Obituary:Alberto Granado Jiménez (1923-2011)

Javier Galeano (Associated Press)


HAVANA — Alberto Granado Jiménez, the Argentine biochemist who accompanied the young Che Guevara on his formative odyssey across South America, died here on Saturday. He was 88. This journey is portrayed in the beautiful movie “Motorcycle Diary”.


Mr. Granado, who settled in Cuba in 1961, died of natural causes, according to Cuban state television. His ashes were to be scattered in Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela, a state newscast said.


Mr. Granado was born in the Argentine town of Hernando on Aug. 8, 1922. One of three sons of a Spanish émigré and railroad clerk, he studied biochemistry and pharmacology at the University of Córdoba.

It was in that city that he met Ernesto Guevara, an asthmatic teenager who was determined to play rugby with Mr. Granado’s team. They became close friends, sharing an intellectual curiosity, a mischievous sense of humor and a restive desire to explore their continent.


Like his father, Dionisio T. Granado, Mr. Granado was politically active. He joined student protests in 1943 against Argentina’s repressive regime and, as a result, spent time in jail.  In December 1951, Mr. Granado and Che set out from Córdoba on Mr. Granado’s overloaded, beat-up motorbike, La Poderosa II, or the powerful one. Their eight-month journey, both a madcap coming-of-age road trip and a journey of political discovery, made a deep impression on both men and set Che on a course that transformed him into a revolutionary icon.


The bike, which Mr. Granado said looked like a “huge prehistoric animal,” had endless mechanical problems and made it only as far as Chile. The companions, however, traveled thousands of miles together, scrounging rides and food, and finally parting in Caracas, Venezuela.


The travelers were moved and shocked by the poverty in which so many South Americans lived. Both men kept journals, which became the basis for Walter Salles’s 2004 film, “The Motorcycle Diaries,” starring Gael García Bernal as the 23-year-old Che and Rodrigo de la Serna as Mr. Granado. In a 2004 interview with The New York Times, Mr. Granado talked about how “Motorcycle Diaries,” published in the early 1990s, had given rise to a new incarnation of Che, that of the romantic youth.


During a visit to Brazil, Mr. Granado said, young people wanted to talk not about politics but about how “two normal people, but dreamers and idealists, set out on an adventure and with optimism and impetuosity” achieved their goal.  From Caracas, Che headed home to finish his medical studies. He graduated in 1953. Mr. Granado stayed on in Venezuela to work in a leprosy clinic. The two men did not meet again for eight years, by which time Che was a hero of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution and head of Cuba’s central bank.


Mr. Granado moved to Cuba at Che’s invitation in 1961 and founded the faculty of medicine at the University of Santiago. He later moved to Havana, where he taught and carried out scientific research. Mr. Granado is  survived by his wife, Delia María Duque Duque, three children and five grandchildren.


He and Che remained friends, and though he openly disputed Che’s conviction that guerrilla warfare was the path to social reform in Latin America, Mr. Granado helped him scout for potential rebels in Argentina in the 1960s, according to a biography by Jon Lee Anderson, “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life.”


Before Che left Cuba in 1965 to pursue revolutions abroad, he left several books with inscriptions for close friends. They included one about the sugar industry for Mr. Granado.  The inscription was prescient.


“My dreams shall know no bounds, at least until bullets decide otherwise,” wrote Che, who was captured and killed in Bolivia in 1967. “I’ll be expecting you, sedentary gypsy, when the smell of gunpowder subsides. A hug for all of you. Che.” 


[A version of this article appeared in print on March 7, 2011, on page A19 of the New York edition.]


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