The New Yorker:
On October 9, 1967, just over fifty years ago, the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto (Che) Guevara was shot to death by a Bolivian Army sergeant in a schoolroom in a tiny hamlet in southeastern Bolivia. The Bolivians had hunted him down with the assistance of the C.I.A., which hoped to bring an early end to his role as a symbol of the struggle against the ravages of capitalism. But, after the execution, Che’s body was flown to Vallegrande, the nearest air base, sixty kilometres away, where it was put on display in the laundry room of a local hospital, and almost immediately the corpse began to take on a life of its own. In his biography of Che, my colleague Jon Lee Anderson writes that nuns working at the hospital swore that the open eyes of Che’s cadaver followed them around the room. Local peasants, who as a group had been reluctant to support Che’s insurgency, began to snip off locks of his hair to use as talismans; gradually, he was transformed into San Ernesto de La Higuera, a santo with special powers to assist the poor. When photographs of Che’s carefully laid-out corpse began to circulate more widely, the art critic John Berger pointed out the striking similarity between Che’s body and the body of Jesus as portrayed by the Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna in “Lamentation of Christ.”
One person who doesn’t believe in what he refers to as these “idiotic stories” is Che’s youngest brother, Juan Martin Guevara. In his recently published book, “Che, My Brother,” (written with the French journalist Armelle Vincent), Juan Martin observes that all these anecdotes “tend towards the same goal: to turn Che into a myth.” Since Che’s death, the Guevara family has, for the most part, avoided speaking publicly, and Juan Martin’s professed intention, in breaking his silence, is both to counteract the degree to which Che’s image has been co-opted (in 2012, for example, Mercedes-Benz designed an advertising campaign that replaced the star on Che’s beret with the Mercedes logo) and also to explicate Che’s ideas as “a thinker and a social innovator.” “I share his ideas,” Juan Martin writes. “I am a Marxist-Leninist, a Guevarist.” In actuality, though, “Che, My Brother” is light on ideology and, instead, succeeds remarkably well as a personal and family memoir, benefitted by the authority of a writer who indisputably knows his subject well.
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