Remembering Che: A Life Characterized By Its Death

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Fifty two years ago on this day, i.e. 9th October 1967, Che Guevara was executed by Bolivian soldiers at the age of 39. 

He was a Marxist revolutionary and guerrilla warfare genius who played a pivotal role in overthrowing Cuba’s US-backed dictator. He helped bring about a new popular government in his country.

However, his disposition for rebellion lingered and so he left Cuba to ignite revolution in other countries. There, he was subsequently captured by CIA-assisted Bolivian forces. He was kept tied-up and guarded in a village school. He refused to respond to any interrogation by his captors and only spoke quietly with the common soldiers. A soldier recounts that even though he was deathly sick and shot in the thigh, “Che held his head high, looked everyone straight in the eyes and asked only for something to smoke.”

On the following morning of 9th October, he asked to see the teacher of the school, who later gave an account of the interaction. She described Guevara to be an “agreeable looking man with a soft and ironic glance.” She recalled that she had found herself “unable to look him in the eye” because his “gaze was unbearable, piercing, and so tranquil.” Guevara had pointed out the poor condition of the schoolhouse, stating that it was “anti-pedagogical” to expect school students to be educated there. He contrasted it with the “government officials driving Mercedes cars”, and declared, “that’s what we are fighting against.”

Thirty minutes before he died, he was interrogated by an officer as to the location of his comrades. He did not oblige. One of the common soldiers asked Che if he was thinking of the immortality of his own name. “No,” he replied, “I’m thinking about the immortality of the revolution.”

When his executioner arrived to shoot him, Che spoke his famous last words: “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward! You are only going to kill a man!”

Even though more than 50 years have passed, his iconic image (frequently described as the most famous photograph in the world) still endures in our minds and lives. After his death, Che became a symbol, not only of communism but that of all revolution and rebellion. As we increasingly slip into a world where the sovereignty of poorer countries is being undermined by first world agendas, Che’s life serves as a reminder of standing up and making our point, regardless of repressive policies. 

Nine days after Guevara’s death, Fidel Castro, a fellow revolutionary and a great friend of his famously quoted:

“If we wish to express what we want the men of future generations to be, we must say: Let them be like Che! If we wish to say how we want our children to be educated, we must say without hesitation: We want them to be educated in Che’s spirit! If we want the model of a man, who does not belong to our times but to the future, I say from the depths of my heart that such a model, without a single stain on his conduct, without a single stain on his action, is Che!”

 

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