Miami Beach

Was that Che in Beach hotel? Not any longer

Gus Exposito, 51, of Davie, couldn’t believe what he saw in the marble walls of South Beach’s W Hotel: a larger-than-life framed photograph of what looked like communist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

“He was a mass murderer, killed thousands of Cubans execution-style,” Exposito wrote in an email, comparing the long-dead Fidel Castro pal to Adolf Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan. “I spoke to the manager and he referred to it as art!”

A hotel employee said complaints started almost as soon as the photo, about seven feet tall, went up last week. It came down Tuesday.

“We did it as a matter of respect and sensitivity toward the local community,” hotel manager Damien O’Connor said. “We are sorry for any inconvenience we may have caused.”

The man in the photo looks a little different from the iconic image of Che Guevara taken by Alberto Díaz “Korda” Gutiérrez in 1959. Is this a younger Che or someone dressed like Che? Or perhaps a post-modern self-portrait of artist Gavin Turk?

In The Guardian, a London newspaper, Turk said he made a photo of himself posed as Che to advertise an exhibition: “It was quite a degraded, grainy image, so I could photograph myself in such a way that you wouldn’t recognize that it was me and not, in fact, Che. You only need key elements of the photo — the beret, the long hair, the position of the eyes (as with classical icons, looking up and to the right), a bit of beard — to make it function as a symbol.”

But it sure looks like Che.

The image is common enough, and enough time has passed since the 1959 revolution, that not every Cuban-American is outraged. Asked about the idea of hanging a Che poster in a South Florida hotel, a regular Miami Herald reader named Mario Iglesias said it’s time to grow up.

“I think the Cuban-American community has to mature and learn that the right to put up a picture of Che is the very reason we find Castro and Che so repugnant — because they would act to quash opposing speech,” he wrote in an email. “It is the very result of being in favor of a free society that there will be holocaust survivors who have to tolerate Nazi marches and Cuban-Americans have to recognize that not protesting a Che poster is not the same as supporting Castro.”

For Exposito, though, the right to post a Che picture doesn’t translate into a good reason to display it. It seemed to ruin his night out.

“We went to dinner with my wife and two couples at Mr. Chow and after dinner we took a walk to the rear to smoke a cigar, and — bang — there it was. We could not believe our eyes!” he wrote.

El Nuevo Herald Staff Writer Juan Carlos Chavez contributed to this report.

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