By Anna Farley, PA News
Nearly 37 years after Che Guevara’s death, Cuban grammar school students still salute the flag every morning and recite: “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che.”
Born into a middle-class family of Spanish and Irish descent in 1928, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara left his home-country of Argentina for Cuba in 1956, and two years later launched what was to become the first and only victorious socialist revolution in the Americas.
By the time he died at the hands of the Bolivian army in October 1967, Guevara – who the British Government considered to be the most influential figure in Cuba after Fidel Castro, it was revealed today – had already become a legend.
Guevara attributed his political awakening to a motorbike tour of South America in 1952 during which he witnessed the continent’s poverty and inequality.
He later recorded his thoughts in a book, called The Motorcycle Diaries, the film of which is due to be released in the UK next Friday.
After becoming a doctor in 1953, Guevara left Argentina to escape military service and became involved in left-wing movements in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
He them met Fidel Castro and played a key role in the guerilla campaign which saw Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista overthrown and Castro brought to power in 1959.
The president, who later described his comrade as “an extraordinary human being of great intelligence and culture”, rewarded him with a place in his government and the title “native-born Cuban”.
In 1961 Guevara – who’s nickname Che means “hey, you!”– went to the Congo before returning to the continent in a bid to spread his vision of social equality for all.
Six years later he was executed while leading an uprising against the Bolivian government.
After Guevara died the legendary picture of him gazing into the distance wearing a beard and beret was published – seven years after it was taken.
His face has now sold more posters than anyone else’s in history.
For four decades it has stared out from the cover of hundreds of revolutionary books and down from the walls of thousands of student digs and it has even been used in a church advertising campaign.
But Alberto Korda, the man who took what The Maryland Institute of Art has called “the most famous photograph in the world and a symbol of the 20th century”, never received any royalties.
“As a supporter of the ideals for which Che Guevara died, I am not averse to its reproduction by those who wish to propagate his memory and the cause of social justice throughout the world,” Korda reportedly once said.
On June 15 last year tens of thousands of Cubans paid tribute to Guevara on what would have been the Marxist’s 75th birthday.
The public marches and ceremonies bore testimony to the fact that although Guevara’s remains are stored in a mausoleum in Santa Clara, the memory of him and everything he stood for, live on.
Guevara was right, then, when he cried out moments before his death:
“Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man.”