Cuba salutes 'Che' Guevara
Revolutionary icon finally laid to rest
October 17, 1997
Web posted at: 8:30 p.m. EDT (0030 GMT)
SANTA CLARA, Cuba (CNN) -- Cuba paid tribute to revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara Friday with a pomp-filled state burial and a ringing tribute from Fidel Castro, the man he helped propel to power nearly four decades ago.
"His unerasable mark is now in history, and his luminous gaze of a prophet has become a symbol for all the poor of this world," Castro said.
Guevara, an Argentinean doctor who took up with Castro and his small band of revolutionaries in the 1950s, earned his status as a Cuban national hero in 1958 when his troops took the city of Santa Clara.
The victory sent then-dictator Fulgencio Batista fleeing into exile, and Castro took control of the island nation, which he has governed ever since.
Guevara was killed in 1967 by Bolivian troops while trying to foment a leftist guerrilla rebellion there. His idealistic crusade and early death made him a symbol for leftists around the world.
After they were shot in the jungle, Guevara and six comrades were buried in a mass grave. It wasn't until three months ago that their bones were unearthed and returned to Cuba.
Friday, the remains of Guevara and the six who died with him, encased in small coffins, were enshrined in a specially-built mausoleum in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, site of his best-known triumph. They were serenaded by a children's choir and given a 21-gun salute.
But the funeral for Guevara was also an opportunity for the Cuban government to re-emphasize the socialist values for which he gave his life -- in a world where they have fallen in disfavor and in a country where they have led to economic disintegration.
"We are not here to say goodbye to Che and his comrades. We are here to welcome them," Castro said. "I see Che and his men as a battalion of invincible combatants, who have come to fight alongside us and to write new pages of history and of glory."
"Thank you for coming to reinforce us in the difficult struggle that we are undergoing today, to preserve the ideas that you fought so hard for," Castro said.
Cuban officials have invoked Guevara's ideals of socialist self-sacrifice and volunteerism to whip up enthusiasm for a campaign to make state-owned farms and factories more productive. They have also echoed his belief in Latin American solidarity against the United States.
Thousands of people, waving flags and effigies of Guevara, filled the plaza in front of the mausoleum. More than 100,000 Cubans filed past Guevara's remains Wednesday and Thursday prior to his interment ceremony.
Castro ended his tribute by repeating Guevara's famous words from a farewell letter sent to the Cuban leader when Guevara left Cuba in 1965 to export revolution abroad: "Until victory always."
Correspondent Harris Whitbeck and Reuters contributed to this report.