Interview with Richard Gott on the legacy of "Che"
"Che's legacy is that of a man who abandoned all his achievements and worldly goods to promote his ideas about the socialist revolution."
Richard Gott is a British journalist, historian and former Latin American correspondent and editor for The Guardian. He was in Bolivia at the time of the murder of Ernesto Che Guevara, and he was called to identify the body.
Gott talks about what happened 50 years ago when the most emblematic revolutionary in Latin America was killed.
Question: How was the first encounter with Che in Cuba? What did you talk about?
Richard Gott: I first met Che in Havana in October 1963. We were both present at the Soviet embassy in Havana at a party to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian Revolution. I was part of a small group that had been waiting to talk to Che. We sat with him in some steps outside in the garden, overlooking the sea. We talked about the possibility of extending the Cuban Revolution to the continent of Latin America. Che was very excited about this, and we kept talking until well after midnight.
Q: What were you doing in Bolivia at the time of his death? How did they contact you and what did the officers tell you?
RG: I was in Bolivia in October of 1967 preparing to make a television movie about the guerrilla movement led by Guevara, and also about the trial of Regis Debray, the French intellectual who was detained in the oil city of Camiri. He had been visiting the headquarters of the training mission in the United States and had met the officers of the United States who were directing him.
The next day, one Sunday, I found them again by chance in a cafe in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. A US official said: "I have news for you, your man has been captured, he has been wounded and he may not survive the night, you better go to Vallegrande as soon as possible." I talked about Che, and Vallegrande was the army headquarters in the fight against the guerrillas, it was already night and I left with two companions in a jeep to go through the night.
Q: What were your thoughts and feelings when you saw the corpse? What do you remember about the environment of La Higuera that day?
RG: We arrived at 9 in the morning of Monday, October 9. We knew that Guevara was being held in the town of La Higuera, some 30 kilometers away, but we were not allowed to leave the city. Until 5 o'clock in the afternoon, Che's body was taken by helicopter to the Vallegrande airstrip. His body was lying on a laundry rack in a shack on the premises of the local hospital, and for half an hour we were allowed to look at him. The hospital grounds were full of local villagers, and there was almost a religious atmosphere. Then we had to return to Santa Cruz to take the news to the outside world.
Q: Have you returned to Bolivia since then?
RG: I have returned to Bolivia many times since then and have witnessed many moments full of events in the history of that country, but none as momentous as the death of Che Guevara.
Q: Did you imagine that it would have become so influential all over the world, and do you think this would have happened if it had not been martyred?
RG: I thought at that moment that the death of Guevara would mark the end of the outbreak of the guerrilla movements in Latin America that Che had been responsible for. This was too pessimistic, because in fact the guerrilla movements continued, notably in Nicaragua. I think Che's early death certainly helped promote his legacy.
Q: What do you think Che's legacy is today and what do you think the left can still learn from him?
RG: Che's legacy is that of a man who abandoned all his achievements and worldly goods to promote his ideas about the socialist revolution. Although it did not have immediate success, people will continue to raise their revolutionary banner.