Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez’s family, who had to go into exile after the Cuban revolution in 1959, was inadvertently linked to that of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, one of the bearded guerrillas who helped install communism in his native homeland.
A huge poster of Guevara's image welcomed passengers at Miami International Airport for several hours between Thursday night and early Friday, just a few feet away from the mayor’s image as part of the exhibition titled “Irish in Latin America,” sponsored by the Irish Embassy in the United States to highlight the contributions of Irish immigrants to Latin American history and culture.
The Che image, displayed at the airport's E terminal, was created in 1968 by the Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick and inspired by the photography of Alberto Korda.
“The photo of Che is no longer there, they took it away,” said an airport employee who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the matter.
“I saw it last night and I did not agree with it being on display. They should have put another photo of celebrities from Cuba, but not Che who was a murderer. That's good to put it in Cuba or Venezuela, where there are communists, but not here,” added the employee, who is of Cuban origin.
Greg Chin, director of communications at the airport, told el Nuevo Herald that in one of the preliminary versions of the exhibition, organizers included the poster with the Che image. But airport authorities told organizers that the Che poster would not be part of the display out of respect for the exile community.
In a press release sent out a week ago, the Che poster was not among those listed as part of the exhibit, but rather it was part of the overall exhibit by the Department of International Relations and Commerce of Ireland. The display at MIA was part of a strategy to promote the start of direct flights between Dublin and Miami.
The Che poster was taken down early Friday. “He was not at the airport for even 12 hours,” Chin said.
The image of Mayor Giménez remains part of the MIA exhibit, which includes a total of 27 posters with personalities of Irish descent. The description under his image extols his Irish ancestry and words of appreciation for the ties Giménez has helped build between the two communities.
The mayor’s office said it “deeply regrets” the incident and had no knowledge of the Che poster.
The exhibit is divided into various countries that have welcomed immigrants from Ireland. Cuba has five images tied to it, which highlight historical figures such as José Martí, Father Félix Varela, Ricardo O'Farrill and Alejandro O'Reilly.
Guevara, who was born in Argentina, joined Fidel Castro in his battle to topple Fulgencio Batista. His Irish ancestry comes from his paternal grandmother, Ana Isabel Lynch.
The Irish Embassy said the Che poster was not supposed to be included in the exhibit. “It was removed as soon as we discovered the error this morning,” said Carol Jordan, communications director. “We fully understand the sensitivity and deeply regret the error.”
Follow Mario J. Pentón on Twitter: @mariojose_cuba