‘Ernesticos’ keep the cult of Che alive in Cuba

Alexandre Grosbois –
Santa Clara has been associated with Ernesto “Che” Guevara ever since he won the final battle of the Cuban revolution here. Now, 50 years after his death, the boys who bear his name carry the torch of perpetuating his legacy. Every year on June 14, a special honour is bestowed on the first boy born at the town’s Mariana Grajales maternity hospital.
The proud parents are asked if they assent to give the revolutionary hero’s name to their boy.
Thus, 24 little Ernestos or “Ernesticos” have been baptised without ever the honour being declined. In Santa Clara — which Che’s forces captured in a decisive battle in December 1958 — it’s an offer you can’t refuse. “’El Che’ is emblematic here. He is in us, and drives us,” said Noris Cardenas Martinez, director of the city’s Che Guevara Memorial.
The 1958 battle cemented Guevara’s status as a hero of the Cuban revolution and effectively meant the end of the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
Every morning across Cuba, schoolkids in the nation of 11 million take the oath of the pioneers, vowing to “be like Che”.
But for the Ernesticos of Santa Clara, the commitment takes on much greater meaning.
Lazaro Ernesto is only 12. But despite his tender age, he said he has taken pride in strict personal conduct ever since he became aware of the legacy he carries. “I have to behave, study, be honest and be good with my classmates — and my family,” he said.
Daniel Ernesto handles his moniker more coolly. At 24, he is the oldest of the Ernesticos residing in Santa Clara.
An IT technician at the town’s paediatric hospital and a collector of Che T-shirts, Daniel Ernesto is used to being recognised from articles in newspapers or TV interviews.
But he admits “trying to live up to Che” can be a burden.
Young boys are summoned for official ceremonies across the central province of Villa Clara and gather each June 14 in the city to honour their favorite guerrilla leader.
“The aim is to mark the legacy of Che over time. It’s all about teaching new generations, based on the values Che has left for us,” said Felicia Lara of Santa Clara University.
Currently in charge of the Ernesticos programme coordinated by the university, Lara insists on the importance for these young people to emulate what she says are key Guevara qualities: honesty and humanism. — AFP