Seeking Che: Argentine legislators want rebel's remains home from Cuba
BY COLIN MCMAHON
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - (KRT) - If a small but growing group of Argentine legislators has its way, the remains of Che Guevara will come back home one day - back, that is, to a home that many people do not know he had.
Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was born and raised in Argentina, the son of a rich man. But it was with Fidel Castro's revolution that Guevara won fame and infamy, and it is with Cuba that his iconic image is associated. And that is where he is buried.
The Argentines don't expect to change all that. They just want the world to know that Guevara was one of theirs.
"Some people may be in favor of his ideas, and some may be against, but all agree that Che was a figure of noble causes," said Ines Perez Suarez, a congresswoman from Buenos Aires who wants the government to ask the Castro regime to repatriate Guevara's remains. "Che is admired all over the world, and the Argentine people deserve to have him back."
That Castro would agree to such a request is unlikely if not unthinkable. Even Perez Suarez said it probably would require Castro's fall, a welcome prospect to some of the initiative's supporters.
The Castro regime has not commented on the proposal, but one of Guevara's Cuban sons said he considered it so outlandish, "at first I thought it was a joke."
"This makes no sense," Camilo Guevara told the news agency EFE in Havana. "As family members we have the right to say where we want our dead to be, and we want Che to stay in Cuba."
Castro built a mausoleum for Guevara in the city of Santa Clara in 1997, after Guevara's bones were unearthed in a mountain village in Bolivia. The guerrilla leader and several of his comrades were executed there in 1967 after their campaign to incite a peasant revolution failed.
"It would be very difficult to get Castro to allow this," said Mauricio Bossa, a center-right congressman from Cordoba, the central Argentine province where Guevara spent his youth after his family moved from the city of Rosario. "Fidel uses Che's remains as a facade to hide the enormous defects of the revolution and of the Cuban government."
Bossa is not pushing to bring Guevara back. "This is not one of the biggest issues in Argentina," he said. But he said he would not oppose it either, so long as Guevara was not treated as a returning hero.
Whether to bring Guevara home is the latest installment of what could be called necro-politics in Argentina.
The body of the 19th century Argentine strongman Juan Manuel Rosas was repatriated from England in 1989 amid bitter disputes. Rightists revered him, leftists reviled him, and then-President Carlos Menem decided to bring Rosas back as a symbol of reconciliation for a nation emerging from the trauma of bloody civil conflict and government repression.
More than a decade earlier, the corpse of Eva Peron touched and hardened hearts.
Eva Peron's embalmed body had been hidden by army officers after they overthrew her dictator husband in 1955. The corpse made its way around town, at one point ending up in an attic, before it was sent to a secret burial in Italy. But in 1971, her body was sent to an exiled Juan Peron in Madrid. He covered it with a shroud and set it up in his dining room.
Juan Peron returned to power in Argentina in 1973, fell ill and died the next year, passing on power to his third wife. Only then was Eva Peron brought home.
Rosas now rests in peace in Recoleta Cemetery, the last - usually - stop of Argentina's rich, famous and powerful. Eva Peron is there too, and her grave has become a popular, flower-festooned shrine. Just last month, the silk burial shroud that Juan Peron commissioned to cover Eva was returned to Buenos Aires for public display.
Che Guevara is no Eva Peron. But the same themes of reconciliation and forgiveness that arose with Peron and Rosas figure in Guevara's case.
"Che can be claimed by people who are not communicants with his ideology and who most certainly are not in agreement with his methodology," said Pacho O'Donnell, a Guevara biographer who seems to be at least the spiritual author of the effort in Congress to get Guevara back. "I think the possibilities of repatriating Che's remains are very good as soon as Argentines convince ourselves we have to feel proud that Che was Argentine."
That such a possibility is being discussed illustrates the changes in Argentine society.
When Guevara's remains were unearthed in 1997, the Argentine government dispatched forensic experts to help verify his identity but made no claim to the body. In the early 1990s, when Rosario officials wanted to turn Guevara's birthplace into a museum, bombs were set off in protest and warning.
Though then dead for years, Guevara was a satanic figure for the generals who ruled Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s, "a symbol of that which the government was fighting," O'Donnell said.
Time, though, seems to be on Che's side. His growing popularity, or at least the growing popularity of his face on everything from T-shirts to tattoos, has given Argentines more to think about.
The town of Alta Gracia in Argentina's Cordoba province opened a Che Guevara museum a few years ago in his childhood home, and even honored the young Che's household cook without incident. Rosario officials have resumed their museum initiative. The problem now is that the owner of the apartment where he was born does not want to sell.
© 2004, Chicago Tribune.