Magazine article New Internationalist

[Fire under the Snow: Testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner]

Magazine article New Internationalist

[Fire under the Snow: Testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner]

Article excerpt

WHEN, on 9 October, 1967, the Bolivian military captured and killed the 39-year-old guerrilla leader, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, he was already a world-famous figure. The attempts to cover up his murder - his hands were amputated and he was secretly buried - only added martyrdom to the myths and legends gathering around his name. In the 30 years since his death, Che Guevara has become one of the icons of the century; Cuban children chant 'We will be like Che!' and his image emblazons everything from bedsit posters to beer bottles.

Most Guevara biographies have either been partisan hagiographies or hatchet-jobs by his enemies. Now, finally, we have in Jon Lee Anderson's Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life an account which is probably as complete and balanced as we have any right to expect. Anderson is a noncommunist who has nevertheless been given unprecedented access by Guevara's family and - crucially - the Cuban Communist party. His meticulous research produced a breakthrough in 1995 when he interviewed Bolivian General Mario Vargas Salinas, who graphically recounted Che's last hours and revealed that he was buried in a mass grave near a provincial airstrip.

How did Ernesto Guevara, the son of middle-class Argentinian parents, come to such an end and why does he remain such a potent symbol for change? Anderson patiently weaves the threads of a restless, driven life, convincingly arguing that Guevara was, throughout, the impetuous shaper of his own destiny, incapable of waiting on events and circumstances. He epitomized both the radical politics and the 'live fast, die young' philosophy of the 1960s; a veritable James Dean of the Left. The bare facts are well-known: Che trained as a doctor and was an early enthusiast for Pan-Americanism. His politics were radicalized during Argentina's Peron years and, in Mexico in 1955, he involved himself with Fidel Castro's Cuban insurrectionists. In the struggle against the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, Guevara became Castro's most trusted aide and the rebel army's military commander. After the success of the revolution, Che was ill-suited to the role of bureaucrat and throughout the 1960s he embarked on a series of guerrilla campaigns in Argentina, the Congo and, finally and fatally, Bolivia.

Anderson's book is a finely-wrought and compelling account of the life and death of one of the most fascinating individuals of our era. It will stand as the definitive biography of Che Guevara for years to come. The style is unfussy, gaps are acknowledged and the plethora of self-serving versions rigorously audited. …

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