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Che Guevara Legacy Lives On in Bolivia
By David Atkinson
Staff Writer
Che Guevara (1928-1967)

Life passes slowly for the people of La Higuera, a sleepy pueblo in a forgotten corner of Bolivia's eastern lowlands. But this remote community harbours an uneasy heritage that is set to return to haunt the lives of its inhabitants: this is the place where the revolutionary icon Che Guevara was put to death.

Locals are bracing themselves for an invasion of Che pilgrims with the opening of the new Che Guevara Trail through the area on 8 October this year.

The trail leads by road from the burgeoning Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, via the Inca site of Samaipata, onto the villages of Vallegrande and La Higuera.

A $610,000 (£340,000), 36-month project, part financed by the UK government's Department for International Development (DFID), it represents one of the largest ever initiatives to bolster Bolivia's beleaguered tourism industry.

"I remember Che as very handsome; he had great presence and piercing eyes," says Julia Cortes, a 19-year-old trainee teacher at the tiny schoolhouse in La Higuera the day he was held captive.

Che Guevara
Ernesto (Che) Guevara de la Serna (1928-1967) — Nickname "Che" derived from Guevara's habit of punctuating his speech with the interjection che, a common Argentine expression for a friend

Still living in La Higuera, she remembers her encounter with Che Guevara clearly and remains one of the last people to see him alive.

Che had come to Bolivia in 1966 to start a social revolution. Instead of liberating the rural underclass, however, he was betrayed and, after being wounded in a gun battle, he was captured and held prisoner in the schoolhouse in La Higuera.

The next day, 9 October, 1967, he was executed by Bolivian troops and his body taken to a hospital in nearby Vallegrande, where his corpse was paraded before the world's media.

"We didn't know he was an important man when the soldiers brought him to the hospital that day. His clothes were rags and his body filthy," remembers Susanna Ocinaga, who was the duty nurse on the day his body was brought to Vallegrande.

The new Che Guevara trail has been overseen by Care Bolivia, the local branch of the international NGO Care International, and has a remit to foster increased tourism based around the draw of the Che legend. It is intended to generate income for the indigenous families living along the trail in what is one of the poorest rural areas of Bolivia."The objective is to help local families through the creation of small-scale tourist-based enterprises as a spin-off to the project," says Jacqueline Peña y Lillo, project manager for Care Bolivia, who sought the support of Che Guevara's daughter in Cuba to rubber-stamp the initiative.

When officials from the Bolivian Ministry of Tourism attend the opening ceremony in October, they will also be hoping, no doubt, that the initiative can herald a change in fortune for a country that has been hit by strikes, blockades and protests since social unrest brought chaos to travel itineraries last October.

After a popular uprising last year, the US-backed Bolivian President, Sanchez de Lozada, was unceremoniously dumped and images of violent riots were broadcast around the globe.

In subsequent months, the once-busy traveller cafes of La Paz and Sucre have been near deserted.

The timing of the project is also fortuitous.

The Walter Salles-directed film The Motorcycle Diaries, which traces a journey across Latin America by a young Che and his friend, Alberto Granado, in 1951, opens in UK cinemas on 27 August. A Che biopic staring Benicio Del Toro and directed by Steven Soderbergh is also in the planning stage. But the irony of turning the place where Che met his end into a tourist attraction is not lost on local people who still remember the dramatic events of October 1967.

Indeed, the prospect of busloads of gringos arriving en masse to worship the cult of Che sits uneasily with the quiet nature of everyday life around the tiny central plaza.

"Che seemed to be a quiet, intelligent man. But people always try to benefit commercially from his name," says Julia Cortes.

Susanna Ocinaga is also concerned: "Because his blood is on Vallegrande soil," she says, "we are now forever linked with the name of Che."

The above article is from BBC.

Who Is Che Guevara — A story from Time?
Staff Writer

Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara at Havana airport in 1962   TONY ORTEGA/AP

By the time Ernesto Guevara, known to us as Che, was murdered in the jungles of Bolivia in October 1967, he was already a legend to my generation, not only in Latin America but also around the world.

Like so many epics, the story of the obscure Argentine doctor who abandoned his profession and his native land to pursue the emancipation of the poor of the earth began with a voyage. In 1956, along with Fidel Castro and a handful of others, he had crossed the Caribbean in the rickety yacht Granma on the mad mission of invading Cuba and overthrowing the dictator Fulgencio Batista. Landing in a hostile swamp, losing most of their contingent, the survivors fought their way to the Sierra Maestra.

A bit over two years later, after a guerrilla campaign in which Guevara displayed such outrageous bravery and skill that he was named comandante, the insurgents entered Havana and launched what was to become the first and only victorious socialist revolution in the Americas. The images were thereafter invariably gigantic. Che the titan standing up to the Yanquis, the world's dominant power. Che the moral guru proclaiming that a New Man, no ego and all ferocious love for the other, had to be forcibly created out of the ruins of the old one. Che the romantic mysteriously leaving the revolution to continue, sick though he might be with asthma, the struggle against oppression and tyranny.

Che with Fidel in 1960
Che and Fidel Castro at the Airport Jose-Marti, Havana, May 1960, when Anastase Mikoyan is going back to Moskou after his first official Cuban visit.

His execution in Vallegrande at the age of 39 only enhanced Guevara's mythical stature. That Christ-like figure laid out on a bed of death with his uncanny eyes almost about to open; those fearless last words ("Shoot, coward, you're only going to kill a man") that somebody invented or reported; the anonymous burial and the hacked-off hands, as if his killers feared him more after he was dead than when he had been alive: all of it is scalded into the mind and memory of those defiant times. He would resurrect, young people shouted in the late '60s; I can remember fervently proclaiming it in the streets of Santiago, Chile, while similar vows exploded across Latin America. !No lo vamos a olvidar! We won't let him be forgotten.

More than 30 years have passed, and the dead hero has indeed persisted in collective memory, but not exactly in the way the majority of us would have anticipated. Che has become ubiquitous: his figure stares out at us from coffee mugs and posters, jingles at the end of key rings and jewelry, pops up in rock songs and operas and art shows.

This apotheosis of his image has been accompanied by a parallel disappearance of the real man, swallowed by the myth. Most of those who idolize the incendiary guerrilla with the star on his beret were born long after his demise and have only the sketchiest knowledge of his goals or his life. Gone is the generous Che who tended wounded enemy soldiers, gone is the vulnerable warrior who wanted to curtail his love of life lest it make him less effective in combat and gone also is the darker, more turbulent Che who signed orders to execute prisoners in Cuban jails without a fair trial.

Che on the hosrseback
Picture taken by Tirso Martinez in December 1958, in Escambray, a few days before the fights began in the province Las Villas.

This erasure of complexity is the normal fate of any icon. More paradoxical is that the humanity that worships Che has by and large turned away from just about everything he believed in. The future he predicted has not been kind to his ideals or his ideas. Back in the '60s, we presumed that his self-immolation would be commemorated by social action, the downtrodden rising against the system and creating — to use Che's own words — two, three, many Vietnams.

Thousands of luminous young men, particularly in Latin America, followed his example into the hills and were slaughtered there or tortured to death in sad city cellars, never knowing that their dreams of total liberation, like those of Che, would not come true. If Vietnam is being imitated today, it is primarily as a model for how a society forged in insurrection now seeks to be actively integrated into the global market. Nor has Guevara's uncompromising, unrealistic style of struggle, or his ethical absolutism, prevailed.

The major revolutions of the past quarter-century (South Africa, Iran, the Philippines, Nicaragua), not to mention the peaceful transitions to democracy in Latin America, East Asia and the communist world, have all entailed negotiations with former adversaries, a give and take that could not be farther from Che's unyielding demand for confrontation to the death. Even someone like Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesman for the Chiapas Maya revolt, whose charisma and moral stance remind us of Che's, does not espouse his hero's economic or military theories.

Che as loving father
Che with his daugher Hildita's 4th birthday on Feb. 15, 1960

How to understand, then, Che Guevara's pervasive popularity, especially among the affluent young?

Perhaps in these orphaned times of incessantly shifting identities and alliances, the fantasy of an adventurer who changed countries and crossed borders and broke down limits without once betraying his basic loyalties provides the restless youth of our era with an optimal combination, grounding them in a fierce center of moral gravity while simultaneously appealing to their contemporary nomadic impulse. To those who will never follow in his footsteps, submerged as they are in a world of cynicism, self-interest and frantic consumption, nothing could be more vicariously gratifying than Che's disdain for material comfort and everyday desires.

One might suggest that it is Che's distance, the apparent impossibility of duplicating his life anymore, that makes him so attractive. And is not Che, with his hippie hair and wispy revolutionary beard, the perfect postmodern conduit to the nonconformist, seditious '60s, that disruptive past confined to gesture and fashion? Is it conceivable that one of the only two Latin Americans to make it onto TIME's 100 most important figures of the century can be comfortably transmogrified into a symbol of rebellion precisely because he is no longer dangerous?

I wouldn't be too sure. I suspect that the young of the world grasp that the man whose poster beckons from their walls cannot be that irrelevant, this secular saint ready to die because he could not tolerate a world where los pobres de la tierra, the displaced and dislocated of history, would be eternally relegated to its vast margins.

As a boy Che loved to pay rugby

Even though I have come to be wary of dead heroes and the overwhelming burden their martyrdom imposes on the living, I will allow myself a prophecy. Or maybe it is a warning. More than 3 billion human beings on this planet right now live on less than $2 a day. And every day that breaks, 40,000 children — more than one every second! — succumb to diseases linked to chronic hunger. They are there, always there, the terrifying conditions of injustice and inequality that led Che many decades ago to start his journey toward that bullet and that photo awaiting him in Bolivia.

The powerful of the earth should take heed: deep inside that T shirt where we have tried to trap him, the eyes of Che Guevara are still burning with impatience.

Ariel Dorfman holds the Walter Hines Page Chair at Duke University. His latest novel is The Nanny and the Iceberg

The above article is from TIME.






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