Monday, October 08, 2007

Che Guevara still inspires, four decades after death

Forty years after the death of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the turbulent life of Cuba's revolutionary hero continues to inspire films and books, while his stoic image and self-sacrifice have become iconic for leftists worldwide.

His legacy remains as vivid today in communist-ruled Cuba as it was, with schoolchildren still instructed to pledge each morning that: "Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che."

A 1960 Alberto Korda photograph of a defiant-looking Guevara, his long, dark hair flying from beneath a beret, is considered one of the best known photos in the world and a classic image of the 20th century.

On October 8, 1967, the Bolivian army and two Cuban-American CIA agents captured Che in the village of La Higuera, Bolivia, where he had been leading a clutch of rebels who survived clashes, hunger and illness.

Che was taken to an abandoned school and the following afternoon he was summarily executed by Bolivian sergeant Mario Teran. He was 39.

The Argentine-born Cuban hero will be given anniversary honors in the small city of Santa Clara, Cuba where he led a key battle of the Cuban Revolution and where a mausoleum has held his remains since 1997.

In Cuba, ailing leader Fidel Castro, 81, was not expected to be seen at the commemorations of Che's death. Interim president Raul Castro, leading Cuba since his brother's intestinal surgery over a year ago, and who was said not to be as close to Che, could fill in for Fidel.

In Bolivia, a ceremony is also planned with marchers expected to trudge through the night and light a tribute flame for Che in La Higuera on October 7. In neighboring Villagrande, where his remains were found in 1997, a political-themed ceremony is set for October 8.

Evo Morales, the Andean nation's first ethnic indigenous president and a close ally of Fidel Castro, is effusive in his praise for the Argentine-born doctor by training, free spirit and socialist inspiration.

In President Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and Daniel Ortega's Nicaragua, Che's image is also somewhat of an unofficial icon.

After years of waning attention, Che's revolutionary mythology was aggressively revived in 1997 with the discovery of his remains amid some controversy, and then their dispatch to Cuba -- in the midst of severe economic hardship -- by Fidel Castro's government.

The remains were paraded amid great fanfare through Havana streets before being interred in Santa Clara with Fidel Castro looking on.

Some critical analysts said Cuba used the events to distract from economic problems at home. Other more sympathetic observers noted that whatever the motivating factors or timing, the communist government often spotlights Che's symbolic legacy as self-sacrificing to appeal to Cubans to endure hardship.

The far left in 1960s Europe led the world in latching onto Che internationally. Now that famous Korda image adorns countless T-shirts and backpacks worn by young people and sports stars.
Gandhi he was not -- Guevara was a declared supporter of political violence.

After studying medicine in his home country, Che hooked up with Fidel and Raul Castro in Mexico before joining the bearded guerrillas who toppled US-backed leader Fulgencio Batista and took power in Havana in January 1959.

For six months, Che supervised the repression of counter-revolutionaries, and went on to head the Cuban Central Bank and the Industry Ministry before opting to head overseas again to spread the fight, first in Congo in 1965 (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and then in Bolivia.

Guevara helped steer revolutionary Cuba into Moscow's orbit but he later broke with the Soviet notion of peaceful coexistence with the West in favor of seeking power militarily, closer to Maoism.

Che Guevara had a daughter with a Peruvian revolutionary, both of whom are dead. He had four children with his Cuban wife Aleida March: Aleida, Camilo, Celia and Ernesto, all of whom are still alive.


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  2. Anonymous11:38 PM

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