Fotografía de Alberto Korda

The Immortal Image of Che

Víctor Montoya

(Translation by Elizabeth Gamble Miller)

Remembered Comandante:

On the eighth of October of 1967, after fighting your last battle in the canyon of El Churo and falling to the mercy of your enemies, a bullet in your leg and your throat ravaged by asthma, your campaign diary and other documents written by you fell in the hands of the Armed Forces. That is, the papers went from your leather backpack to a shoebox, which was deposited as Secret Papers of the State High Military Command of Bolivia. Your Rolex watch, taken by a soldier shortly after your capture, ended up on the wrist of Coronel Andrés Selich. Your rifle, the rifle I would have liked to inherit, to carry on my shoulder the way you did throughout the fighting, while trying to light the spark of revolution in Latin America, that rifle went to Coronel Centeno Anayo. He took it without feeling the pleasure that Inti felt when he met you in Casa de Calamina, in Nancahuazú, and you shook his hand as a friend, while another man handed over his M-2 carbine. Your pipe, from which you tasted the last bit of smoke, like one who is ready to wait serenely for death, you gave to Sargeant Bernadino Huanca, who treated you kindly. But Captain Mario Terán stepped forward and yelled, “I want it! I want it!” Then you looked at him with infinite scorn, drew back your arm, and said to him, “No, not you.”

At La Higuera you stayed alive for a few hours. You refused to argue with your captors and had the audacity of spitting in their faces. But the mercenaries, ready to comply with the orders of the CIA, decided to eliminate you in the act, to then invent the version that you fell in combat at the canyon of El Churo, instead of being captured alive and executed between the four walls of the school in La Higuera. Your assassin was the same lower-ranking officer who tried to get hold of your pipe. Drunk and afraid, he went into the room and executed the order to eliminate you. But so great was the impression that you made on him that when questioned by the press, he confessed, "That was the worst moment of my life. When I came in, Che was sitting on the bench. When he saw me he said, 'You've come to kill me.’I felt inhibited and looked down without answering. Then he asked me, 'What did the others say/’ (referring to the guerrilla fighters Willy and Chino). I answered that they hadn't said anything. He said, 'They are brave!’ I couldn't bring myself to fire. At that moment Che looked huge, really huge, enormous. His eyes were burning real bright. I felt like he was about to get the best of me, and when he stared at me, it made me dizzy. I thought that with one quick move he could take my weapon away from me. 'Calm down,’ he said, and 'Aim well! You are going to kill a man!’ Then I took a step backward toward the threshold of the door, closed my eyes and shot the first burst. Che, his legs destroyed, fell to the floor, twisting and bleeding profusely. I recovered and fired a second burst, which hit him in the arm, the shoulder and the heart. Then he was dead.”

Afterwards they tied you up and transferred you by helicopter, from the school in La Higuera to the hospital in Vallegrande. They injected formalin in your veins and presented you before the cameras of the press on a wooden table, where you lay like Christ the Nazarene looking more alive than dead; your torso naked, pants wrinkled, feet bare, beard long, down to your chest, and hair falling in cascades. Although your gaze was absent, your eyes radiated a strange innocence, accentuated by parted lips, almost smiling in the grimace of death. That day, those who looked upon your handsome combatant's face say that, even after being riddled with holes, your cadaver had an areola that inspired admiration and respect. Perhaps that was because you knew how to submit your ideals to the test of fire, because you did what you said, because you lived as you thought, and you thought as you lived.

In this last photograph, you are surrounded by a curious crowd staring and holding their breath, as if dazed by the realization that the man stretched out on the cot is the guerrilla fighter who tried to create two, three... many Vietnams in Latin America. At the same time, your captors are pointing to your wounds, exhibiting you like a trophy of war, although they didn't kill you in combat but in a cowardly way.

Nevertheless, this is not your best-known photograph. It's the other one, the one from 1960, when the photographer Alberto Korda was collecting images for the press in Havana after the fire on the French ship carrying a load of arms and munitions for the defense of the revolution. Korda fixed your image in the viewfinder of his camera, and, attracted by the strength and dramatic quality of your gaze stretching across the bay, he snapped your picture. Once developed in the dark room, the image went around the world and turned into a flood of cards, flags, tee shirts, buttons, posters, caps and stamps; moreover, your face was painted on walls and engraved in the minds of those who mutilated your hands and made you disappear, trying to quiet your voice, to bury your ideals, to destroy your image, which today as much as ever is present among us, urging us to repeat those sentences in your farewell letter to your parents, “Again I feel under my heels the ribs of Rocinante; I return to the road with the leather shield on my arm... Many will call me an adventurer, and I am, only of a different kind, one of those who risk their hides to demonstrate their truths…”

Thus we remember you, Comandante, with the star on your beret and the future in your gaze.

© Víctor Montoya, Elizabeth Gamble Miller (2010)

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

VÍCTOR MONTOYA was born in La Paz (Bolivia) in 1958. He spent his childhood and early youth in the miner's town of Siglo XX-Llallagua, north of Potosí, where the largest vein of tin in the world was discovered. In 1976 he was persecuted, tortured, and jailed. He remained in the concentration camp of Chonchocoro-Viacha until, in 1977, he was freed following a campaign by Amnesty International. Since then he has resided in Sweden, where he is dedicated professionally to literature.
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Original en castellano: En francés:

· Imágenes en el artículo (orden descendente): Che Guevara's post mortem face, Por Gustavo Villoldo, CIA operative (CIA, National Security Archive) [Public domain], undefined | CheExec24, By Gustavo Villoldo, CIA operative (CIA, National Security Archive) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Fotografía de inicio de Che Guevara por Alberto Korda (Museo Che Guevara, La Habana, Cuba).

▫ Artículo publicado en Revista Almiar (2010). Reeditado en septiembre de 2019 (Edit. PmmC).


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  • Créditos

    Revista Almiar (2010-2019)
    ISSN 1696-4807
    Miembro fundador de A.R.D.E.

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