Guevara returns at last to Cuba and the legend lives on

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The Independent Online
Days after they were unearthed in the mountains of central Bolivia, the bones of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the legend of leftist revolution whose charismatic features graced student dormitories across the Western world in the Sixties and Seventies, were returned to Cuba for a hero's burial on Saturday.

President Fidel Castro was at a reception ceremony at San Antonio de los Banos airbase, 20 miles from Havana, to where Guevara's remains were flown. A guard of honour, including Guevara's old comrade-in-arms, accompanied the remains on the flight. They will be taken to a final resting-place in a mausoleum in the square named after Guevara in the town of Santa Clara.

The last mystery of Guevara, the whereabouts of his body, has thus been resolved. His remains and those of several comrades were discovered in a remote area near the city of Santa Cruz earlier this month, near where they were killed by Bolivian soldiers in 1967 after attempting to foment an uprising in the country and import Communism to the rest of South America.

But the mystique of the man who was Fidel Castro's second-in-command in the Communist takeover of Cuba in 1959 remains undiminished. And nor, its seems, is the marketability of that single, most famous image of Guevara's face, with beret and beard, the image captured in a photograph taken by Alberto Korda in 1960.

In Cuba, where Mr Castro has declared 1997 the "year of the 30th anniversary of the fall in battle of the Heroic Guerrilla and his comrades", Guevara's beatification was well under way even before the discovery of his bones. A giant rendering of his face stares from the wall of a building overlooking Revolution Square in Havana.

And in the rest of the world he has been making a comeback too. His commercial potency as symbol of rebellion and irreverent cool is once more being exploited.

You may spot his face on bottles of beer, on record labels and on the mud-guards of lorries.

The appeal endures, even if many are too young to remember his exploits or, at best, have only the haziest notions about the life of the man who, before he befriended Castro, was a doctor in Argentina with bad asthma. His end was not befitting of the legend. Wounded and crippled by his asthma, he was betrayed to government soldiers by peasants. After shooting him in a school room, they cut off his hands and sent them to Cuba as proof that the mythical fighter had been killed. The absence of hands was what helped scientists to identify the body found last week.

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