On October 1967, the Bolivian army, assisted by the CIA agent Félix Rodríguez murdered Che Guevara in the remote Bolivian mountains. After the murder, they dismembered his two hands from the body and preserved them in formaldehyde. The reason was to maintain a CIA style proof for the disbelievers about his death. On 1997, thirty years later, in the Bolivian town of Vallegrande, a team of Cuban and Argentine scientists dug up a grave of seven skeletons. An olive army jacket shrouded the scull of “Skeleton No. 2,” which was lying face down without the hands. Watched by the silent crowd of journalists and local folks, a Cuban member of the team bowed his head in respect and removed the olive jacket. Several Cuban scientists broke down in sobs. Patricia Bernardi, one of the three Argentine forensic anthropologists on the excavation team clarified, "Everyone was overcome with emotion, not just the Cubans. Che was such a mythic figure.” (Ref: Newsweek July 21, 1997, p.17-23) His remains returned to Cuba and finally lay to rest at Santa Clara, the legendary city where Che had won the decisive battle of the Cuban Revolution.
In the recent years, the consumer culture has on purpose transformed Che as its dearest icon, an icon of rebellion. This trend has aggravated from the eve of the 30th anniversary of his death in the nineties. The Walter Salles directed film The Motorcycle Diaries released in 2004 and based on the young Guevara’s early travels through Latin America received a lot of media hype. The original book, also a surprised hit, sold very well in America and Europe. This year a nearly four-and-a-half-hour long epic film directed by Steven Soderbergh on Che, was premièred at Cannes in May and expected to be another hit as the film, according to media reports, stresses his last days in Bolivia and also is prominently featuring Che’s comrade in arms Tania. Che merchandizes has flooded the markets of Northern America and Western Europe with Che branded T-shirts, posters, cigars, cigarettes, coffee mugs, baseball caps, wristwatches and liquor bottle labels. It is paradoxical that after murdering Che, America transformed him to a profit-earning commodity.
Che’s resurrection as a popular icon has nothing to do with the ideals for which he lived and died. He was born in an aristocratic family, educated as a doctor but turned instead a dynamic revolutionary, a dreamer, who had dreamt to erase inequality from the world. His journey on the revolutionary path started in 1951 while traveling through Latin American countries on the motorcycle La Poderosa II where Che witnessed extensive poverty, oppression and misery of the common people. He also developed the viewpoint to perceive the entire Latin America as a single entity, not as a group of separate nations. This travel experience and his study of Marxist literature were forming his world outlook. Later in 1953 on a trip through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador he finally arrived at Guatemala. It was here that Ernesto Guevara de la Serna will acquire the nickname ‘Che’ through which, in the later days he will be known worldwide. In Guatemala, President Jacobo Arbenz was leading a democratically elected government, rarity for this continent, and through land reforms and other social initiatives he was trying to redress the country’s socio-economic inequality against the looming US dominance. But the Arbenz regime was overthrown soon by a coup d'état backed by the CIA in 1954 and Guevara, a close witness of the events was now convinced that only armed revolution was the only solution for a better world. He also realized by heart that United States would never allow any government to exist who attempts to change the socio-economic inequality and will always whole-heartedly try to destroy it. From Guatemala, Che arrived in Mexico City in the early September of 1954 where he first met Fidel Castro. The next is the history of Ernesto Guevara’s transformation to Commandante ‘Che’ Guevara.
In Algiers on 24 February 1965, Che delivered his last public speech to the “Second Economic Seminar on Afro-Asian Solidarity” where he said:
“We cannot be indifferent to what happens anywhere in the world, for a victory by any country over imperialism is our victory; just as any country’s defeat is a defeat for all of us. The practice of proletarian internationalism is not only a duty for the peoples struggling for a better future, it is an inescapable necessity. If the imperialist enemy, American or any other, develops its attack against the underdeveloped peoples and the socialist countries, simple logic determines the necessity of an alliance between the underdeveloped peoples and the socialist countries. If there were no other uniting factor, the common enemy should be it.”
Today, most of the socialist countries of 1965 had erased off themselves but the fortitude to carry ahead proletarian internationalism is the true legacy of Comandante ‘Che’ Guevara. ‘An inescapable necessity’ as Che had emphasized in his last speech. The post 1997 hype has intentionally tried to bury this spirit.
Without any doubt, we greatly need the iconic presence of Che Guevara today but for different reasons. We want him as our symbol of inspiration for the anti-imperialist struggle we are fighting from different corners of the globe. We want him to inspire us to believe in our hearts, that a new and better world is achievable. We want our children to know about this utterly honesty and selfless human being, a tireless fighter who was born in Argentina, played an essential role in the revolution of Cuba and to free Congo and Bolivia devoted all his efforts and ultimately, life.
In the farewell letter to his children, Che had written:
Grow up as good revolutionaries…. Remember that the revolution is what is important, and each one of us, alone, is worth nothing.
Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.
Orlando Borrego, one of Che’s closest confidants during the early years of the revolution said, “In a world of ferocious competition and consumerism, some element of humanity is still looking for a hero with values”. Erroneous interpretation of these ‘values’ which largely facilitated the process of making the ‘Che icon’ is apparently innocent looking but has an evil design behind. It must be deeply condemned and strongly prevented. Wearing a Che T-shirt is not the way to show our respect for this great man. Similarly, by decorating our walls and computer screens with the Alberto Korda photograph after shedding his ideological or political significances aside will not make us revolutionaries. Not even a true sympathizer for the great cause. Christopher Hitchens’s intention is amply clear when he writes, “Che’s iconic status was assured because he failed.” Here, we want to raise the other question to this former socialist: did Che really failed?
At the end let us recall what Fidel said in his speech at the mass meeting in memory of Che on 19 October 1967:
“If we want to say how we want the men of future generations to be, we should say: let them be like Che.
If we want a model of a man, a model of a man who does not belong to his time, a model of a man who belongs to future times, from the heart, I say that the model, without a single blemish in its conduct, without a single blemish in its attitude, without a single blemish in its actions - that model is Che.
If we want to know how we want our children to be, we should say, with all our mind and heart: we want them to be like Che.”