David Pallister | The Guardian
Three weeks before his execution in the Bolivian jungle in October 1967, Che Guevara was already being glamorised as a revolutionary icon by British diplomats in Cuba. The charisma was put down to his “Irish charm”.
Every year the British embassy in Havana sent a confidential note to the foreign secretary about the “leading personalities in Cuba”.
On September 20, a charge d’affaires wrote to George Brown that “Major Che” was “perhaps the most influential figure in Cuba after Fidel Castro”, but since his mysterious disappearance in April 1965 “nothing definite had been heard of him”.
A letter from Guevara written in that month and released six months later merely said he had left “to pursue the revolutionary cause elsewhere. Since then Guevara has been integrated into the revolutionary hagiography”.
The diplomat’s note, released yesterday at the National Archives at Kew, went on: “He is an able and hardworking man who was perhaps the most competent and clearest-headed of the inner circle. He can show himself cultured and soft-spoken as well as cold and contemptuous.”
Referring to his Irish and Spanish descent, he went on: “This bearded Argentinian, with his Irish charm and his inevitable military fatigue uniform, has exercised considerable fascination over many men and women.”
Despite his political differences with Castro about exporting the revolution, he had remained the Cuban leader’s “close and trusted friend”.
As to Guevara’s whereabouts, the embassy was uncertain: “There have been rumours that he is dead, though Castro has assured the world that he is alive and active; in April 1967 a message, supposedly written by Guevara from an undisclosed hideout was published by the Latin American Solidarity Committee. Although the message was accompanied by photographs, it cannot be regarded as conclusive proof that Guevara is still alive.”
The next famous image flashed round the world was of Guevara’s corpse, with a bullet hole in the upper body.
The diplomat did make reference to Guevara’s final year at medical school in Buenos Aires, when he “made a motor-cycle trip across the Andes through Chile and Peru, and toured the upper Amazon in a canoe.”
The story of that journey, The Motorcycle Diaries, has recently been released as a film.