13 THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT CHE GUEVARA

We’ve all seen his face so many times, it’s almost as if we knew him personally.

Che Guevara, Cuba, HavanaThe iconic image of Marxist revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara is one of the world’s most objectified images, found on an endless array of t-shirts, posters, tattoos, and even bikinis.

He is a superhero of the consumer culture he despised and a universal symbol of rebellion.

According to leftist mythology he was a brave, noble soldier who loved freedom and sacrificed his life for the socialist cause and he yet remains a national hero in Cuba, where his face is on the 3 peso coin and school children begin each morning pledging: ‘We will be like Che.’

Universally he is both loved and reviled.

Che Guevara, Cuba, HavanaWhen I pre-released the cover of my latest novel, NAKED IN HAVANA, with the tagline ‘Sex, Lies and Che Guevara’ someone commented that they wouldn’t buy anything that had Che in it.  Extreme? Decide for yourself.

Here are some things you perhaps didn’t know.

1. HE WAS ALSO KNOWN AS THE BUTCHER OF LA CABAÑA

The La Cabaña Fortress is a popular tourist destination dominating Havana Bay. It was once the final destination for many of Castro’s enemies and it was here that Che ordered the executions of hundreds of Batista loyalists, a job for which he was uniquely suited:

“To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. 
These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a 
revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine 
motivated by pure hate.”

In his defence, Batista loyalists weren’t renowned for being warm and fuzzy either.

2. HE WAS NOT A BIG SUPPORTER OF LGBT

Che oversaw the establishment of Cuba’s first gulag at Guanahacabibes. The forced labor camp was used to detain homosexuals and devout Catholics as well as dissidents.

3. IN SOME PARTS OF BOLIVIA HE IS WORSHIPED AS A SAINT

Che Guevara, Cuba, HavanaOn October 8, 1967, U.S.-trained Bolivian rangers captured Che in a ravine near the Bolivian town of La Higuera.

The next day he was summarily executed in a local schoolhouse and his body was moved to nearby Vallegrande and put on show for the press inside a laundry room. That room has now become a pilgrimage site and is featured along the tourist ‘Che Guevara Trail.’

Locals in the town now pray to “Saint Ernesto,” although his sainthood is unofficial. As he was a sworn Marxist don’t expect any move for canonization from the Vatican anytime soon.

4.  A LOCK OF HIS HAIR FETCHED SIX FIGURES AT AUCTION

Che Guevara, Cuba, HavanaHis body and belongings were treated with little respect by his killers.

His famous pipe was taken by the man who shot him and the CIA agent who interrogated him, Felix Rodriguez, took the tobacco.

His not-very-Marxist Rolex also disappeared.

Another agent, Gustavo Villoldo, snipped a lock of hair and auctioned it 40 years later – for $100,000.

5. YOU MAY STILL BE ABLE TO SHAKE HANDS WITH HIM

The Bolivian army never revealed what happened to Guevara’s body but his hands were amputated and preserved in formaldehyde. They were then sent to Buenos Aires for fingerprint identification so that Castro could never claim they shot the wrong man.

What happened to them after that? No one is able to point the finger to where they are now.

6. HIS KILLERS WERE CURSED

Che Guevara, Cuba, HavanaThe order to kill Che came from Bolivian President René Barrientos and was carried out by Captain Gary Prado, from an army division under the command of General Joaquin Zentano.

2 years later Barrientos died in a helicopter crash; Zentano was assassinated in Paris in 1975. In 1991 a gun accident left Prado a paraplegic.

Does that mean they were cursed? It could just be the law of averages. Bolivian presidents and colonels don’t often die in their beds.

7. ‘THAT’ PICTURE EARNED THE PHOTOGRAPHER NO ROYALTIES

Che Guevara, Cuba, HavanaWhen he was captured, Che Guevara reportedly shouted: “Don’t shoot! I am Che Guevara and I am worth more alive than dead!”  

A gazillion t-shirt sales say you were wrong there, Che.

Photographer Alberto Korda took THAT famous photograph at a memorial service for te victims of the La Coubre explosion in Havana on March 5, 1960.

Copies were later acquired by a wealthy Italian businessman, Giangiacomo Fetrinelli. After Che died his image acquired a life of its own.

A lifelong communist, Korda did not claim moral rights until 2000 when Smirnoff used the image in a vodka commercial. He was awarded $50,000, which he donated to the Cuban healthcare system.

8.  CHE’S REAL NAME WAS ERNESTO LYNCH.

Che Guevara, Cuba, HavanaChe was actually Ernie. His family was half Irish and he was descended from one Paddy Lynch from Galway, on his mother’s side.

He was born in Rosario in Argentina to wealthy parents and never became a Cuban citizen, despite his intense involvement in that country’s destiny.

9. HIS NICKNAME WAS PIG.

Che Guevara, Cuba, HavanaHe got the nickname (“Chancho”) as a youth because of his poor hygiene.

He may look good on a t-shirt but apparently he didn’t change his own more than once a week.

People stopped calling him Chancho when he acquired powers of summary execution.

10. HE WAS A GEEK

As a youth he played in chess tournaments and liked to recite poetry. His favorite subjects were mathematics and engineering.

11. HE HAD FIVE MINI CHE’S

Hilda_Gadea_y_Che_Guevara_-_Luna_de_miel_-_Yucatán_1955He had a daughter with his first wife, Hilda Gadea, born in Mexico City on February 15, 1956.

He also had four children with his second wife, the revolutionary Aleida March – Aleida, Camilo, Celia, and Ernesto.

12. HE WAS A KEEN ANGLER.

Che Guevara, Cuba, HavanaHe and Fidel Castro competed with a certain well known writer in what was known as The Hemingway Fishing Contest.

The Angry Young Man and the Sea.

13. HE TRIED TO BLOW UP GRAND CENTRAL STATION

Che Guevara, Cuba, HavanaLast year a right wing author named Humberto Fontova claimed to have uncovered evidence that Guevara was involved in a November 1962 plot to use 1,200 pounds of TNT to blow up Macy’s, Gimbels, Bloomingdale’s, and Grand Central Station the day after Thanksgiving.

As this is the busiest shopping day of the year the resulting carnage may have eclipsed 9/11.

As John Lennon would have said: You say you want a revolution?

 


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Holy Week, Easter, Spain

COLIN FALCONER

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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6 Responses to 13 THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT CHE GUEVARA

  1. I have never been a fan but like everyone else recognize his famous picture. Cuba is still littered with it. Hmm. Thirteen things I did not know. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love these posts of yours. Always so interesting.

  3. Lynda says:

    Love these facts! I have not read anything on him at all actually, and now I will have to! Number 13 is very interesting indeed, and that day is called Black Friday after all. As I am Canadian I have no idea why it is called that, but it would have fit, wouldn’t it?
    Also I can’t help but notice that he was some seriously handsome dude – these are the first ‘real’ pictures I have seen of him! But fact 9 kills all that..
    But, I do need to go and find out more on him now!

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