Auction of Che memorabilia draws fire


Miami : The company about to auction off objects that belonged to iconic rebel Ernesto “Che” Guevara has said that it has received threats from detractors of what they call “a perversion and an insult to the memory of the revolutionary” who helped Fidel Castro take power in Cuba.

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Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries is sticking to its auction date of Oct 25 when objects such as a lock of the Argentine-born Guevara’s hair, taken from him after his execution 40 years ago in Bolivia, will go on the block, reported Spanish news agency EFE.

“We hoped the auction would be of great interest to the general public, but never dreamed it would cause such an international uproar,” the director of the US division of Heritage Auction Galleries, Tom Slater, told EFE.

The threats were communicated in several e-mails sent to the auction company.

Some of the e-mails ask groups and individuals, mostly Argentines and Cubans, to show their revulsion for the auction and for whoever buys and sells what they term “relics of humanity”.

“Faced with the perversion of unscrupulous individuals who attack the memory of our unforgettable Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara with plans to auction off a lock of his hair and objects that belonged to a figure of such immense importance, an international movement is urgently needed to stop such a project from continuing on its disrespectful course,” one of the e-mails said.

The request also proposed denouncing “all who sell or dare to buy, profit from, auction off, dispose of, or otherwise take advantage of such relics of humanity”.

The items up for bidding belong to Gustavo Villoldo, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative who had a direct role in the operation to capture Che and who advised the Bolivian army on the pursuit and detection of Cuban guerrillas.

Villoldo took part in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, and after 1965 was sent by the CIA on a number of clandestine missions to catch Guevara, first in the Congo and then in 1967 in Bolivia.

On Oct 8, 1967, Che and two guerrillas accompanying him surrendered to Bolivian troops in the Yuro Ravine.

The following day, after consulting General Alfredo Ovando Candia, Bolivian President Rene Barrientos ordered the execution of Guevara and his two comrades.

Afterwards, Villoldo, on Ovando’s orders, took charge of burying the guerrillas’ bodies but before doing so he cut a lock of Guevara’s hair.

That lock of hair is among the relics most likely to attract collectors, according to Heritage Auction. At the same time it is the one that most infuriates followers of the Argentine guerrilla.

“There is a long tradition that goes back 200 years for collecting the hair of famous people, particularly if they die in tragic circumstances,” Tom Slater said.

Heritage Auction has auctioned off locks of hair from slain US president Abraham Lincoln and Confederate civil war General J.E.B. Stuart.

Also on the auction block besides Guevara’s controversial lock of hair will be photographs, maps of the mission that captured Che in Bolivia, the text of an intercepted message that helped locate the guerrilla band, Guevara’s fingerprints taken at the time, and personal letters of Villondo communicating with the Bolivian president and the military.