Dang, how could I've missed this thread?
My mother said I met Che when I was about 3 in a party held in Mexico City by a Cuban industrialist who supported the Granma adventure. She said that Che did have the romantic glance: "his eyes loaded with future".
She told me that before Che died, but after he had departed Cuba (and some people suspected he had been through a firing squad by Fidel).
My cousin was about 16 when he first met Che. He was a volunteer working on 24 hours shifts in the Cuban camps. When Commander Guevara arrived, all the kids ran towards their hero, only to be scolded by him for stepping on the recently planted grass and not being productive enough.
When I was 25 -and my cousin, 33- we were on Havana's Plaza de la Revolución, where there is a huge sort of modern mural of Che, according to the famous Korda photograph. "There's Che!", I noticed. My cousin, then still a faithful of the regime, answered gloomly: "Thanks to him, we still have a rationing card".
Che Guevara understood several things. That's why he declared that "a new man" had to be created.
He understood that Capitalism works materially better than Communism; that economical Communist organization is not capable of delivering the welfare the masses crave for. So, "a new man", devoid of the petty ambitions of the "mediocre man" (the one José Ingenieros wrote about and was key to the bringing up of Che's generation) had to be forced. A "task of eternity", that had to be pushed by the Party through indoctrination, censorship, repression, and ruthless brutality, when needed (which turned out to be often).
If one is careful while reading -or watching- The Motorcycle Diaries, a crucial scene comes out. While Che is in the Andes -a place where poverty and exploitation go to extremes, and where he died- he reads a classic book by Carlos Mariátegui, a Peruvian Marxist. My reaction was "Wow!, the roots of his madness!".
Mariátegui is a very extremist theoritician, who crosses the class/race line. The most orthodox followers of Mariátegui were also Peruvians: Shining Path, the delirious terrorist/insurgent organization had Mariátegui thoughts as their true fountainhead.
So one thing I disagree with Alvaro Vargas Llosa (in the text posted by nimh) is on Che's relationship with the Soviet Union. He befriended them not because he agreed on their path to Communism, but because they were powerful and were in the midst of the Cold War with the USA.
Che's true heart was with the Chinese revolution, specially the Cultural Revolution that lead the country backwards, in a sea of blood. And many people in Cuba knew about the clash between Che and Raúl Castro, Raúl being the epithome of the Soviet style Communist bureaucrat. Che always wanted to "deepen the revolution", to cut any ties to the "old ways", to destroy any liberalization attempt.
Purity is often achieved with fire... or at least with effective menaces and the conversion to a police State.
The influence of Che in Cuba has been permanent. Every now and then -and today- big national discussions -led by the Party- are held about the path to follow, and the hard-liners always refer to Che. "Be like Che" as a pretext to curtail freedoms (like flowers they tend to sprout, even in the desert) and enforce pyramidal control.
All this said, I do have a Che t-shirt (and I believe Robert has seen it). This is the image: