Film Spotlights Che’s Old Friend
By Vanessa Bauza
Alberto Granado has grown old comfortably in an affluent Havana neighborhood and a spacious home that, like the city itself, retains its bygone elegance despite the wear and tear around the edges.
The retired biochemist, 82, spends most mornings with neighbors stretching at a nearby park. In the afternoons he swims or keeps up his lifelong passion for reading.
But lately a whirlwind schedule of movie premieres and film festivals from Berlin to Barcelona has kicked his quiet routine into high gear.
With the release of The Motorcycle Diaries, Granado has been rediscovered and, although he complains a bit about being on the move so much, it is clear he relishes the attention.
“Not everyone can have the luxury of being welcomed a second time,” Granado says in his Argentine lilt. “This has shown me the magic of movies is real, not just an empty phrase.”
Produced by Robert Redford and released last month, The Motorcycle Diaries chronicles Granado’s eight-month trip from Patagonia to Caracas with his friend Ernesto Guevara, who would go on to become the iconic “Che.”
By all accounts Guevara was galvanized by the poverty and injustice he witnessed during the cross-continent journey. For Granado it was the adventure of a lifetime, forever tethering him to the guerrilla fighter and earning him a footnote in history books.
“There are three things that have affected my life,” Granado says while reclining in an office chair in his study. “The first was meeting Ernesto. The second was the [motorcycle] trip. The third was to join the Cuban revolution.”
Granado has made Cuba his home for more than 40 years. His house is graceful, but has seen better days. Several rooms are decorated with black and white portraits of the legendary revolutionary. But Granado knew Che when he was just Ernesto, a gangly, asthmatic teenager in southern Argentina whom no one wanted on their rugby team.
“I accepted him on my team,” Granado recalls. “We both liked reading and we liked to travel in our imaginations.”
Though six years older than Guevara, Granado saw in him the ideal travel partner. The duo pooled their meager savings and in January 1952 set out on the open road on a ramshackle 1939 Norton motorcycle they named La Poderosa, the powerful one.
“He was a dreamer, but he had his feet on the ground,” Granado recalled of Guevara. “He was Quixotic in the sense that he wanted to fight against wrongs in the world, but he didn’t confuse windmills with people. He knew who was the enemy.”
After their journey ended, the friends’ paths separated for eight years. Guevara became an avowed Marxist and helped launch the Cuban revolution with Fidel Castro. Granado followed a more familiar road. He got married, had children and became a biochemistry professor at the University of Caracas.
“I knew what I wanted: I wanted to have a family, I wanted to be a scientist and I wanted to travel,” Granado says. “He [Guevara] had a wider spectrum: to be a doctor, a researcher, a writer, a guerrilla warrior. He liked spelunking, anthropology. He was much more scattered.”
The old friends were reunited in Havana in 1960. Upon meeting they greeted each other as they had in the past, with teasing nicknames like “distinguished professor Granado” and “unconquerable commander Guevara.”
The following year Granado took up Guevara’s invitation to move to Cuba.
“I had always aspired to live in a socialist country,” he says. “I realized I was needed here. Many doctors and professors had left. It was the best thing I ever did.”
Although they were living in the same country again, the old friends saw little of each other. Guevara was working long hours in Cuba’s revolutionary government while Granado helped found a medical school in the eastern city of Santiago.
Granado recalls learning about Guevara’s death.
“I wanted to die that day, but as the years went by life taught me that if there was an opportune time to die, he had it,” he says. “Every day he is larger, he is younger. He died strong, intelligent.”
—South Florida Sun-Sentinel, November 14, 2004