A country mourns Che Guevara's motorcycle companion

David Usborne
Monday 07 March 2011 01:00

Cuba is mourning Alberto Granado, who six decades ago accompanied a friend on an epic journey across South America that was to awaken their political consciences and alter the geopolitics of a hemisphere. Mr Granado – his pal was Ernesto 'Che' Guevara – died in Havana at the weekend aged 88.

A brief statement in the Cuban media said Mr Granado's last wish was that his ashes be spread in Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina, the country where he and Guevara were born and from which they began their odyssey on motorbikes – his was a rusting British Norton – in 1951. The trip was immortalised in the 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries that was based on the journals kept by both men.

Encountering the poor on a route that took the pair through Argentina, Peru, Chile and Venezuela – and in particular in a Peruvian leper colony – helped propel Guevara into the 20th Century history books, notably by fighting alongside Fidel Castro to forge the Cuban communist revolution. On Guevara's invitation, Mr Granado travelled to Cuba in 1961 and never left.

In a rare interview in 2004 Mr Granado told The Independent on Sunday: "To think that Ernesto, whom I had known since he was 14, would go on to have such an effect on the world was incredible. Before we left Argentina, we didn't know about Latin America, about the enormous gulf between rich and poor and the terrible exploitation of the people. It had a great effect on us."

Mr Granado, who during the 8,000-mile ride called his bicycle La Ponderosa (the Powerful One) and his friend El Pelao (Baldy), helped Cuba build its still vaunted healthcare system, founding a hospital in the city of Santiago. Guevara later left Cuba to foment socialist revolt in other Latin American nations. He was seized by soldiers in Bolivia in 1967 and killed.

When the film, produced by Robert Redford and directed by Walter Salles, first opened Mr Granado wasn't allowed into the US to watch a screening. But eventually he saw it in Cuba with members of Guevara's family. "I was very happy, because it shows the truth of our young lives," he said later.

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