Better red than fed: California school's communist Che Cafe needs handout

It may offer the best political science course on campus, but the lessons are lost on bureaucrats: UC-San Diego's fabled "Che Cafe" is awash in red ink and in need of a bailout.

Students have run the restaurant, named for Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, for 34 years, but they've steered it into the ground. Boasting of "exorbitantly low" prices, the vegan co-op and concert venue that once hosted an up-and-coming Nirvana has cost the student body nearly $1 million over the years, and isn’t kept up to fire or safety codes. The ragtag band of volunteer staffers, who call themselves a "collective," faced eviction in March, but have persuaded the school to save their beloved stronghold.

"I would say the current students have gotten a lot more involved in the Ché since all this started,” Fabiola Orozco, a fourth-year psychology major and Ché collective member, told the San Diego Reader.

"To execute a man we don’t need proof of his guilt."

— Che Guevara

Orozco was involved in talks with school Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, who is in talks to have the school pay for a new fire suppression sprinkler system, a fire alarm pull system, tempered windows, and a “travel/exit path evaluation” -- all items needed to bring the building up to code.

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, seen here in an Associated Press file photo, is the namesake of a nonprofit collective cafe that's brewing controversy on the campus of the University of California-San Diego.

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, seen here in an Associated Press file photo, is the namesake of a nonprofit collective cafe that's brewing controversy on the campus of the University of California-San Diego.

"Vice Chancellor – Student Affairs Juan González and his team have been meeting with the Che Collective representatives over the course of several weeks," school spokesman Jeff Gattas said in a statement. "The discussions have been productive and we remain optimistic that we will be able to address the fire and life safety upgrades at the Che Café. We look forward to the continued dialogue."

The code violations earned the cafe a 180-day eviction notice back in March, but supporters and volunteers staffed it around the clock in anticipation of a standoff with sheriff's deputies. That prompted Khosla to postpone the eviction in July and schedule talks with the students. Earlier this month, school administrators told The College Fix they are exploring how to subsidize the repairs, and committed to footing the bill.

The cafe's supporters believe it has historical significance.

“The venue has been operating for 34 years and it’s the longest-running volunteer space in Southern California, if not in all of California,” café volunteer Rene Vera told last year. “And our building is covered in murals that document a lot of that history.”

But there are critics on campus who believe a failing cafe that celebrates a murderous revolutionary does not deserve public funds. But Amanda Fitzmorris, chairwoman of the College Republicans at UCSD, told The College Fix that the space "celebrates a dictator who enforced a murderous totalitarian police state that clamped down on free expression." Her group spray-painted one of Guevara's most infamous quotes, “To execute a man we don’t need proof of his guilt,” on a mural in a campus free speech zone to raise awareness to Guevara's legacy.

The cafe's namesake, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who was killed in Bolivia in 1967, was a key figure in the Cuban Revolution he fought alongside Fidel Castro. His legacy remains a contentious issue decades after his death, but the guerilla leader has enjoyed a posthumous resurgence in popularity among some circles, in no small part to the "Guerrillero Heroico" image characterized by some as the world's most famous photograph.

Students shouldn't have to prop up a failing business just because of their classmates' nostalgic romanticism, said one student.

"I do not believe Che Cafe closing will be a severe blow to the campus' overall aesthetic," soon-to-be graduate Marco Vasquez, a political science major and vice chair of the university's College Republicans, told in an email last year. "The majority of students that I have spoken to do not know what or where the Che Cafe is, given that it is on the edge of campus. Those who do know either visit it regularly or describe it as creepy."