Trip Through Time: Human side of legendary revolutionary

Trip Through Time: Human side of legendary revolutionary
Statue of Guevara in La Higuera.

LA HIGUERA - A seven-hour drive from Santa Cruz, a city in eastern Bolivia, on a dusty mountain road took me to La Higuera, a village 2,000 meters above sea level.

About a dozen shanties built along the 200-meter road were the homes of its 80 or so inhabitants.

It was here 47 years ago that Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, a guerrilla revolutionary committed to the goal of liberating Latin America, was captured by the government army and executed by gunfire, putting an end to his checkered life.

After strolling through a symphony of birdsong to the centre of the village, I found a bust of Guevara on a 1.5-meter-tall pedestal.

His strong eyes seemed to show determination. The school where he was executed has been transformed into a memorial hall that local residents take turns managing.

The list of names signed in the guestbook shows that tourists from all over the world have visited the village, walking in Guevara's footsteps.

"The village residents, who believed the government when it called the guerrillas 'murderers,' did not try to help Guevara when he was captured. And they all regretted it when they learned afterward that he had dedicated his life to the liberation of Bolivia," Sabina Chuki, a 38-year-old farmer, said.

Chuki said he has heard his elders repeat words of remorse countless times since his childhood. Guevara's popularity still continues in the village, which is located in a poor area where many must live on less than a dollar a day.

Juanita Castro, the younger sister of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, describes Guevara as "an inhuman, cold fish" in her memoir "Fidel y Raul, mis hermanos" (Fidel and Raul, my brothers). The book has been published in Japanese by Chuokoron Shinsha.

However, Julia Cortez, a 66-year-old housewife who came into contact with Guevara just before he was shot, remembers him differently. "He was a humble, polite person," she said.

Cortez, who was 19 at the time, had been working at the school where Guevara was executed. On Oct. 9, 1967, just before he was killed, she brought him some peanut soup that her mother had made.

He must have been famished, Cortez recalls, as he took the bowl with both of his hands - which were tied together - and drank the soup down in one gulp.

Gazing at her with his mesmerizing eyes, he told her: "This soup is worth more than gold. Thank you. Thank you so much."

As Cortez left the classroom with the empty bowl, Guevara pushed open the door with his elbow and smiled at her as she looked back.

"He had gentle eyes for somebody who was prepared to die," she remembers. "His last smile is still engraved in my mind." Not long after that, the sound of gunfire echoed through the village.

A full 39 years

"My mother taught me how to make this. Guevara had the same soup." At the end of the interview, Cortez served me some peanut soup.

I took a sip. I felt the richness of the peanuts gently spread through me, and the warmth seemed to fill my whole body.

The soup made me think about the 39 years of life that Guevara rushed through with all his might.

Yoshida is a correspondent in Rio de Janeiro.

Guevara was born to a wealthy family in Argentina. After meeting former Cuban President Fidel Castro in Mexico, he went to Cuba and helped lead the guerrilla war there. On the heels of the success of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, he was appointed the president of the National Bank and the minister of industry.

He left Cuba in 1965 for Congo and sneaked into Bolivia after leaving Congo. Captured in battle, he was executed by a firing squad. His body, which the military had secretly buried, was discovered in 1997.

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