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Thousands Remember ‘Che’ Guevara

October 8, 1997

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Musicians, artists, labor leaders, politicians and leftists from around the world converged Tuesday on the Bolivian village where guerrilla leader Ernesto ``Che″ Guevara was buried 30 years ago.

A series of tributes _ including concerts, dance performances, lectures, painting and photography exhibits _ will take place through the weekend to remember Guevara, who fought alongside Fidel Castro to seize power in Cuba.

About 2,000 people attended festivities Tuesday, about half the number anticipated by organizers. While attendance was expected to pick up over the next few days, residents who hoped to profit from the event were disappointed.

Jorge Osinaga said many residents ``invested their money to refurbish their homes to offer them as lodging for visitors, but the houses are empty.″ The town has a capacity of only 300 hotel beds.

Another resident, Martha Cortez, complained that most visitors are cash-strapped students who camped at the local central plaza or at soccer fields in the area.

Deputy Mayor Carlos Cortez said registration fees of up to $300, a bad road to the village and the fact that Guevara’s remains are no longer here may have discouraged many visitors.

The most famous dignitary attending the festivities in Vallegrande, 550 miles east of the capital of La Paz, is Danielle Mitterrand, widow of former French President Francois Mitterrand.

The Bolivian military plans its own demonstration to mark the victory over Guevara’s rebellion and memorialize the nearly 100 soldiers who died in the 1967 guerrilla campaign.

President and former military dictator Gen. Hugo Banzer will lead the ceremonies Wednesday in Camiri, 480 miles south of Santa Cruz, former headquarters of the military’s anti-rebel operations.

After fighting alongside Castro, Guevara moved to Bolivia to try to spread the revolution in South America. Bolivian forces seized Guevara and other rebels Oct. 8, 1967, near Vado del Yeso, southeast of La Paz, then flew them 300 miles to La Higuera, where Guevara and some of his guerrillas were executed the next day.

Guevara’s remains, buried three decades ago under a remote airstrip in Vallegrande, were found and returned to Cuba in July.

When Guevara and his guerrilla band operated around Vallegrande, they were looked upon with disdain and fear. Today, he has attained an almost saintly status among the mainly poor farmers of Vallegrande.

On Tuesday, hundreds of residents took part in traditional folk dances in Vallegrande.

Raul Callau, secretary of the Ernesto Guevara Foundation, which is organizing the ``World Gathering for Che Guevara,″ said some 3,000 participants are expected at this week’s events.

Defense Minister Fernando Kieffer said the gathering was being staged for purely commercial reasons. Army veterans who fought Guevara asked the Bolivian government to oppose events celebrating the slain rebel leader.

Antonio Zapata, president of a veterans’ organization, said it is not dignified for the country to allow a ``group of fanatics who wish to use national territory to pay homage to a person who wanted to plant blood and mourning in Latin America.″

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