Generations and generations of Cubans have grown up with a phrase calling on them to follow the example of a "new man" for a new society: Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che!
Under this maxim, thousands of internationalist doctors have been trained, along with many other professionals and workers who often anonymously, in their daily lives or in adverse circumstances in distant lands, strive to be like him.
Being like Che today is perhaps even more difficult than during the first years following his death, since the circumstances generating exclusion, poverty, and underdevelopment are even more challenging. Thus very valuable are those who, like him, combine altruism and internationalism as revolutionaries.
The desire to take the heroic guerilla as a paradigm emerged with great force after his death in Bolivia.
A solemn commemoration was organized, at that time, in Havana's José Martí Plaza de la Revolución, and in his speech Fidel emphasized the essential characteristics of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna: "A brave and capable commander," "distinguished soldier," "distinguished doctor," "one of the most familiar, one of the most admired, one of the most loved, and without a doubt, the most extraordinary among our compañeros in the Revolution."
He continued, "If we want to express how we would like our children to be, we must say with all the heart of impassioned revolutionaries: We want them to be like Che!" Later the paraphrased idea emerged as the maxim of Cuba's organization of young students, pioneros.
At the time of the Argentine-Cuban guerilla's death, October 8, 1967, the Unión de Pioneros de Cuba (UPC) had already been founded, the forerunner of the current Organización de Pioneros José Martí.
By 1966, the UPC was becoming massive, and in 1968 chose as its maxim the one Cuban children know today, and have repeated so often in school, following patriotic or special events, as a commitment.
Over subsequent years, the group not only expanded its membership, but also strengthened its organizational structure, developing the Movement of Explorer Pioneers, beginning to hold assemblies, national gatherings of local leaders, and Congresses. Without really noticing, they were being like Che.
To recall the heroic guerilla every October 8, in all of the country's elementary schools, first graders receive from the hands of their parents the blue kerchief that identifies them as pioneros.
The ceremony is always moving for families and teachers, but even more so for the children, who from the perspective of their tender years begin to follow the example of one of the most admired and loved men in Latin America.
For those of us who left our days as pioneers behind some time ago, the course has been charted, ever since that capable, brave, distinguished, extraordinary man took as his own the peoples' cause, and for these peoples gave his life.