Ernesto Che Guevara’s Day in Santa Clara, Cuba

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October 9th, 1967, was the day when Ernesto Che Guevara was executed. That’s forty years ago, today.

He was captured by the Bolivian army on October 8th, in Vallegrande and executed the following day in La Higuera, in the jungles of Bolivia, at the age of 39. His death only enhanced Che Guevara’s mythical stature as a legend, not only in Latin America but also around the world. 

Che Guevara’s body was later exhumed from its communal grave in Bolivia and offered to Cuba. The remains were reburied in a specially built mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba (see photo), the site of Che’s decisive victory against Fulgencio Batista‘s forces at the end of 1958. 

I visited Santa Clara twice, in 2003 and in 2005. In 2003, I was not allowed to enter the mausoleum where Che and his seven guerilla mates are enshrined, due to some building work or whatever, but in 2005, I could go in and have a look. Photography was not permitted once inside. There was a large wall with 7 or 8 embossed wall plaques commemorating the dead, and an eternal light underneath Che’s allotted central panel. The mood inside appeared a tad contrived, especially if one considers that there seem to be reasonable doubt as to whether the bones found and repatriated to Cuba were in fact those of the man himself.

In any case, it seems important to remind ourselves that Guevara was neither Cuban nor Bolivian. He was born in Argentina and was a doctor by training. He gave up his profession and his native land to pursue the emancipation of the poor of the earth. In 1956, along with Fidel Castro and a small number of other badly armed rebels, he had crossed the Caribbean in a rickety yacht called Granma on the mad mission of invading Cuba and overthrowing the US sponsored dictator, Batista. Landing in a hostile swamp and losing most of their contingent, the survivors fought their way to the Sierra Maestra.

Two years later, and by now named Comandante, Che was victorious in this very same place, Santa Clara, in derailing a train full of Batista soldiers and thus stopping them from reaching their destination, Santiago de Cuba in the far east of the island of Cuba. Two days later, Batista fled Cuba, and Castro and his revolutionary men took over. The rest is history.

I went to see the remnants of the derailed train waggons In Santa Clara, now equipped as a museum to the Revolution. Santa Clara is certainly a place worthy of a visit for those who are interested in the Che Guevara trail.

Yesterday, Raúl Castro and other survivors of the 1958 train assault paid homage to Ernesto Che Guevara, hinting again at the need of a change of direction in present day Cuba. His ailing brother, Fidel, expressed his respect and gratitude for Che, in an article published in the Cuban publication, Juventud Rebelde

Rumours never ceased that Fidel Castro and Che did not really see eye to eye some time after the Cuban revolution had been won, because Ernesto soon started criticizing Communist Party doctrines. He revoked his Cuban passport, left Cuba for Africa and the Congo, and later for Bolivia, where he tried to fight for the oppressed indigenous people of the Andes. His Bolivian battle was never really successful.

You may wonder why I should concern myself with Cuban affairs on my supposedly Spanish-themed blog. In my mind Cuba and Spain are intrinsically linked due to Cuba’s long time domination by the Spanish. Cuba was linked to Spain’s wealth, to the Spanish slave trade and to Spanish history. As such, in my opinion, Spain may well have an active role to play in Cuba’s, hopefully peaceful, transition into the 21st century, especially in the light of big brother, USA, not being trustworthy with such endeavours. 

As for Che Guevara, it seems important to me to remember his 40th anniversary even though Che’s methods are no longer relevant in our day and age.

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I want to recommend the movie, The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), by Brazilian director, Walter Salles, if you want to know Ernesto before he became Che.  

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