HAVANA – Cuba will punish state employees who created two colognes named for Ernesto "Che" Guevara and late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the government announced Saturday, swiftly quashing plans to market the fragrances honoring the leftist icons.
Test bottles of colognes named "Ernesto" and "Hugo" were produced by state pharmaceutical company Labiofam with the aim of selling them domestically and internationally. An Associated Press report on the project Thursday generated waves of reaction online, with many readers mocking the project and some Cuban government supporters blasting it as disrespectful.
Cuba's Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers, headed by President Raul Castro, said in a front-page announcement in the country's main newspaper that it would take unspecified disciplinary measures against figures involved in the project. The report did not identify those facing punishment.
"Symbols are sacred, yesterday, today and forever," the committee declared in a statement also read on state television and radio throughout the day.
While it was unclear what actions were being taken against the cologne's creators, the announcement described them as "disciplinary measures," a term that can be used to describe punishments ranging from a chiding by a supervisor to criminal prosecution.
The vice president of Labiofam, Cuba's largest state-run natural products company, declined to comment to AP on Saturday.
The colognes' creator seemed to have no expectation that their plan could cause controversy on an island flooded by nearly constant official tributes to Guevara, Chavez and fellow Latin American socialist founding fathers. But the exposure to the rough-and-tumble commentary of global online media appears to have taken aback both Cuba's leaders and the state employees who now face punishment.
"When it hit the international social media it became a laughingstock of sorts, but it clearly came out of an overabundance of zealous revolutionary fervor, which never before was faulted," said Ann Louise Bardach, a longtime Cuba watcher and author of the book "Without Fidel."
She said the fact that the products in question were fragrances may have been an additional irritant for Cuba's leaders.
"How dare they feminize, with a cologne, the great macho models of the revolution," Bardach said.
The Argentine-born Guevara became an international symbol of socialist revolution after helping Fidel and Raul Castro's rebels overthrow Cuban President Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and launching a series of efforts to spark similar uprisings around the world. Chavez became the Castros' greatest ally since the breakup of the Soviet Union, frequently visiting and supplying Cuba with millions of barrels of discounted oil that provided vital support for the island's struggling economy.
Guevara's image long has been appropriated for products as diverse as clothing and automobiles, often running into objections from his family.
Cuba hasn't shied from capitalizing on Guevara's popularity, selling T-shirts, postcards and posters with his image in state-run stores for tourists. Venezuela, meanwhile, is awash in merchandise bearing Chavez's face that is often worn by supporters of the socialist government, including many of those working in Cuba.
Labiofam officials said they had been openly working on the colognes for more than 1 1/2 years and the project received a brief, uncritical mention on state television earlier this week.
Labiofam officials told the AP that they saw the colognes as a respectful homage to Guevara and Chavez and said the two men's families approved the project. The state announcement said the families had not, in fact, approved it.
"Initiatives of this type will never be accepted by our people or by the revolutionary government," the executive committee said.
Columnist Monica Rivero wrote on the official website Cubadebate on Friday that "reactions to the news have ranged from outrage to satire. At this point, the only thing left to demand is that these bottles never get to a shop window, part of a shady commercial strategy that's indiscriminate and profane."
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mweissenstein