the lyrics to Billy Joel's song "Angry Young Man"...

In any case, whether it is anger or sadness, I would say that the Che image is the only one of the two (Che/Scarface) that gets any sort of significant emotional response from me.

I guess maybe it'll piss me off til I age a bit.

John R. said...

Nicolas, mr. guevara is certainly more dangerous because of the historical ties, but image does have a tendency to perpetuate myth. And at least some of the American mentality here in Chicago buy into the that the Cubans in Miami are all gangsters.

In wonder if it is that different than the fictional Italian character Vito Corlione from the Godfather. Any Italian-American (or anyone who has researched the Mafia) knows that the movie has no real representation of the Mafia, but those who don't know may have a greater disposition to paint Italian-Americans and the Mafia in light of the Godfather's image.

My argument is that perhaps there is the same danger when people see Tony Montana and associate Cuban-Americans with him, the same Cuban-Americans that fidel call's the Miami Mafia.

Gusano said...

nah, Depalma just likes to make violent mobster movies.

carface was;t one of his best.IMHO.

but you made think that guevara's legacy is men that are totally materialistic for whom the ends justify the means. In that sense thay are the same coin.

man philosophizing is hard.need a beer. thank God beer is all veg!

John R. said...


Amen brother! And I think I'll join you with a beer.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Actually the original Scarface movie made in 1933 chronicled the life of an Italian gangster played by Edward G. Robinson. Just as Pacino was an Italian playing a Cuban, Robinson was a Jew playing an Italian.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Mambi Watch,

Say hello to my little friend!


Oh and I amost forgot.

Kiss my hard line Cuban-American ass.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

In the Godfather II there is a famous scene where the mafiosi present to a delighted Batista a solid gold telephone. That actually happened, but not as presented in the film. It wasn't the mafiosi who presented the gift but U.S. ambassador Arthur J. Gardner the day after the failed attack on the Presidential Palace, where terrorists from the "July 26th Movement" tried to kill Batista, his wife and young children in their family quarters. The gold phone was a gift from the Americans to show their support for President Batista at that crucial moment. It had nothing to do with the U.S. mafia just as the U.S. mafia had nothing to do with pre-Castro Cuba.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

I have to correct you Manuel. The golden telephone was not presented by mafiosi in the movie. I remember the scene well and it was a gift from International Telephone and Telegraph. A gold phone coming from the mafia wouldn't make sense. The purpose of the scene was to show who the real power brokers in Cuba were. That's why mafiosi were present in addition to bigwigs from corporate America.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


I don't think a gold telephone would make much sense under any circumstances. Still, there was such a phone and it was presented to Batista the day after the abortive assassination attempt by U.S. Ambassador Gardner.

Batista, of course, had no connections to the mafia; he never met with mafiosi; and was certainly not their pawn. The scene in the film is meant to imply that he was. That is a canard both as regards Batista and republican Cuba.

Henry Louis Gomez said...


My point was about the film. The person that gave Batista the phone in the film was the representative of an American telecommunications company not a member of the Mafia.

As for who Batista actualy did and did not meet with, I have no earthly idea.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

As for who Batista actually did and did not meet with, I have no earthly idea. — Henry

Disappointing, Henry. The kind of answer that I would expect from Alex of SOTP.

Our country was not a den for the mafia and Batista would no more have concerted with mafiosi than would have Eisenhower. This is not something that you need to investigate or search your soul about. Do not let Communist propaganda on this subject cloud or obscure your vision. None of it is true and there is no reason for such an equivocal and at the same time damning comment.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Coño Manuel cut me some slack. I am 37 years old. I was born in Philadelphia and have never set foot in Cuba yet I know more about the last 48 years than probably 90% of Cubans. Please excuse me that my knowledge doesn't go back even further.

You still haven't said "Henry you are right, the phone in the movie was given to the Batista character by a corporate type not a mafioso, I was wrong."

Remember you brought up the Godfather not me. You made the mistake about the movie, not me.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


There are also those who believe that Batista kept wild animals on his estate and fed the rebels to them [the same thing was said of Machado]. I hope that your answer to this other canard won't be: "As for what Batista fed to the panthers, I have no earthly idea."

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


I congratulate you for your knowledge about Cuba. You know more than Alex of SOTP and he lived there 24 years. However, there are some things that you should take for granted even if you never lived in Cuba. On such thing is that we were once a civilized country which was not run by the mafia.

Mizzoubanazo said...

Actually, Manuel, I'm reluctant to believe Batista didn't have relationships with the mob.

Pre-Castro Cuba was by no means "run" by the American mafia as the regime would have people believe, but mob ties to Batista's government are not a secret.

In fact, I was recently talking to a Catholic priest who told me about a (former) mob family he is close to. They took him down to the family's humidor (it is a large room in their Chicago home) to show off a box of cigars that had never been smoked: they were - according to the anecdote - a gift from Batista on that infamous New Year's Eve. Batista told the recipient that it would probably be the last box he ever gave him.

Anway, my point it that while the mob didn't play the role propaganda and apologists would have you believe, it was present and at least interacted in some non-hostile capacity with Batista.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


This is apparently one of those myths that will not die. Batista's government had no ties to American mob. In fact, Batista did not even know Meyer Lansky personally, much less had any "business" connections with him. In its heyday, the mafia had dozens of American congressmen and even senators in their pockets. They were a tolerated presence in most American cities, controlling not only criminal activities but the unions as well.

In Cuba our own local mafiosi were the Communists and they controlled the unions (until Batista ousted them). There may have been a congressman or senator with ties to the U.S. mafia, just as in the U.S. But the mafia played no role in the government of Cuba and no role in its economy, which is more than Americans could say then or now.

I am saving this comment since two previous ones on this subject appear to have been lost.

Mizzoubanazo said...


You seem to be responding to comments I never made. I never said that Batista's government had ties to the mob, and I never said he personally knew Lansky (the family I referred to and did not name was not Lansky's - I can't remember the name of the family now actually... just the other details of the anecdote).

All I said was that I am reluctant to believe that Batista the individual had absolutely no relationship whatsoever to anyone in the American mob. Admittedly I have done no research and can't speak to the likelihood of his having done "business" with the mob ("business" is another word you brought up and I never used), but I find it a bit hard to believe that he didnt personally know at least a few American mobsters, even if only socially.

El Guardia Rural said...

Let's get this straight and I'm telling you from experience. I have a relative that has over 20 years invested with the LAPD. In the 80's the LAPD had a Cuban task force. This was due to the large number of Cubans that were cocaine cowboys. I also know of people who made large amounts of money in the drug business and now are filthy rich after investing the money in legitimate businesses where a lot of people in South Florida spend there money. All though I hate the Regime we do have to man up and recognize that there were some members of our community that were enaged in the narcotics business. My relative in the LAPD told me that they were able to get several captains of this organization but they never got to the top. He believes those in charge were older Cuban Americans probably Bay of Pigs vets or part of that generation of Cubans. Hay que mirarse en el espejo, chico.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

While I don't doubt that what you say is possible I don't see why I have to "man up" about it. I personally don't know any drug dealers nor have I known any. It's just another way of casting an entire group of people in a negative light (as if we didn't have enough of that already). It's convenient that they never "got to the top."

I denounce drug dealers whether they are Cuban or not.

El Guardia Rural said...

Hey in the 80's a lot of people in Miami were on the take and directly or indirectly benefited from the immense drug trafficking that went on. I know its wrong to cast a whole group in a negative light. While not all Cubans are drug dealers, a good portion of the cocaine traffic in Florida and California in the 80's was facilitated by Cubans. Just to point out the degree that Cubans were involved in the drug trade. Most vessels that were suspected of or directly engaged in drug trafficking in the 80's now traffic in bringing Cubans here from the island. If you get caught you get a lot less jail time if nobody on your boat dies. And you get paid between $6K - $10K a head. It's a pretty profitable operation. I cannot confirm nor deny why I know this. This is very minimal compared to the two greatest Cuban drug dealers of them all, Raul and Fidel. The LAPD never got to the top because the narcos knew what they were doing. They were that good. But the ones I know of who own the legitimate businesses today did pay in many ways. They are several brothers. One ended up in jail and now is out. Another ended up like Jimmy Hoffa and they don't know what happened to him. And another ended up in a wheelchair. The youngest brother was kept out of the family business but benefited by having his medical school paid for. So there are consequences. It's even a part of our culture too. We even have a slang word for drug dealer, marimbero. The lesson from this is that there are always bad apples, especially in our own tree.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

el guardia rural:

If you "can't confirm anything," then don't libel Cuban exiles, whom George Gilder has called "the most successful immigrants in the history of this nation of immigrants." If drug-trafficking hasn't bettered the condition of African-Americans and other Hispanics, then certainly it was no factor in the success of Cuban-Americans.

El Guardia Rural said...

It is not libel because it is the truth. Yes I could go into details about what I know but let's just say I choose not to to protect the parties involved. All I will say I medal signed by then LTG Michael Hayden, USAF and those are my credentials. In the case of certain Cubans I would say yes it has bettered their lives at some cost though. Such as the example I wrote about in my previous post. Why would I libel myself anyways.

John R. said...

Let me jump into this conversation really quickly just to point out that though Tony Montana is a fictional character his image represents one of Cuban cocaine corruption that many percieve to be a reality and Cuban-American stereotype here in the US (and in Cuba). Whether el guardia rural is right, or not,
the image is still very much present. Scarface is a fictional character that has become an image (a simulation) pointing to a percieved reality that has the power to influence public opinion and thought.

Moreover, back to Tellechea's point about the Godfather movies (golden telephone aside), Tellechea points out: "Batista, of course, had no connections to the mafia; he never met with mafiosi; and was certainly not their pawn. The scene in the film is meant to imply that he was."

Now, I understand Mizzoubanazo's point that it's higly unlikely that Batista did not have any aquantance with mafiosi, and I'm not going to argue for or against that here. What I will say is that Manuel is right in saying that this movie implys a mob connection. Heck most of the Godfather 2 implies a Mob connection that many take as a watered-down fact. When I went to see the Lost City here in Chicago, I heard several people in line talking about how this was going to be the "real" Godfather movie. Due to the stigma that Hollywood has created on the Cuban/Cuban-American community, these people came to see the Lost City expecting a story about the mafia. And does anybody recall how and why it was so hard for Andy Garcia to get this movie made? Quite frankly, it didn't fit the image that Hollywood promotes.

In other words, there is an image from a fictional movie that has the potential to influence, and possibly distort, popular understanding of historical fact. This is true for the Godfather 2, and I believe this is true for Scarface.

Image has the power to perpetuate myth, and this increasingly promoted image of Tony Montana has all the potential to fuel the myth and commie propaganda of Cuban-American corruption, thus justfying the minds of the pyrrhic revolutionary followers of the mr. guevara t-shirt club.

The more Montana's image of Cuban corruption is supported, the more risk there is in inadverantly supporting the popular and erroroneous image of mr. guevara.

knittingnurse said...

First of all, let me say that I have not read all of the comments above. I read your original post and as such am replying to said post.

I couldn't agree with you more. As a muchachita, my parents did not allow me to see the movie Scarface and I saw no part of it until well into my 20's. I saw bits and pieces of it at that point and I was insulted enough that I have yet to see the whole thing.

My parents came here in '61 at the young, YOUNG ages of 18 and 19 with my, at the time, 3 month old big brother and not a dime to their name. They knew not a soul here and didn't know a word of the language. They made it through the "Torre de la Libertad" and were sent to live with the assistance of a host family in Milwaukee (can you imagine?) where they worked hard, took no assistance from the government and saved enough money to move back to Miami. They worked hard and never took a dime from anyone, paid their taxes and raised us to do the same.

My family has been a hard working, honest family here in the US and the image that Scarface portrays of Cuban exiles was more than I could take. I now have a family of my own and I am in complete awe of the struggles my parents must have gone through. Continuing to promote the negative stereotype of Cuban exiles by watching let alone purchasing that movie is very distasteful to me.

Yes, I know that it is a fictional story with a fictional character. But when I was a 14 year old girl I overheard a store clerk talking to a coworker about tailing my brother in the store because "you know how THOSE people are". The stereotype promoted by that movie did and DOES exist and I choose to do all I can to negate it.

Thanks for the post and for sharing your thoughts on the matter.