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November 22, 2017

Bolivia's Morales lauds Che on 50th anniversary of death

Bolivia's Morales lauds Che on 50th anniversary of death

'Bolivian President Evo Morales led commemorations 50 years to the day since Che Guevara was killed by CIA-trained Bolivian troops' AFP / AIZAR RALDES
"'Bolivian President Evo Morales led commemorations 50 years to the day since Che Guevara was killed by CIA-trained Bolivian troops'"

Vallegrande (Bolivia) (AFP) - Bolivian President Evo Morales lauded Ernesto "Che" Guevara on Monday as he led commemorations 50 years to the day since the Cuban revolutionary leader was killed by CIA-trained Bolivian troops.

"The best way to pay tribute to Che is to continue his struggle, an anti-imperialist struggle," the socialist Morales told an audience including Guevara's brothers and four children in the mountain town of Vallegrande in central Bolivia.

The ceremony capped five days of special remembrance of the Argentine-born revolutionary in Bolivia, whose government ordered his execution on October 9, 1967, a day after he was wounded and captured in a firefight with a special CIA-trained unit of the Bolivian army.

"El Che fought and died for the liberation of Bolivia and thinking of the liberation of the great homeland," said Morales, using the socialist term for Latin America.

Morales defended himself against criticism for putting the spotlight on Che at the expense of the Bolivian army that fought Guevara and his rebels as he tried to export revolution to the South American country.

Two members of his rebel unit who survived the gunbattle, Harry Villegas Tamayo, and Leonardo Tamayo Nunez, were among the invited guests.

"Che was a revolutionary and the revolutionary is a man full of love who wants to build another society," Tamayo said, leaning on his cane.

The Bolivian president pointed out that 26 of his 50-strong guerrilla force "were Bolivian brothers who fought alongside Che for the liberation of our country."

And he reminded his audience that "our own soldiers were used and ordered to persecute the guerrillas, not just Che."

"It is not treason to remember those who wanted to liberate the country. Treason against the country is to serve as a lackey for the American empire," he added.

Morales, who as president is commander in chief of the armed forces, stressed however that "we do not blame the hands of the Bolivian soldiers who were obliged to follow orders, we blame the agents of the CIA and the generals who subordinated themselves to them."

Still relevant

Following his execution in the village of La Higuera, Che's body was taken the local market town of Vallegrande where his body was put on display by a jubilant military.

Che and a handful of his fighters were buried in the mountains but the bodies were exhumed in 1997 and brought to Cuba, where his late revolutionary comrade Fidel Castro dedicated a mausoleum to him.

Vallegrande meanwhile, hopes to profit from its own brand of Che tourism, and local authorities have opened a museum and visitors' center.

However, only around 2,000 people turned out for the commemoration, far fewer than the expected 35,000.

In Cuba on Sunday, an estimated 70,000 people thronged the streets for a ceremony at Guevara's mausoleum.

The Bolivian president, one of the last of the leftist leaders in Latin America, along with Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, said Guevara's influence was still relevant and part of the future of the region.

He also criticized the United States, adding that "the empire continues to strike at the countries that have policies contrary to their interests," citing crisis-wracked Venezuela.

"Brother (Nicolas) Maduro is not alone," he said, alluding to the Venezuelan president whose administration has been rocked by an economic and political crisis.

Two members of his rebel unit who survived the 1967 gunbattle, Harry Villegas Tamayo and Leonardo Tamayo Nunez, were among the invited guests.

"Che was a revolutionary and the revolutionary is a man full of love who wants to build another society," Tamayo said, leaning on his cane.

Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela sent official delegations to the ceremony.

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