Che Remembered 40 Years After Death

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 6, 2007; 12:05 AM

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia -- Fidel Castro insists Ernesto "Che" Guevara could never have been taken prisoner 40 years ago if his gun hadn't malfunctioned. But the retired Bolivian general who led the mission to capture him says the Argentine revolutionary was hardly a heroic figure in his final moments.

The man that Gen. Gary Prado remembers _ sad, sick, hungry, dressed in rags and alone in the jungle _ simply dropped his gun and surrendered, saying, "Don't shoot, I'm Che."

"He wasn't the figure of the heroic guerrilla," Prado recalled in an interview with The Associated Press Thursday night.

Decades after he gave up a comfortable middle class life in Argentina to foment armed rebellion, Guevara still inspires and infuriates people around the world.

He is an icon for fans who have made his death scene a tourist trap. His face is instantly recognizable, a one-dimensional image on posters and T-shirts that either celebrate or mock his revolutionary ideals.

Prado is bitter that Guevara still gets so much global attention four decades later. He's angry that Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales plans to honor Guevara but not the 55 soldiers who died putting down his attempted revolution in Bolivia.

Che "wasn't someone to inspire terror or anything, but simply to be pitied," he said.

Castro has put a noble spin on the death of his fellow revolutionary and close friend, calling Guevara "not a man who could have been taken prisoner" with a working gun.

"Wounded and without a weapon they were able to hold him and take him to a small town nearby, La Higuera," Castro told Spanish writer Ignacio Ramonet for the book "100 Hours with Fidel."

"The following day, October 9, 1967, at noon, they executed him in cold blood," Castro said.

Prado said the order to kill Guevara, then 39, came not from the CIA operatives who joined his soldiers, but from Bolivia's president, who wanted to avoid a trial that would give Guevara a global platform to spread his views. Prado said he wasn't present when Guevara was shot.

"Why did they think that by killing him, he would cease to exist as a fighter?" Castro asked in 1997, when Guevara's remains were finally laid to rest in Cuba amid thundering cannons. "Today he is in every place, wherever there is a just cause to defend."

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