by Raul Menchaca
SANTA CLARA, Cuba, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- Located in the heart of Cuba, the city of Santa Clara is home to a memorial that honors the legendary Latin American revolutionary "Che" Guevara.
The Che Guevara Mausoleum, which houses the remains of the rebel fighter who was assassinated by paid counterrevolutionary forces, features a nearly 7-meter-high bronze statue of the historical figure, a fitting tribute to a hero of Latin American resistance.
Born in the Argentine city of Rosario in 1928 and trained as a doctor, Guevara joined Fidel Castro's insurgency in 1956 to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, and played a leading role in the rebel victory.
With Cuba under new leadership, he left the country to continue his struggle against oppression, first to Congo and then to Bolivia, where he was ambushed and killed by mercenaries in October 1967.
On the ground floor of the imposing memorial, a cavern-like enclosure holds the remains of Guevara and 30 of his fallen comrades in Bolivia. An eternal flame, lit by then president Fidel Castro, pays homage to the fighters.
The mausoleum holds 39 niches, but only 31 of them are occupied, as the remains of five of his fellow guerrilla fighters were never found, and three were claimed by their families living outside Cuba.
A small on-site museum displays some of Guevara's personal belongings, including photos and documents from the time of his birth to adulthood.
"It is a living journey through Che's life and work," said Ismary Fernandez, who works at the museum, which has been visited by 4.5 million people since its opening in 1988.
Each day, some 2,000 people visit the site. Many visitors are from Argentina, Italy, France and Germany, but most of them are Cubans, especially Santa Clara locals, who admire and appreciate the sacrifices the guerrilla fighters made.
It was here that in December 1958 Guevara waged a key three-day battle against Batista's forces that dealt a decisive blow against the regime.
The Guevara-led guerrillas derailed an armored train carrying almost 400 heavily armed soldiers dispatched from Havana to reinforce the troops fighting Castro's men in eastern Cuba.
The violent clash was a major "material and moral defeat for the forces of the Batista tyranny," museum director Violeta Delgado told Xinhua.
The museum, built on the site where the battle took place, converts three of the train's wagons into exhibit rooms for the weapons, documents, photos and maps that depict the event.
Also on show is the bulldozer the rebels maneuvered onto the rails to stop the train.
Santa Clara resident Leonardo Garcia was only 15 years old when the rebels foiled the government forces and took control of the city.
"I sold candy very close to where the train was derailed and one of the guerrillas told me to leave the area because things there were going to get very ugly," Garcia recalled as he sat on a bench at the city's Vidal Park, located in the center of Santa Clara.
Guevara "is still alive among us," said Garcia, pointing to the facade of the Santa Clara Libre Hotel, where you can still see the bullet holes left by guerrillas trying to get a group of soldiers entrenched in the building to surrender.
Journalist Enrique Torres believes Guevara's legacy lies in his example, "which serves to improve the ... kind of people we want to be or how we want Cubans to be."
As the final resting place of the world-famous revolutionary and his comrades-in-arms, Santa Clara and its residents feel "a high level of commitment, because we have the responsibility before the world to protect them," said museum worker Yunieski Gutierrez.
"Che has transcended precisely because he was a total revolutionary. He was always thinking about how to improve life, how to change it for the good of everyone. That's what he was always fighting for," said Gutierrez.
Perhaps student Lorena Rodriguez summed it up best when she said there's a bit of "Che in every Cuban."