The Photograph That Kept Che Alive
Sociopathic thug? Socialist luminary? Or as existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre called him, "the most complete human being of our age"? Whatever you believe, there’s no denying that Ernesto "Che" Guevara has become the patron saint of revolutionaries. Undeniably, he is a man of mythical status – a reputation that persists less because of how he lived than because of how he died.
Unenthused by his efforts to incite revolution among the poor and oppressed in Bolivia, the nation’s army (trained and equipped by the U.S. military and the CIA) captured and executed Guevara in 1967. But before dumping his body in a secret grave, they gathered around for a strategic photo op. They wanted to prove to the world that Che was dead, in hopes that his political movement would die with him. in fact, anticipating charges that the photo had been faked, Che’s thoughtful captors amputated his hands and preserved them in formaldehyde.
But by killing the man, Bolivian officials unwittingly birthed his legend. The photo, which circulated around the world, bore a striking resemblance to Renaissance paintings of Christ taken down from the cross. Even as Che’s killers preened and gloated above him (the officer on the right seems to be inadvertently pointing to a wound on Guevara’s body near where Christ’s final wound was inflicted), Che’s eerily peaceful face was described as showing forgiveness. The photo’s allegorical significance certainly wasn’t lost on the revolutionary protesters of the era. They quickly adopted "Che lives!" as a slogan and rallying cry. Thanks to this photograph, "the passion of the Che" ensured that he would live on forever as a martyr for the socialist cause.