RENO, Nev. - Citing artistic freedom of expression, officials at Reno-Tahoe International Airport said Thursday they plan no changes in a temporary art exhibit despite criticism of a painting of a Latin American revolutionary who fought alongside Fidel Castro during the Cuban revolution.
The painting of Ernesto "Che" Guevara will remain on display through May 9 with the other nearly 100 items in the employee art exhibit, airport spokesman Brian Kulpin said.
Jose Paz, 71, a native Cuban who now lives in northern Nevada, said in a complaint to the airport authority the black and red portrait with the word "Revolucion" is offensive and shouldn't be displayed at a public airport.
"It is like someone putting a painting of Osama bin Laden up in the airport with the word `Jihad,"' he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Paz said he moved from Cuba to Venezuela in 1956 before Castro and Guevara overthrew the Fulgencio Batista regime in 1959. He said he has lived in the U.S. for 55 years and moved to Nevada two years ago.
"That (painting) in there is wrong," he said. "We have thousands of people come into the airport. Thousands of people see it. If you want to do it, do it privately someplace else, but not in the airport."
Kulpin says the artists have a right to express themselves, just as Paz does.
"We fully understand that someone sees something that they don't agree with," he said.
Kulpin said the freedom of expression is one of the reasons many Cubans fled to America. He said Paz's complaint was the first one in the three months the mural had been on display in the exhibit in a second-floor corridor connecting two terminals.
Miami Marlins baseball manager Ozzie Guillen found himself under fire last month when he said he admired Castro's longevity. His comment, "I love Fidel Castro" earned him a five-game suspension after hundreds of protesters gathered outside the team's stadium in Miami, a city with a large Cuban-American population.
Linda Curcio, chairwoman of the University of Nevada, Reno history department and a Latin American history professor, said she was not surprised that a Cuban American such as Paz would be concerned about an image of Guevara, who left Cuba in 1965 and was captured and killed in Bolivia in 1967.
"For him, (Guevara) means the Castro regime," she said.
Guevara's military tactics led to the deaths of thousands during revolutions in Cuba, Bolivia and other South American nations. But his beliefs on communism and Latin America's stance in the world appealed to anti-establishment college students in the 1960s, and his iconic image has been portrayed on posters, T-shirts and murals since his death, Curcio said.
"Radical college students may have had posters in a dorm room or worn a beret like (Guevara)," Curcio said. "He was connected to the idea of useful revolt and revolution. For (the artist) it may not be about Cuba. It may be about (Guevara) and student revolt in the U.S."
Last year, Cuba published Guevara's journal, "Diary of a Combatant," covering the period from 1956-58.
His journey across Latin America in 1952 with Alberto Granado was portrayed on-screen in "The Motorcycle Diaries." The two men kept diaries that were used as background for the 2004 movie, produced by Robert Redford and directed by Walter Salles.
Paz said the attention overshadows Guevara's bloody history.
"This guy hurt people," he said. "He ruined the lives of many people in Cuba, in Argentina, in Bolivia."
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