Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez went on a pilgrimage yesterday to Che Guevara’s house.
In an emotional journey, they toured the Argentina 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 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 honour being here.”
“We feel it! We feel it! Guevara is right with us!” the crowd shouted Saturday.
Castro, 79, first visited Argentina in 1959 after the Cuban revolution and returned this week to attend a summit that inducted Venezuela into the Mercosur trade bloc.
Guevara spent much of his childhood in central Argentina, where his family hoped a mild climate would ease the boy’s severe asthma.
They later moved to Buenos Aires, where Guevara enrolled in medical school before launching his famous motorcycle trip around South America that inspired him to give up medicine for leftist revolution.
He was killed in 1967 while leading a guerrilla movement in Bolivia. His remains were taken three decades later to Cuba, where they are entombed under a massive monument.
The house here now bears the iconic photograph taken in 1960 by Alberto Korda of “Che” in a beret that helped converted Guevara into a guerrilla symbol.
The home is typical of many on the narrow streets of Alta Gracia, located 35 miles south-west of the city of Cordoba.
On their tour, Castro and Chavez viewed Guevara’s birth certificate, hand-written letters and a vintage motorbike like the one he rode across South America.
“I’m sure Fidel will be touched because he knew Che so well,” tour guide Lauren Gonzalez said. She said not only Cubans but also admirers from around the world are drawn to the house.
Ariel Vidoza, a childhood friend of Guevara, answered Castro’s questions about Che’s childhood.
“In the afternoons, we played in this house,” Vidoza said. “Since I was older than him, I tried to watch over him because of his asthma problem.”
Vidoza said, even then, Guevara eschewed middle-class comforts early on: “Che didn’t like the rich.
"He preferred to play with us, the poor ones.”
Guevara launched an armed revolt in 1966 to bring communism to Bolivia after helping lead the Cuban revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and brought Castro to power.
Guevara waged a guerrilla insurgency for 13 months in Bolivia but was captured and executed by the Bolivian army at the age of 39. His death helped transform him into an iconic, larger-than-life figure revered by leftist movements worldwide.
But by some accounts, Guevara died complaining that Castro had cut off support for his guerrilla campaign in Bolivia.
Castro’s visit came as Cuba prepares to mark the 53rd anniversary on Wednesday of the 1953 attack that Castro led on the Moncada military barracks in eastern Cuba, regarded as the birth of the Cuban revolution.
On Friday night, Castro and Chavez, who openly admires the Cuban leader as his political mentor, rallied thousands in Cordoba against US-backed free-market policies they blame for many of Latin America’s woes.
Ana Ledesma, a 50-year-old housewife from Alta Gracia, said the Cuban leader’s visit on Saturday had caused a stir in the 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.”