Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An Open Letter to Urban Outfitters Regarding Their Che Guevara Merchandise

Thor Halvorssen
Founder, Human Rights Foundation

An Open Letter to Urban Outfitters Regarding Their Che Guevara Merchandise
Posted: 09/19/2012 11:10 am

Ted Marlow
CEO, Urban Outfitters
30 Industrial Park Blvd.
Trenton, SC 29847

Dear Mr. Marlow,

The Human Rights Foundation recently became aware of the sale of
merchandise at Urban Outfitters emblazoned with the image of communist
leader Che Guevara, at times accompanied by the word "revolución." As a
nonprofit organization dedicated to the defense of human rights, we
would like to bring your attention to Guevara's bloody and
anti-democratic legacy.

Although Guevara's image has appeared on countless items for consumption
over the last few decades as a symbol of change for the better,
Guevara's actual record is that of a brutal tyrant who suppressed
individual freedom in Cuba and murdered those who challenged his worldview.

Guevara undoubtedly played a key role in the overthrow of the
dictatorial Batista regime in January of 1959. However, despite promises
of a new democratic government, within a few months he and Fidel Castro
had designed and installed a full-blown police state that deprived the
overwhelming majority of Cuban citizens of democracy and human rights.

From 1959 to 1960, the new government carried out summary executions of
at least 1,118 people by firing squad. Guevara himself presided over the
notorious La Cabaña prison, where hundreds of the executions took place.
For comparison's sake, the Batista regime was responsible for 747
noncombatant deaths between 1952 and 1959. The Cuban revolution under
the direction of Guevara also saw the rise of forced labor camps which
gave way a few years later to full-scale concentration camps. These were
filled with dissidents, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Afro-Cuban
priests, and anyone else who had committed "crimes" against the new
moral revolution.

Despite the mountain of evidence for these abuses, much of which comes
directly from Guevara's own meticulous journals, popular culture still
largely views him as a revolutionary of the people. Urban Outfitters is
certainly not the only company to take advantage of Guevara's fame to
sell merchandise.

We urge you to consider that the image of Guevara represents tyranny and
repression for the millions of people who have suffered under communism.
Fifty-three years after Guevara's rise to power, Cuba is still ruled by
the Communist party, while all alternative political parties and
dissenting civil society groups are outlawed. Any expression of dissent
is considered a subversive act, a free press does not exist, and the
government regularly imprisons those who speak out. Mr. Marlow, the
Cuban government of today, a legacy of Guevara, is the most repressive
regime in the Western hemisphere.

These facts forced Polish lawmakers to recently propose a ban on
t-shirts with Guevara's image, as part of a previous law banning fascist
and totalitarian propaganda. HRF does not advocate the banning of an
image -- no matter how offensive. Freedom of expression is a human
right, and of course Urban Outfitters is free to choose how to design
its merchandise.

However, HRF does question the motives of Urban Outfitters in lionizing
a murderer who did not even make an attempt to hide his bloody ideology.
In a speech in front of the United Nations in 1964, Guevara proudly
admitted that "yes, we have executed, we are executing, we will continue
to execute." He boasted of murdering Eutimio Guerra, bragging in his
diary how he "ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right
side of his brain." He believed in doing anything it took to achieve
"the greater good" he envisioned for Cuba -- including nuclear
annihilation of the United States.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Guevara favored engaging in
nuclear war to "build a better world." After the crisis was averted he
lamented Soviet inaction, stating that if the missiles had been under
Cuban control, he would have fired them. There is evidence that Guevara
was involved in a November 1962 terrorist plot to use 1,200 pounds of
TNT to blow up Macy's, Gimbels, Bloomingdale's, and Grand Central
Station on the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the
year. "At every stage of his adult life," one historian noted of
Guevara, "his megalomania manifested itself in the predatory urge to
take over other people's lives and property, and to abolish their free

Is this really someone that Urban Outfitters wants to emblazon and
celebrate on its products?

For the sake of the 1.47 billion people still living under the yoke of
communist rule, for the sake of the thousands who perished in the Cuban
revolution, and for the sake of the 11 million Cubans who still endure a
totalitarian system, we hope Urban Outfitters will reconsider its
marketing strategy and set a moral example for the apparel industry.

Sincerely yours,

Thor Halvorssen

Human Rights Foundation

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