Limerick Leader

**A post that Seamus made on the IRBB (see below) has set me off on these articles about Che Guevara

Che in Limerick, 40 years on

Saturday, September 18th, 2004

IT'S 40 Years since Ché Guevara's visit to Hanratty's Hotel on Glentworth Street where he decided to abandon his adopted country Cuba, writes SIOBHAN MULCAHY. The anniversary also coincides with the success of the film, The Motorbike Diaries, about his early life in South America

WHEN Cuba threatened to use its Soviet missiles against the United States, it became the biggest crisis of the Cold War. In response, US President John F Kennedy ordered a total blockade of Cuba, threatened an invasion of the island, and placed US forces around the world on nuclear alert.

One man urged Fidel Castro to use the nuclear missiles against the US and to hell with the consequences. His name was Ché Guevara Lynch. The doctor-turned-guerrilla with an Irish granny was one of the madmen of history. Behind the scenes, Kennedy negotiated with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was persuaded to remove the missiles without consulting the Cuban government.

Ché Guevara never spoke to the Soviet leadership again and his relationship with his best friend, Fidel Castro, cooled shortly afterwards.

Even before he had qualified as a doctor, the CIA had already begun to keep a file on the Argentinan.

"He has a fondness for alcohol and cigars, has an unkempt appearance and thinks he is an intellectual. He also has a deep hatred of America," they reported.

In July 1956, Castro, Guevara and others had been rounded up by the Mexican security police for conspiring to overthrow the Cuban government, but they were released after only a few weeks in prison.

In December they embarked on the Granma expedition which sought to overthrow the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. The force consisted of just over 80 men. Guevara and his men secured the provincial town of Santa Clara in late 1958, and when Batista fled the island, the rebels knew they had won. The guerrilla campaign had lasted just over two years.

In January 1959, Guevara and Castro led the triumphal entrance into Havana where the Argentinean was awarded "naturalised citizenship of Cuba" so that he could serve in any new government.

His first position was that of commander of La Cabana Fortress in Havana. There, he had jurisdiction over the notorious "war crime" trials which led to the execution of 6,000 civilian and military officials. He was able to arrest, try and execute anyone at all under the Revolutionary Code of Justice, and he took a personal interest in the prosecutions of former members of Batista's Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities (BRAC).

He also promoted "political indoctrination" courses along Communist lines, and developed Cuba's civilian militia. Guevara's intransigence towards both capitalist and communist establishments forced Castro to drop him in early 1965, shortly after the Argentinean's last visit to Ireland.

Ana Lynch, with whom Ché's family lived for years - after his father lost the family farm - and to whom Ché grew especially close, was the daughter of immigrants who had sailed to Argentina from Galway at around the time of the Famine.

Her son, Don Guevara Lynch (Ché's father) was born in 1900, married Celia de la Serna, and they had five children. Ché, the eldest, was born in 1928.

Ché's father, Don, put the revolutionary instincts which led his son to Cuba, the Congo, and to death in Bolivia, down to his Irish ancestry.

"The first thing to note is that in my son's veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels" he said in a 1969 interview.

He went on: "Ché inherited some of the features of our restless ancestors. There was something in his nature which drew him to distant wandering, dangerous adventures and new ideas".

These ideas prompted him to turn his back on medicine and rugby. While studying at Buenos Aires National University, Ché was being touted as a possible rugby international for Argentina. His position on the university team was scrum half, and he was known as "the little general" when he played.

According to his father, he left rugby and medicine to become "a self-styled general of the Americas, playing for a bigger team and for higher stakes than a rugby team".

Ché Guevara Lynch came to Dublin on 19 December 1964. He was on his way from New York to Algiers when severe fog prevented his stopover flight at Shannon Airport and the aircraft landed in Dublin instead. At that time, he was aged 36 and was Cuba's Minister for Industry.

Naturally, his presence was given plenty of attention by the Irish media. He gave several interviews to the fledgling television channel, RTE, during which he spoke of his Irish ancestors, the Lynchs.

All the national dailies carried stories the following day. Guevara, whose English was poor, appears in one photograph with Aer Lingus Stewardess, Felima Archer, who acted as an interpreter for Irish journalists.

One newspaper reported: "Guevara wore a black beard of the Castro-type. The Minister, who is 36, was dressed in khaki-coloured battle dress."

When reference was made to his clothes in the interview, he said defensively that he wore military-style clothing "out of choice and it is not because Castro wears clothes like that."

When asked by another reporter what he would be discussing at the Tri-continental conference in Algiers, he replied "the weather".

He also refused to speak about his speech to the United Nations, given the previous day, where he advocated Marxism as the only sensible world economic strategy. Instead he spoke fondly of his wife and five children, and his only leisure activity, chess.

During his brief stay, he wrote a letter to his father in Argentina.

"Dear Dad, With the anchor dropped and the boat at a standstill, I am in this green Ireland of your ancestors. When they found out, the [Irish] television came to ask me about the Lynch genealogy, but in case they were horse thieves or something like that I didn't say much. Happy holidays, Ernesto."

The following year, he was back in Ireland again. He arrived at Shannon Airport on Saturday, March 13, 1965. He was with a group of 71 passengers on a Cuban Airlines Britannia aircraft which had developed mechanical trouble on its way to Havana.

When interviewed by journalists, Guevara refused to talk about politics. He wanted to go with a few friends to see the city's nightlife, and on the advice of some of staff at the airport, he adjourned with his group to Hanratty's Hotel on Glentworth Street. They returned in very good form that evening wearing sprigs of Shamrock in their lapels. At that time, Limerick was preparing for the St Patrick's Day celebrations. Guevara and his friends flew back to Havana early the following day.

Shortly after his visit to Hanratty's, the Argentinean abandoned Cuba, and went off in search of revolution in Bolivia.

Guevara was guaranteed immortality when he was captured and executed by CIA-trained Bolivian soldiers in 1967. The Bolivian authorities ordered doctors to clean up his body - to make it presentable for the press, but before doing so, they amputated his hands, preserving them in formaldehyde, so that his fingerprints could be verified against police records. The preserved hands were later smuggled out to Cuba. Today, they are displayed in Havana's Palace de Revolution where visiting dignitaries - but not the ordinary public - are allowed to view them.

The haunting photographs released to the newspapers helped to launch a legend, turning his image into a revolutionary icon that has lasted from that day to this.

By removing his bloodstained khaki jacket, the doctors had allowed the bullet-hole in his chest to be shown to the world's cameras. Gradually the news leaked out that Guevara had been executed after capture. Later that month, Fidel Castro delivered a eulogy in Havana to nearly a million people, one of his biggest audiences ever: "Ché's lifelong struggle against imperialism and his ideals will be the inspiration for future generations."

That night of his execution, his body, along with those of his comrades, was buried in a mass grave beside the airstrip in Vallegrande. Bolivian officials told Guevara's family that his body had been cremated,

It was not until July 1995, that Bolivian general Mario Salinas admitted "he had been part of a nocturnal burial detail, and that Ché's body and those of six of his comrades were buried in a mass grave near the airstrip near Vallegrande in Central Bolivia". His remains were returned to Santa Clara, Cuba, in 1997.

Today, the famous image of him with his long dark hair and intense gaze are as much a part of the daily scenery in Cuba as 1950s American cars and children in Communist pioneer uniforms. Portraits of the Argentinean hang in police stations, schools, medical clinics and government ration stores.

Guevara wrote several books on guerrilla tactics and socialist revolution. Even so, his Motorbike Diaries - documenting the 23-year-old's thoughts on poverty and American imperialism as he travelled around South America - have become a bestseller in Cuba, Argentina and Italy. Forty years later, the film of the diaries has become an international hit.

Guevara's first marriage to Peruvian, Hilda Gadea Acosta, ended in divorce. They had one child who remained with the mother. In June 1959, he married Cuban, Aleida March de la Torre, after they had been living together for some time.

Apart from his two marriages - he had five children by his two wives - Guevara had an affair with KGB spy Tamara "Tania" Bunke, who died with him in Bolivia. She was the only woman in Guevara's small band of revolutionary guerrillas and was killed in combat on August 31, 1967. Her remains, like those of the other guerrillas, were not discovered until 1997. A post-mortem on her body revealed that she was four months pregnant at the time of her death. It is clear from Guevara's war diaries that he never knew Bunke's real identity.

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