Bolivia: In death, a powerful symbol was born

October 19, 2007

"You're only killing a man", revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara said in a school in La Higuera, before he was shot. Forty years later, in that exact spot, among the fog of the Bolivian forest and darkness of night, flags representing social movements from all over Latin America waved in the wind and their bearers danced together until sunrise. That night of October 7 we remembered Che and the struggles of that time, through speeches and song, and we thought about the future as the continent turns red with the idealism, humanism, rejection of neoliberalism, and collective ownership of resources that Che had talked of and fought for.

One speaker said, "You are the children of Che". There was a strong feeling that rather than being a hackneyed pleasantry, it was absolutely true.

The event was part of the five day "Ernesto Che Guevara World Conference" held in Vallegrande, Bolivia, where Che spent his last days. The conference consisted of plays, photo and art exhibitions, plenary sessions and traditional music. Despite transport strikes a few days before, about 1000 people were able to attend.

Accommodation in Vallegrande was booked out a week before the event, so a temporary tent city was set up on a football field. On October 7 a caravana of cars, buses, taxis and trucks made a three-hour journey to Pucara, where about half of the people got out to march the last eight kilometres to La Higuera. They arrived there at midnight; dancing and debate was already underway. A large fire was lit, and a range of ex-guerrillas, ambassadors (from Cuba and Venezuela) and Bolivian ministers gave speeches. The most hardcore youth danced until sunrise to folk, traditional, protest, contemporary and rap music.

The caravana then returned to Vallegrande where the "central act" took place at the site where Che's body was finally found. Indigenous President Evo Morales arrived by helicopter, paying his respects at the memorial and delivered a moving speech. Morales declared that "there's no democracy when we are repressed by imperialism", that it is "necessary to finish with capitalism" to save the environment, and that all the resources of South America should be nationalised. "The best homage to Che we can make is ... to think of the big country, which is Latin America", he said. Morales and the other dignatories also signed a stamp commemorating the 40th anniversary of Che's death.

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