Castro and Chavez go on pilgrimage to Che's home
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published July 23, 2006
ALTA GRACIA, Argentina - Fidel and Hugo went on a pilgrimage Saturday to Che's house.
In an emotional journey, Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan ally Hugo Chavez toured the Argentine boyhood home of Castro's fallen comrade and legendary guerrilla, Ernesto "Che" Guevara. It was a first visit for both.
"Fidel! Fidel!" and "Hugo! Hugo!" the crowd of 2,000 chanted as the 79-year-old Castro, wearing his trademark green military fatigues, got out of his limousine. Chavez was right by Castro's side as they entered the house amid a crush of security agents.
While Castro made no public comment, he smiled broadly and shook hands with supporters in the crowd. Chavez told reporters the two were delighted by their tour: "Fidel invited me to come and get to know the house. For me, it's a real honor being here."
"We feel it! We feel it! Guevara is right with us!" the crowd shouted Saturday.
Castro first visited Argentina in 1959 after the Cuban revolution and returned to attend a regional summit Friday that inducted Venezuela into the Mercosur trade bloc.
Guevara spent most of his childhood in central Argentina, where his family hoped a mild climate would ease his severe asthma. Guevara's family later moved to Buenos Aires, where he enrolled in medical school before launching the famous motorcycle trip around South America that inspired him to give up medicine for leftist revolution.
He was killed in 1967 while directing a guerrilla movement in Bolivia. His remains were taken three decades later to Cuba, where they are entombed under a massive monument.
On Saturday, black-uniformed police with guard dogs kept back the crowd as bystanders jammed the space outside the green-painted, brick-and-tile middle-class home in Alta Gracia.
The house bears the famous photograph taken in 1960 that shows "Che" wearing his classic beret at a jaunty angle. A bronze statue out front depicts Guevara as a boy, and a vintage motorbike inside was like the one he used on his trip across South America.
The two Latin American leaders also saw memorabilia, including Guevara's birth certificate and handwritten letters.
"I'm sure Fidel will be touched because he knew Che so well," said their house tour guide, Lauren Gonzalez. She said Cubans are among the pilgrims to the house, but it also draws admirers worldwide.
Castro and Chavez viewed the house with three childhood friends of Guevara's - Calica Ferrer, Enrique MartDin and Ariel Vidoza - and left 90 minutes later without talking to the press.
Guevara's former home is owned by the city government. Guevara lived in the house for two stretches, first from 1935-37 and then again from 1939-43.
The home is typical of many on narrow streets of Alta Gracia, a community 35 miles southwest of Cordoba, where Castro, Chavez and six other Latin American presidents attended a regional trade summit Friday.
Ana Ledesma, a 50-year-old housewife, said the Castro-Chavez visit had caused a real fuss in her quiet community.
"The truth is we are all surprised by Castro's visit," she said. "This has thrown the whole city into a state of shock."
Guevara would be 78 years old this year. But his early death in Bolivia at the hands of that country's army helped transform him into a larger-than-life figure.
Guevara launched an armed revolt in 1966 to bring communism to Bolivia after helping lead the 1959 Cuban Revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista and thrust Castro into power. He waged a guerrilla insurgency for 13 months in Bolivia but was captured and executed by the Bolivian army at age 39.
On Friday night, Castro and Chavez, who openly admires the Cuban leader as his political mentor, rallied thousands in Cordoba against U.S.-backed free market policies they blame for many of Latin America's woes.