Photo: Juvenal Balán

It is said that his murderer was sweating with fear, and that wounded, unarmed, skinny and weak Che said, ‘Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man!” Seconds later, Che stopped breathing, and in that extremely terrestrial moment, one of the world’s greatest paradigms was born: a man of rebellion and commitment, of loyalty and fearlessness, of courage and devotion to the most helpless causes. The executioner killed him, but the Guerrilla lived on.

Nobody told me, but rather I experienced it myself – one afternoon 20 years ago, when silence invaded Santa Clara. While a mournful procession passed through its streets, not even the wind dared to blow. I was a pioneer in my yellow uniform, and from the early hours I had been positioned at some point along the Central Highway, which I do not remember now, along with others who in an endless chain were accompanying Che’s ashes throughout the country.

Days before, our teacher in her free time copied lines on the blackboard from the song “Son los sueños todavía” by Gerardo Alfonso, and we sang it from beginning to end, entranced, as if we had known it all our lives. I still recall the microsecond that the passing of that sad caravan by the space that I had been occupying for hours lasted, or that moment of light when as a girl, my ten steps walked around the site where his ashes were placed for the people of Santa Clara to welcome him.

Then came the years of study at the Ernesto Guevara Vocational School, where he became once and for all the man to follow, the aspiration, the everyday hero. When we graduated, we traced his footsteps to the Caballlete de Casas, in the Escambray mountains, and in the middle of that inhospitable place for us city kids, I was definitively bowled over by the man who, suffocated by asthma, overcame that and so many more mountains .

That’s why this Sunday, October 8, as dawn broke in Santa Clara and its Plaza was filled with people, I felt he was more alive than ever. I saw him sitting next to the combatant who, in his worn olive green uniform, had hung all the medals he had collected during his life; I saw him talking to the boy who, still without a kerchief, was worried that at the decisive moment, he would forget the motto of the Moncada pioneers; I saw him among the young Latin Americans studying medicine in Santa Clara; I saw him close to Aleida and walking with Raúl. Che was there, among the people who, 50 years later, continue to mourn him as they did the day he departed and left us that tremendous letter, where he wrote that his last thought would be for Fidel and the Cuban people, my people...

And five decades later, I see him in La Higuera, so far from this island that was his home, so far from the Comandante en Jefe, from his wife, his children, facing death, upright, victorious, with his head held high, challenging life for the last time: “You are only going to kill a man!” he said. And the executioner killed him, but Che lived on.
Santa Clara knows this story by heart.