Dear Che Guevara

Salud! We'll toast your 67th birthday - and admit the triumph of capitalism - with a Che Fruta, the new Cuban beer that's been named after you

First there was the T-shirt, then the boutique in Kensington. Now you've lent your name to a new beer brewed and bottled in Havana for CCC (Corporacin Cerveza Clara SA), a company set up a year ago, registered in Panama and with offices in London and Havana. You've entered that phase of death where your reputation is being undermined by cynics and exploited by a new wave of Anglo-Cuban capitalists.

The publication last month of your youthful Motorbike Diaries gave flinching cowards and sneering traitors a chance to write you off as some kind of boozing, womanising, scatological itinerant (as if they were mummy's little angels in their student days). They should have waited a month; they could have washed down their snotty remarks with a slug of "Che Fruta, a fine premium lager with a hint of natural fruit flavours".

Che Fruta, says Joe Grahame, a 26-year-old graduate of those hotbeds of international Marxism, Bankers' Trust and J Rothschild Wolfensohn, has been banned in the United States by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. As Washington has imposed a trade embargo on Cuba for the past 30 years, this will come as no surprise to you, although you can bet your bottom dollar that when your old mucker Fidel retires, "Che Fruta" will be legal in every bar from Matanzas to Miami.

Even then, don't expect the older generation of Cuban exiles to drink the stuff. To them you were an anti-Christ, a long-haired Argentinian intellectual who inspired Fidel to declare himself a Marxist-Leninist and so deprived them of their air-conditioned villas in Vedado and Varadero. True, when you went to speak at the United Nations in Manhattan in 1964, young New Yorkers cheered you on your way, but I guess they drank Schlitz, Coors, Michelob or Budweiser. Without the fruit flavour.

Still, I think you're meant to rest assured that your name is being used in a good cause. Sales of CCC beer have paid for a new school bus for a home for the handicapped in Havana. More than this, Comandante, CCC promises to promote continued reform within Cuba and to press for the US trade embargo to be lifted.

Well, companero, I suppose revolution has come to the end of a rocky road, washed away in a torrent of fruity beer rather than in the hail of bullets you might have expected. Shortly before you were executed by the Bolivian army on orders from Washington back in '67, you said that a new society would grow only if revolutionaries throughout the Third World set out to create "one, two, many Vietnams". If you could see Vietnam today ... it's one of the most rabidly capitalist countries of all. I'm sure the Vietnamese will like Che Fruta even if the Yanquis won't give it bar room.

Sorry, Major Guevara, your old battle cry of "Socialismo o Muerte" gives way today, in a hail of hiccups, to "Cerveza o Muerte". Many happy returns on your 67th birthday.

JONATHAN GLANCEY

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