HAVANA - For decades a global symbol of rebellion, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara is to be honored Monday with ceremonies in Cuba, where his myth was forged, and Bolivia, where he was executed 40 years ago spreading the gospel of Marxist revolution.
The main ceremony in Cuba will begin at 8:00 am (1200 GMT) in Santa Clara, a town 300 kilometers (186 miles) east of Havana, where the Argentine-born doctor-turned-guerrilla leader fought a battle during the Cuban revolution in 1958 and where his remains are buried.
Che's Argentine widow Aleida March will be at the event, along with his children Aleida, Camilo, Celia and Ernesto. Guevara had a daughter with his first wife, a Peruvian revolutionary, both of whom are dead.
The ceremony will be headed by "a leader of the revolution," the daily Juventud Rebelde reported Sunday, without specifying if it will be convalescing leader Fidel Castro, 81, or his brother Raul, the country's interim president since Fidel underwent stomach surgery in July 2006.
Fidel Castro paid respect to his old comrade-in-arms, in an article published Monday, describing him as "like a flower torn up prematurely by the stem."
Guevara met the Castro brothers in Mexico in 1955, and quickly joined their uprising against then Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. By the time the revolution triumphed in January 1959 Guevara was a key player.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales, a fervent admirer of both Che and Fidel Castro, will lead a ceremony in the southeastern town of Vallegrande, where Guevara's bones were found in a mass grave in 1997.
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez will hold a ceremony at Pico del Aguila, in western Venezuela, which Guevara visited 55 years ago.
Later events include a special session of Brazil's senate in Guevara's honor on October 23; ceremonies in Guatemala and Mexico, where Che lived for some time, and in Nicaragua. A special memorial is being prepared in Argentina to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Che's birth in June 2008.
Born in the Argentine city of Rosario, Guevara traveled across Latin America in 1952 and 1953 and was shocked to see the economic disparity in the region. His life changed dramatically when he met Castro in Mexico.
Guevara was convinced that violence was needed to overturn the unjust social order in Latin America. After leading a group of Cuban revolutionaries fighting with Marxist guerrillas in the Congo, Che traveled to Bolivia, arriving in late 1966.
Paraguay's secret services knew of Guevara's visit, according to a document uncovered by Paraguayan researcher Martin Almada.
"Che Guevara left Corumba (a Brazilian town on the border with Bolivia) under the false name of Oscar Ferreira," read the document shown to AFP.
Guevara had a beard and was sailing aboard the Victoria dos Palmares, which was likely to reach Bolivia at dawn. The document warned: "he is in charge of a mission."
Almada said it is the first time such information has surfaced, and that he only recently discovered the message "because I have many documents and have not finished examining them all."
Guevara led a small clutch of rebels in Bolivia for 11 months trying to spread revolution, but found little support.
The Bolivian army and two Cuban-American US Central Intelligence Agency agents captured an ill Guevara in the village of La Higuera, and executed him on October 9, 1967. He was 39.
With his death a myth that saw Guevara as the personification of rebellion was born.
European leftists in 1960s led the world in latching onto Che. Seeing a market, businessmen used a 1960 Alberto Korda photograph of a defiant-looking Guevara and reproduced it on everything from t-shirts to backpacks.
Guevara's detractors however still see him as a dangerous and deluded terrorist.
"We feel sick about this grand show that goes on every year on the anniversary of his death," said Gary Prado, 68, the commander of the Bolivian army rangers unit that captured Che.
"Rather than honor a man who came to invade the country, we should honor the armed forces, the soldiers who defended the country," said Prado, describing the Bolivian ceremony as "an offense to the country's dignity."
Copyright © AFP 2007