“The past tense can never be used when talking about Ernesto Guevara.” -Fidel Castro

Che: Present now and forever

“The past tense can never be used when talking about Ernesto Guevara.” -Fidel Castro

Amelia Duarte de la Rosa & Michel Hernández Sánchez | Granma International

THAT asthmatic and underdeveloped boy, as on one occasion his father Don Ernesto Guevara Lynch described him, who seemed an unlikely candidate to become a revolutionary icon of Latin American and world thought, Ernesto Che Guevara, would have celebrated his 85th birthday June 14. The man who lives in the minds of so many is in no way gone and forgotten; his legendary figure and example have grown around the world, wherever people struggle for freedom.
His life reverberates with more strength every year. His image and symbolism support the determination and consciousness of those who remain faithful to his ideals. Guerrilla fighter, father, friend, poet, economist, photographer, chess enthusiast, Comandante Guevara was a man born ahead of his times – as Fidel described him, “A unique case of a rare man who was capable of uniting in his personality not only the characteristics of a man of action, but those of a man of ideas as well.”

It was in the year 1928, in Rosario, Argentina, where Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was born. His father was  a civil construction engineer and his mother, Doña Celia de la Serna, a woman with an energetic and firm character. Don Ernesto recounts in Mi hijo el Che, that from a very early age, his son would not tolerate the imposition of anything he considered unjust or any unreasonable restriction.

The asthma he suffered was distressing for the family, but his father commented, “It is possible that the illness itself hardened him, in the sense of learning to discipline himself, not allowing an attack, or the suggestion of one, to overwhelm him.”

Later on, studying at the Buenos Aires School of Medicine, Ernesto was always cheerful and joking, “When starting a conversation, he had a way of talking a bit slowly, picking up speed as the dialogue heated up. His eyes were dark; his look deep and inquiring. When he looked at someone, he was studying the soul of his conversational partner.”

Thus Dr. Guevara’s personality was born and, after coming into close contact with the poverty, hunger, injustice and dictatorships to which Latin America was subjected, he became an expeditionary on the yacht Granma, a rebel fighter in the Sierra Maestra, a Comandante during the early days of the Cuban Revolution and a guerrillero of the world.

When he was interviewed by the magazine Alma Máter in 1959, he was asked why, as an Argentine, he had participated in such a decisive way in the Cuban Revolution. He answered, “From my personal point of view, I reject any explanation that purports to demonstrate somehow that a foreigner can come to struggle in another land. For those of us who live south of the Río Bravo, all [Latin] American countries are our own and, in any one of these, we can shed our blood, confident that we are fighting for our homeland.”

“At 14 I bought that backpack with the photo of Che and have been learning that freedom is something yet to be created…”
     Jorge Drexler (Uruguayan songwriter)

A universal symbol of resistance, Ernesto Che Guevara is no doubt a powerful force which continues to grow within struggles against injustice and the abuses of neoliberal societies. During the 1960’s, Che as an icon of rebellion, became known throughout the world. He marched with students during the May 68 events in France, and in protests against the war in Vietnam, frequented ghettos in the U.S. during the days of Black Power and the Black Panthers. His philosophy of life at the service of social transformation, his humanism and defiant image are characteristics which have crossed borders, disseminating his life story and example. This has been the case despite continual efforts by the capitalist culture industry to commercialize his image, attempting to gut it of its significance, representing a flesh and blood man, of uncommon honesty, who stayed true to his beliefs, facing the ultimate consequences.
It is unquestionable that his legacy has influenced important efforts not only in political action, but in a variety of artistic expressions, serving as a source of inspiration for many creative individuals – a fact which is not often mentioned when discussing Che. Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez said during one of his visits to Argentina, “His search for full human dignity continues to have contemporary impact, because Ernesto Guevara did not have petty interests. He was an uncompromising radical, an iconoclast who put his neck out to give greater meaning not to his own life, but to that of all others. That is why he has been a great inspiration for theater, poems and songs, in many times and places.”

His voice can be heard in songs such as “Hacen mil hombres” by Venezuelan Alí Primera; “Hasta Siempre comandante” by Cuba’s Carlos Puebla; “Zamba al Che” from Víctor Jara; “Tuve un amigo querido” and “Nada más” by Atahualpa Yupanqui, and “América te hablo de Ernesto” by Silvio, as well as within the discography of bands such as Todos tus muertos in Argentina and Rage Against The Machine, whose performances always feature images of Che.
In Cuba, Che has been evoked on numerous occasions by others such as Sara González, Gerardo Alfonso, Ireno García, Noel Nicola, Frank Delgado, Santiago and Vicente Feliú. His life was an essential component in the foundation of the Nueva Canción movement and is of great importance to many current exponents of hip hop and the latest trova, young artists who see in the principled nature of his work a path that reject opportunism, double standards and attitudes which demobilize the people.

Ernesto Guevara’s revolutionary work is recalled with admiration as an incomplete struggle for liberation and a task to be reassumed in new, changing historical circumstances, as in ”Papá cuéntame otra vez” by Spanish songwriter Ismael Serrano, which recalls the life of a man “who they killed in Bolivia and, since that day, everything appears uglier.”

He is likewise a figure among rock musicians who consider him an ethical and aesthetic guide. One example of the continual presence of his mark is the song ”San Ernesto,” by La Mancha de Rolando, about the guerrillero’s life. Charly García’s “Rap del exilio” includes references to Che, “When I was three, I had a book and a photo of Che, now I’m a thousand years old and have very little to do,” he writes confirming his early adherence to Che’s ideas.

The Argentine musician, composer and producer Andrés Calamaro is one of those who advocate rising above the superficial cult to promote the authentic dissemination of Che’s legacy and assume it as a philosophy of life, saying, “I don’t know if it’s fashionable or not, if rock adopted him as an icon, but this man deserves to be in heaven, if there is such a place worthy of the name. Guevara represents for Latinos what Malcolm X does for Blacks in the United States. But let’s not be frivolous, when we are in a store buying a T-shirt with a fistful of dollars, it could be time to put our feet on the ground and rethink everything again.”

There is a phrase of Che’s which has been taken up by the new social movements composed in large part of young people with the courage to go out into the streets to make their demands, with a conviction unseen since the 1960’s – demands for a just and humane society which reflect Che’s revolutionary ideas. To confirm this observation, one only needs to scan the many images of mass mobilizations in which his unmistakable image can be seen accompanied by calls for a better world. It is seen on the T-shirts of many young people who know that in many regions of the planet, “Freedom is something yet to be created…”

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