Socialist Mercedes Benz

Maria Fleming

The connections to communist leaders has prompted a potentially colossal and emblematic lawsuit against the multi-billion dollar car company for political discrimination in Venezuela. The dispute has many young professionals wondering whether companies should be able to use controversial figures or cross political-party lines as a way of advertisement and to what extent should they be willing to meet their moral responsibilities in the case of political extortion.

The Mer-‘Che’-des Mess

When it comes to advertising in a competitive market it is no surprise that companies are willing to go a long way to make their product stand out. However, this time Mercedes Benz may have crossed the political line. The luxury car corporation displayed a new ad targeting Latin America during a presentation in Florida this past January.

The popular MB 250 was spotted alongside a picture of the Marxist revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who was sporting a beret with the eminent car trademark and was accompanied by the same infamous slogan that drove the Cuban rebellion, “long live the revolution”.

Che was an Argentinian military theorist and guerrilla leader whose controversy is due to his pivotal role in the Cuban revolution and his connection to Fidel Castro. To some he was a hero who fought against the endemic poverty and inequalities in Latin America, but to others he was considered a ‘mass murderer’ for executing war criminals during the revolution.

Even though Che might not be seen as a ‘murderer’ in everyone’s eyes, MB’s advertising stunt clearly backfired. Perhaps their marketing director should have been warned that along with politically renowned figures comes the opposition.

Respectively, as Cuban exiles in Florida head to the streets in protest, the German manufacturer, Daimler AG, quickly apologized for their advertising stunt, saying their promotional use of Che was clearly “thoughtless” and “stupid” and that it was not their intentions to offend anyone.

Kim Jong’s Passion

Nevertheless, Mercedes Benz’s headache did not end just there. The event has unfolded the company’s trend to associate with controversial leaders.

Although, Mercedes’ ability to reject clients may have been limited, the communist dictator, Kim Jong Il, was known for fashioning the luxury cars wherever he went, and displaying the brand during his controversial routine ceremonies.

According to a report by North Korean affairs blog, One Free Korea, $3.1 million worth of European cars were exported from China to North Korea in 2010, most of which are believed to be carrying the Mercedes symbol.

It was clear that Kim Jong Il, like many other politicians around the world, had a passion for the popular brand. The problem is that in a country as poor as North Korea and with food shortages resembling a famine, it might seem frivolous and cruel to be able to afford such a luxury.

Mercedes ‘Bends’ to Chavez: The Medina Lawsuit  

A lawsuit is now linking this reminiscent trend to recent proceedings involving a local Mercedes dealership in Valencia, Venezuela.  It relates to the case of Federico Medina Ravell, a worker who was unfairly fired from his position for his supposed dissent towards the Chavez government.

The speculation over his discrepancy with the government comes after a late night T.V. host, Mario Silva, called Medina a conspirator against the government claiming that he created a false twitter account to spread lies that would weaken Chavez’s administration. Silva went as far as to reveal on air his personal information including his home address, identity number, telephone number, his work information, his direct family information, and an assumed circle of friends.

It is not the first time that someone has created a parody twitter account to make fun of famous individuals. In fact there are millions of accounts that don’t actually belong to real people. However, this might be the first time that an account as such has made it on air. Thus, I decided to further investigate the twitter handle that had been causing all this fuzz and I found that it had been inactive before the T.V. show came out. I also realized that even though some of the tweets could be taken as conflicting by the government, no names are ever mentioned.

There is little proof as to whether Medina is the man behind the account. Nevertheless, even if it were true and he was opposed to the government, this situation is suggestive of the limitations to freedom of opinion in Venezuela. What was also peculiar is that along his close friends, Silva included three out of the five candidates who ran for opposition leader, whom Federico claims to have never met.

Tthe issue did not only result in bad publicity for Mercedes Benz in Venezuela, it also incited pressure from the government to fire Medina or the company could face vast consequences. Ironically, political discrimination in Venezuela is illegal, but ever since Chavez came into power, companies have learned to keep their guard up, as there is a long history of licenses not being renewed due to political association.

Dead End

The company hit a dead end when it faced either the possibility of closing down Mercedes in all of Venezuela or firing one of its most valuable workers. According to the termination letter that was handed to him on his last day of work, Ravell was guilty of “relating his professional work with political matters.” Despite the fact that there is no real proof of whether it was in fact him who speculated against the government, and even if it had been done during his own time.

Unfortunately, there is little action that can be done to appeal the dismissal in front of Venezuelan courts, which are in the midst of a corruption scandal after the Supreme Court judge, Aponte Aponte, revealed the exertion of political discrimination and injustice in the judicial system. But German courts will soon decide whether the big multinational corporation can be held legally or financially liable for not willing to meet their moral responsibilities in order to resume profiting.