Thousands visit scene of Che's death 40 years ago

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The Independent US

Tens of thousands of disciples of the revolutionary leader Che Guevara made the pilgrimage to Ville Grande in the Bolivian jungle yesterday – the spot where he was executed exactly 40 years ago. And in a sign of the political sympathies of the hordes of students, tourists and revolutionaries setting up camp for the five-day World Che Festival, hundreds of multi-coloured chequered flags, the banner of the Campesinos – the oppressed indigenous people of the Andes – were being hoisted into the air.

Daniela Torrico, organiser of the Che festival, said: "He is like a saint to us because he fought for the Campesino people and he died for his ideals."

Claudia Rubindiciles, 26, from Cochabamba, Bolivia, said: "He was a revolutionary and a liberator for the Campesinos. It is important to celebrate his 40th anniversary even though his methods are no longer relevant. At the time violence was the only way."

Natalie Folz, 27, from Toronto, said she had come out of curiosity as Che had always been held in such high esteem in Latin America. "I think he started with good ideals but he went too extremist with his revolutionary ideas," she said.

Louis Vinycomb, from south London, admitted that he had only come for the party. At midnight on Sunday revellers will trek for four hours to light a fire of remembrance at the shrine at the tiny pueblo of La Higuera, which marks the spot where Che was shot at the age of 39 by CIA-trained Bolivian troops.

Music, film and art are planned for the five-day celebration, and, in true South American style, festival-goers will contest the Che cup in a football tournament.

Ville Grande and La Higuera are now part of a tourist attraction, the Che Guevara trail, which covers an area of 180 miles in central Bolivia and follows Che's the last days.

Like everything else about him, from the famous photograph of the bearded Che in a beret with red star taken by the late Alberto Korda, to his speeches, his last days have been turned into a commodity – part of the global Che brand.

Che himself might be surprised to see so many Bolivians making the journey to the remote eastern mountain town. Forty years ago he had found little support when he came to the country to recruit local miners for his communist revolution that he hoped would set a torch paper to Latin America.

Instead he was captured, emaciated and bedraggled, complaining that the Bolivian people were too provincial to understand his ideas.

As celebrations got under way yesterday it was apparent to what degree he had posthumously won over Bolivia. Organisers said that despite having difficulties with transport they expected double the numbers to the last World Che Festival 10 years ago, when several thousand turned up.

And in a further mark of the extent to which the revolutionary outlaw has been transformed into an establishment hero in Bolivia, Che's portrait now hangs in the office of President Evo Morales – the country's first indigenous leader.

Mr Morales's election, subsequent promises to re-distribute land and oil and gas profits, and his closeness to Venezuela's Hugo Chaves and Cuba's Fidel Castro, have been labelled part of a new brand of Latin American socialism.

Che's revolutionary zeal was inspired during his travels around South America as a young man, witnessing first hand the impoverished conditions in which people lived. He joined Castro's revolution in Cuba in 1959 and left six years later with the intention of fomenting further revolution but was shot dead in a operation supported by the CIA.