The Myth that is Che - A Man of the People

Pretoria, October 28, 2020.- In the framework of the day for the Cuban heroes Camilo (Camilo Cienfuegos) and Che (Ernesto Guevara) we share the letter sent to us by our friend Nicolas Wolpe, director of the South African historical museum "Lilies Lief" about his experience when he visited the Ernesto Memorial Guevara in the Cuban province of Villa Clara where the remains of the heroic guerrilla rest.

I was invited in 2012 to spend a couple of weeks in Cuba visiting historical landmarks and sites, to get a sense and experience as to how the Cubans preserved, protected and ensured there historical sites, landmarks and monuments remained relevant and key features of Cuba's social edifice and way of life.

Following my visit to Ernesto "Che" Guevara's site of memorial I wrote the following piece.

The Myth that is Che - A Man of the People

15th April 2012

As we approached the very impressive Monument for Che, my translator and tour guide turned to me with an air of pride and joy and said apparently this image of Che, which appears on all artifacts sold, is as recognizable as the Coke Cola brand.

However how many of us actually know, understand and appreciate this exceptional revolutionary character. Che, who was born in Argentina in 1928 and graduated as a Doctor, was a photographer, adventure a romantic, and ultimately a fighter for freedom, justice and equality.

In December 1951, with his friend Alberto Granado, he embarked upon a motorbike trip across South America, on La Poderosa, on a far from secure and fit bike, which eventually during their trip packed in.

The trip took him deep into the interiors of the wretched despair of people who inhabited those lands. The experiences and impact of the trip were vividly and in compelling proses captured and articulated in The Motorcycle Diaries of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. The book demonstrates and highlights his subtle and eloquent ability to capture the beauty of the landscape, feelings and hardship and pain of those he encountered. “The poor thing was in a pitiful state, breathing the acrid smell of concentrated sweat and dirty feet that filled her room, mixed with the dust from a couple of armchairs, the only luxury items in her house. On top of her asthma, she had a heart condition”.

I found my visit to St Clara and Che’s beautifully and eloquently constructed memorial, three hour’s east of Havana, a truly humbling, emotional and evocative experience.  It was breathtaking.

The fight and taking of St Clara and the blowing up of the railway line by his detachment was the most defining and critical event in the Cuban Revolution. It prevented Batista, the Cuban dictator, from sending supplies and troops down to Santiago de Cuba, which effectively enabled Fidel to capture the city and declare victory in the new year of 1959.

The memorial which consists of an impressive wall that depicts various images of Che taking of St Clara, a Statue and below a museum containing artifacts, documents and pictures of his life, is powerful, evocative and pulls you into his life as an adventure and committed passionate revolutionary.

Next to the Museum is the Mausoleum were his remains along with 32 revolutionary other comrades who followed him to Bolivia are laid to rest.  The Mausoleum, while somber is very tastefully done and immensely evocative, awe-inspiring and tranquil.

Through its serenity and tranquility, it captures the essence, meaning and commitment of this true revolutionary, who was driven by a desire, need and firm belief that the world could be made a better and more humane place for all.  It is a powerful reminder of a person with a deep sense of passion and desire for justice.   

It was such an awe inspiring and humbling experience. I got the feeling and sense of his life, his journey and dreams that ultimately brought this gifted person’s life to a tragic and premature end.  His execution in Bolivia, too all intents and purposes, highlighted the intolerance and fear that could be evoked by a person’s ideals, beliefs and passion for universal social equality that resonated and connected with a people looking for solace and a sense of hope, to lift them out their chains of oppression, servitude, despair and the spiral of perpetual poverty.

His mere presence literally did bring hope were there was despair, belief were there was emptiness and the sense of a brighter tomorrow. Che, which was the nickname given to him by his Cuban Revolutionary Comrades was a person of intellect, conviction, a person that symbolized, represented, encapsulated and personified a 19th century romantic puritan, who dreamed about changing the world for the good of all.

Che followed his passion, beliefs and convictions and the memorial at St Clara brings to life this unique special person, who has become an international icon. To miss out visiting St Clara will only deprive one of a key element of Cuba’s rich, diverse, and stimulating heritage and history which is so eloquently captured, told and brought to life. Cuba is its history and its history is Cuba.

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