Che and Chavez Colognes: Inexplicable Fragrances

Progreso Weekly

perfumes_ap-771x385HAVANA TIMES — The Associated Press published a news item on Thursday that has made many sit up and take notice in Cuba and abroad. “It can’t be true,” a Facebook user immediately gasped.

Cubans of any political creed have been startled by the news that the state-owned company Labiofam has launched two new colognes made in Cuba.

What’s curious about the news, which has had broad repercussion in the international media and none (so far) in the Cuban media, is that these new fragrances are labeled “Ernesto,” for Che Guevara, and “Hugo,” for Hugo Chávez.

“They will be very attractive colognes, but the name also means a lot to us,” said Isbel González, vice president of research and development for Labiofam, the largest Cuban enterprise engaged in the production of natural compounds for medical, alimentary and cosmetic use.

And because any play on symbols also involves a symbolic act, interpretations have not been far behind. The most diverse reactions among people who have heard the news range from sarcasm to consternation, from mockery to ire. Most discussions in the social networks focus on interpreting the ideological charge of this commercial decision.

In Cuba, it is not unheard of to use the reputation of some personalities to promote products. For decades, the Alicia Alonso line of cosmetics has been on the market, created with the blessing of the Prima Ballerina Assoluta in the full use of her faculties.

There is also a Vegas Robaina cigar vitola [band], which honors one of the most important tobacco producers in Cuba.

But, faced with the creation of “Ernesto” and “Hugo,” many have pointed out that ballet has a lot more in common with ornaments and perfumery than the two political figures linked so essentially with the history in different periods of the Cuban Revolution.

The images of Che Guevara and Hugo Chávez, two undeniable and mythical leaders of popular causes, no longer living, are subjected constantly to campaigns of defamation and trivialization in the media with an enormous capacity to influence the contemporary world.

Which is, then, the reason for this unprecedented marketing move in a Cuba that continues to call itself socialist? Is it simply the initiative of a group of entrepreneurs chasing after profits?

If that’s the case, are we to interpret that these decision makers no longer feel the same scruples that only a few years ago produced widespread debate and criticism of the commercial use of those very same symbols?

“It’s all over,” wrote a Facebook user this morning, after reading the item, written by the AP’s correspondent in Cuba, Andrea Rodríguez. It is a wide open statement that carries many meanings.

A Panamanian user commented on Facebook: “In Panama, they launched [a perfume] called ‘Canal.’ We ignored it. The Canal has been the source of struggle for generations. That fragrance suggested blood, sweat and tears. I hope that Cuba isn’t led down some wrong economic path.”

Without any apparent ethical conflict, the biochemist at Labiofam who led the perfume-design team explained that “we didn’t want to create propaganda but to pay [Guevara and Chávez] homage and help to make their names endure.” That’s a questionable favor, if you consider that they chose a most untraditional format to render that tribute.

Most Cubans will not hear of this debate because of the scant access to sources of information such as the Internet or other communications media. And if everything follows its course, several weeks will go by before those colognes are exported or sold in the hard-currency retail stores in the elegant vials dreamt up by the Labiofam entrepreneurs.

When the moment comes that “Ernesto” and “Hugo” appear in the stores’ window displays, many Cuban citizens will interpret it as “normal” a commercial action that pursues hard-currency revenues with an efficiency that conceals questionable social values.

It is likely that, under such conditions, faced with the new consensus, only a few will demand to know what are the ethical limits that the State will impose on the economic actors conducting their marketing. But, just as likely, they won’t get a clear answer.

8 thoughts on “Che and Chavez Colognes: Inexplicable Fragrances

  • All the bad publicity kicking up a stink about the “sacred” figures of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and Hugo Chavez Frias is due to the malicious US news agency AP.
    It must be so, because Dr, Fraga Castro says so in a letter to attendees of the LABIOFAM Congress of September 22 – 25, 2014 held in Havana. Remember that as Dr. Fraga Castro is related to both the future “sacred’ figures of Fidel and Raul Castro Ruz, he must be correct.
    Mario Valdes Rodriguez the researcher said to be responsible for naming the two perfumes responsible for kicking up the stink was “motivated by his revolutionary sentiments… suggesting naming these two new products under the names “Ernesto and Hugo” as his tribute to these giants of history.”
    Mario Valdes Rodriguez “lacked the ability to foresee that this proposal born with a noble pupose would immediately be seized by a malicious American journalist agency AP” That AP would “feed this voracious disinformation campaign to the world.”
    So yet again the wicked US is responsible for defaming Cuba!

  • The now short-lived effort to make perfumes named after Che Guevara is the latest scheme in turning a Marxist revolutionary into a capitalist icon. The Cubans in Miami whose relatives lost their lives to Che Guevara may be sure to criticize the Cuban state-owned pharmaceutical companies for being insensitive to Che’s murder of innocents and his various anti-US tirades (e.g. plotting to blow up malls and subway lines in Manhattan). (Imagine how the Jews would react if they saw a German company make perfumes paying homage to Hitler?).

  • Publicity serving to illuminate “THE HEROES” globally resulted, a happy end, “MIRACULOUS” irony.

  • Perhaps Dan hilarious would be more accurate!
    In due course the wortld can look forward to sprinkling ‘Fidel’ and ‘Raul’ aftershave and going out every morning feeling refreshed and uplifted.
    I am certain that Moses could suggest a suitable odour for the former.

  • Hero , honerable men, men of distiction, legendary, visionary, and more
    The adaptation of these icons is to say the least courageous. I know that the draw
    of these men would appeal to me and accompanied by historical text and choice art or portraitures would provide a means to educate and enlighten as well as serve
    to enhance or excite people . The issuance of limited edition box set including a top cigar and beret or other truly exclusive Cuban original items would be exciting as well. Other possibilities would exist for the promotion of the Great leaders of people.
    Thank you

  • I finally agree with you and Griffin on something. This is ridiculous.

  • It is ironic they should make an eau de cologne called “Che”. As a youth in Argentina, Ernesto Guevara was nicknamed “Chancho” (pig) because of his bathing habits (or lack thereof).

  • This is so ridiculous, it would not be believable if it were not true. Che Guevara is widely remembered for his habit of not taking showers or baths. To name a cologne after a guy famous for body odor is hilarious. While there are no negative rumors regarding Chavez hygiene similar to Guevara’s, we can squeamishly assume that his last odors were pretty ripe as well. Can you imagine what a Fidel cologne would smell like? A musky fragrance reminiscent of stoma bags with a hint of adult diapers? Unbelievable.

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