|THE LEGACY OF CHE GUEVARA|
NOVEMBER 20, 1997
Why should Che be the subject of so much attention now?
Is it possible that Che represents something more than the era in which he died?
Considering the manner in which he died, how will history treat Che relative to other guerrilla leaders?
Will the mass iconization of Che fuel even more anti-American sentiments abroad, as well as anti-government sentiments among America's "lost generation X-ers"?
Fearing that Che's burial place would become a shrine to the fallen guerrilla leader, the Bolivian army officers secretly disposed of his remains. Che's body - excluding his hands, which were amputated for positive identification - and those of his comrades were buried in a mass grave near a Vallegrande air strip in central Bolivia. But rather than destroy the myth of Che, the circumstances surrounding his death only intensified it. In Asia, Latin America and Africa, Marxist guerrilla movements embraced his image as a symbol of revolutionary struggle. In Western Europe and North America, protesting college students invoked his image in defiance to the Vietnam War, racism and anything considered the establishment. Che's image, bearded and wearing a single red star studded beret, became an international symbol of revolt and revolutionary idealism.
Thirty years later, Che Guevara still fascinates and confounds. In Cuba, 1997 is observed as "The Year of the 30th Anniversary of the Death in Combat of the Heroic Guerrilla and His Comrades." And on October 12, 1997, after his remains were unearthed in Bolivia, Che's body was returned to Cuba, where he is now buried in the town of Santa Clara. Despite the official celebrations honoring its fallen hero, many experts believe that the Cuban government is more interested in promoting Che's image than his actual ideas, many of which conflict with Cuba's current state policies. But the Cuban government is not alone in the plundering of Che's legacy: everyone from Hollywood to athletic equipment manufacturers are cashing in on the fallen revolutionary's image, if not his principles.
In addition to being the topic of several upcoming feature films and the subject of several new biographies released this year, Che Guevara's image itself has become a formidable marketing tool. A few years ago, Swatch, the Swiss manufacturer of watches, released a Revolution model of their watch adorned with Che's image on its face. Similarly, Fisher, an Austrian Ski and Tennis manufacturer, unveiled a Revolution model of its skis also adorned with Che's likeness on its product. In the world of music, the very political rock band, Rage Against the Machine, have placed Che's image on everything from album covers to T-shirts. And in Bolivia, tourist agencies offer package tours through the mountains and countryside where Che and his comrades fell thirty years earlier. From posters to even a short lived beer in London (it was taken off the market following Cuban government objections), Che Guevara, long a potent political symbol, has become a pop icon of mythic proportions. In a recent interview in the Miami Herald, Jon Lee Anderson, author of the ground breaking new biography Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, noted, "Che is the last unplundered icon of the '60's in popular culture, and now can be looted for commercial use in our entertainment culture."
Answering your forum questions is Jon Lee Anderson, author of "Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life" (Grove Press) and former reporter for the Lima Times in Peru. Mr. Anderson, working over the last five years, gained unprecedented access to both Che's personal archive through his widow and to the formerly sealed Cuban government archives. In addition, Mr. Anderson interviewed scores of Che's closest comrades and friends, KGB officials who worked with Che and the CIA men and Bolivian army officers who hunted him down.