Remembrance. Che Guevara was executed 50 years ago today in Bolivia. Though he never lived to see 40, he inspired revolutions around the globe and transformed Latin America like no one since independence.

The face of the revolution

His words were printed on the walls of Paris, London and Bologna. But mostly they penetrated the consciences of those young men who were determined to change a dull and unjust world, worn down by post-war economic growth.

The face of the revolution was Che’s. He read Sartre and Fanón, and he listened to the Beatles. In Latin America, he favored the tales of Julio Cortázar and Gabriel García Márquez and the music of Alfredo Zitarrosa and Daniel Viglietti, of Chico Buarque and Silvio Rodríguez.

The suppression of the [1968] revolt in France did not prevent his libertarian spirit from reaching the Portuguese colonels and African sergeants.

In the Americas, there were armed Argentine Montoneros, Uruguayan Tupamaros, Peruvian Trotskyists, Colombian and Salvadoran Marxists, Nicaraguan Sandinistas, and everywhere was the fire of new insurrection.

The national security doctrine, as illustrated by the Americans at the Panama Canal school of war, prepared military personnel from all over the continent for repression.

In Bolivia, where Che died, General Juan José Torres established a socializing government that created a short-lived revolutionary council of soldiers and miners before breaking down into bourgeoisie and peasants.

In Brazil, the military dictatorship launched in 1964 disarmed urban guerrillas and imposed an agenda of faster and faster economic growth.

In Peru, there was a serious nationalist campaign led by General Velasco Alvarado, who was then betrayed and deported. In Chile, where there was a democratic tradition, socialist Salvador Allende came to the government with the support of leftist communists and Catholics.

In Uruguay, the guerrilla group Tupamara grew, and the Frente Amplio [Broad Front] was formed, a leftist coalition that threatened the hegemony of the traditional parties.

In Argentina, where the confusion was greater, General Juan Perón returned to power in 1973 after 18 years of exile, thanks to the guerrilla offensive of the nationalist Montoneros and the Marxists of the People’s Revolutionary Army.

The stability of the so-called democracies wavered in Venezuela and Colombia, and Ecuador became ungovernable. Panama put in power a nationalist and adventurous colonel who fascinated Graham Greene: Omar Torrijos.

It was one of the most turbulent decades on the continent. The ghosts of the founding fathers — Bolívar, San Martí, Artigas, José Marti — appeared unmistakably in the background of the times, this time planted by the young people who had endured them in the textbooks of the prevailing educational system. Now the heroes of independence had different voices: They had become more human and spoke of the poor and the indigenous. They were the forerunners of the “Gran Patria Americana.”

Suddenly, kids in this part of the world felt proud to be here and were ready to die to be free. The whole progressive world watched them with admiration and even with envy. And if they lost some battles, the doors of Europe were always open to welcome them and to listen to them.

By the mid-1970s, echoes sounded in federal Germany, in Italy, in Spain and once again in France. These echoes began to sound like bangs.

Salazar’s regime fell, and the Portuguese bourgeoisie trembled with the Carnation Revolution. Europe, so confident of itself, was tempted until the great economic depression came to 73.

Then there was the collapse of illusions, the end of an era in which all dreams were possible. That was going to die again and that death would be more lasting. (…)

He raised the flag of utopia, and his texts, such as his diary, reveal a seemingly naive view of the world.

But he believed in us, and made many others believe. There was something religious in this, something very questionable. But all the great revolutions had their pragmatic men and those willing to give life to their principles.

It is probably true that Che’s example has dragged many young people toward an inevitable death. But others, like Sandinistas, came to the uprising when no one believed in armed struggle anymore.

That’s why in the most desperate societies Che will always be valuable. So many years after his death, many have abandoned him, but many others still follow in his footsteps, in places where freedom is a meaningless word. Many people say that, in the end, Che was pure.

This man blindly believed in the honesty, justice and ability of Latin American peoples to understand what their destiny is.

With time, this almost Christian feeling of equality can make you smile. He seems like a fable, this character who would divide a candy between four companions just so that nobody would have any more than the other.

And yet he was not an angel. Those who were present in post-revolution Cuba in 1959 recall him sitting at a table judging torturers and spies who ended up on the wall.

In Cuba, Che was one of the three most esteemed comandantes, along with Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos. Until in 1966 when, abruptly, he left the political scene.

Many believe this was a settling of scores between the leaders of the revolution. And when rumors appeared of his presence in Bolivia, some suspected a demented imposter.

Only in the last year of his life was there unmistakable evidence that Che was at the front of a new revolution.

Thousands of pages have been written about the mistakes made by guerrillas in Bolivia, and in Guevara’s diary itself there is evidence of the infinite solitude where the peasants of the plateau, one of the most desolate regions of the continent, left him.

When regular troops took him, almost by accident, dying of fear, it is possible that Che, weakened by hunger and asthma, realized that his epic had come to an end.

He could not have imagined what his death would set in motion, but it is certain today that he wouldn’t take back any part of his revolutionary life.

Che was not yet 40 years old and had already shaken the continent like no one had since independence. Perhaps that’s why today he’s counted among the great American heroes, and even his worst enemies have a reluctant respect for him. Many theorists in the 1960s wrote and debated tactics and strategies to raise up the masses of oppressed people. Some, like Règis Debray, who accompanied Guevara to Bolivia, abandoned their rebellious years.

Whatever judgment we pass today on the man murdered Oct. 9, 1967, no one can deny that, rightly or wrongly, what’s most striking about him is his loyalty to the cause of justice and freedom.

(From il manifesto, Oct. 1, 1987)

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