Julio Etchart is a Uruguayan-British photojournalist.

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Julio Etchart is a Uruguayan-British photojournalist.

Requiem 4 Grenfell

The eerie structure
haunts the clouds,
its charred skeleton
arrests the rush-hour traffic
and confuses the migratory birds
who seek a nest
amid the debris.

Residents of Grenfell resume their daily pilgrimage. Requiem 4 Grenfell

Exhausted neighbours resume their daily pilgrimage
past a gallery of faded photographs
whose innocent faces
contemplate another day in limbo,
their drained hearts
trying to tune into
the latest episode
of this never ending saga.

Requiem 4 Grenfell.

Corporate manslaughter
decree the masonic suits
giving another turn
to this absurd
tragicomic
libretto…
But corporate has no faces
and bestows a convenient anonimity
to the real culprits;
and MANslaughter
falls so short of including
the women, children
and those of mixed gender preferences
who, along with cats, dogs and parrots
disappeared on that terrible night…

My strong empathy has a history
for I, too, was not accounted for,
during many weeks in my younger years,
forcibly hidden behind a dirty hood
in a concealed basement
in a distant corner of the world.

My comrades missed me in the barricades
which we erected
against a cruel dictatorship,
my loved ones moved heaven and earth
in the hope that I would be still alive…

They finally found me,
and freed me
and sent me into exile
to these cold islands
where decades later
I had to witness the sad irony
of seeing so many who also came here
to escape an abysmal past
or an uncertain future
finding themselves betrayed
by indifference
and inequality…

Ashes to ashes
is written in ancient folios…
The names of the Grenfallen
are also recorded
in the Book of Life,
a memory that no one
can erase;
and they will be remembered
and honoured
with the dignity
that they could not find
on this side
of destiny

 

by Julio Etchart
London, 2017

Author and photographer Julio Etchart says:

‘As you can see from the poem, my empathy with the victims has a history, for I was also “disappeared” for months in a secret detention centre during my youth in Uruguay in the 1970s, after protesting against one of the worst Latin American dictatorships of that time.

‘I came here as an exile, and I have a natural affinity with those who have followed a similar path.

‘The tragedy of Grenfell is that many of the victims were also trying to escape a similar fate, only to end up being erased from the face of the Earth.---’

On the trail of Che Guevara, 50 years on

A mural dedicated to Che Guevara in Vallegrande, where his body was taken and displayed to the international press. This is now part of the Che Route, sponsored by the Bolivian government and foreign solidarity groups.
A mural dedicated to Che Guevara in Vallegrande, where his body was taken and displayed to the international press. This is now part of the Che Route, sponsored by the Bolivian government and foreign solidarity groups. By Julio Etchart

The last entry in the diary of Argentinian-born Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was recorded in the early hours of 8 October 1967. It reads: ‘At 2am we stopped to rest, since it was useless to carry on marching… Chino [one of the members of the guerrilla group] becomes a real burden when walking at night…’

The revolutionary army that Guevara formed and trained 11 months earlier is on its last legs. The fighters are exhausted and sick, having been encircled by a superior force of elite rangers trained by the CIA – and repeatedly betrayed by local peasants who were supposed to have joined the revolutionary cause.

A few hours after writing his last diary entry, Che was wounded and captured by army soldiers in a deep ravine known as the Quebrada del Yuro (or Churo) in the southern Bolivian Andes.

A map of La Higuera within Latin America
The map shows the location of La Higuera within Latin America. Via OpenStreetMap

He was taken to a schoolhouse in the village of La Higuera, a few kilometres away. The next day he was executed by a soldier, under orders from the Bolivian army’s high command.

Declassified information from the US National Security Archive, including key CIA, State Department and Pentagon documentation, confirms the involvement of the US intelligence agencies, including at least two specialist Cuban-American CIA operatives. One of them, Félix Rodríguez, was present when Che was shot dead.

 Julia Cortez, who worked as a schoolteacher in La Higuera in 1967 and fed Che, now runs a grocery shop and restaurant in the village.
Julia Cortez, who worked as a schoolteacher in La Higuera in 1967 and fed Che, now runs a grocery shop and restaurant in the village. By Julio Etchart

Guevara’s body was strapped to the skids of a helicopter and flown to Vallegrande, a small town 65 kilometres away, before being moved to an open-air laundry in the grounds of a hospital. It was here that the international press was summoned and the famous Christ-like photograph of his lifeless body was taken.

Fearing that it might become a place of pilgrimage, the authorities decided not to bury the revolutionaries in the local cemetery. Instead, they were concealed in a mass grave in the corner of an airfield. In 1997 the Bolivian authorities were persuaded to disinter the remains and return those of Guevara to Cuba.

 Mural by the grave of fellow guerrilla Tania, who was captured and executed in Vallegrande
Mural by the grave of fellow guerrilla Tania, who was captured and executed in Vallegrande. By Julio Etchart

In the build-up to the 50th anniversary of Che’s death, veterans of the Cuban Revolution have erected a mausoleum above the ditch by the side of the airstrip where his bones were found. The school in La Higuera has been renovated and converted into a museum, and the laundry room in the Vallegrande hospital is now a shrine. Visitors leave their mark by scratching their names or thoughts on the plaster wall.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, who has a huge portrait of Che hanging in his office, has inaugurated the Ruta del Che (Che Route). For a small fee, local guides take visitors to various sites in the region. A French woman has opened a hostel at the telegraph office in La Higuera where the guerrilla fighters made their last attempt to establish contact with the outside world. Next door, a Cuban ‘internationalist’ teacher runs the local primary school.

 The 20 or so families living in La Higuera survive on subsistence farming and Che tourism.
The 20 or so families living in La Higuera survive on subsistence farming and Che tourism. By Julio Etchart

La Higuera today is a hamlet where about 20 peasant families live off subsistence agriculture… and the legend of Che. A local guide, who holds the key to the old school-house where Che spent his last hours, is keen to show me the rest of the village and introduce me to Julia Cortez. She worked as a teacher at the school and claims to be the last local person to have seen Guevara alive, giving him his last meal – a bowl of peanut soup. Julia now runs a grocery shop and a small restaurant called La Estrella (The Star), after the famous single red star that decorated his legendary black beret.

When I request a guide to take me to the bottom of the canyon where Che was captured, I am presented with Efrain, a vivacious 10-year-old who, his mother assures me, knows the way by heart. It takes me a while to negotiate the terrain, which involves a 300-metre descent along a narrow path flanked by thick thorny bushes. The tropical heat is relentless; regular showers make the already muddy trail almost impassable in places.

 ‘Your example lights the way for a new dawn,’ reads this monument in La Higuera.
‘Your example lights the way for a new dawn,’ reads this monument in La Higuera. By Julio Etchart

But my young guide keeps rushing ahead. Finally, I have to remind him of one of Che’s maxims: ‘The pace of a platoon is determined by the slowest one in the group’. Efrain understands immediately and adjusts his pace. We reach our destination about three hours later: a desolate ford at the bottom of the gorge on the Ñancahuazu river, where a simple inscription ‘Che vive’ marks the rock where he was wounded before his capture.

Climbing back in the intense heat and under a threatening sky – and looking forward to a nice wash, a decent meal and a clean bed – I try to come to terms with the scale of the enterprise undertaken by Che and his comrades. They endured these harsh conditions for almost a year. Exhausted, with little food and no medicines left, their efforts were in vain as they became outnumbered and were hunted down to the bottom of that deep ravine.

 The school in La Higuera where Che was killed after being taken prisoner 50 years ago.
The school in La Higuera where Che was killed after being taken prisoner 50 years ago. By Julio Etchart

I belong to a generation that was greatly influenced by the Cuban Revolution. We joined the international barricades to protest against the Vietnam War, the coup against Allende in Chile, and the iniquities of apartheid in South Africa.

We protested in anger at the martyrdom of Victor Jara and the long imprisonment of Nelson Mandela; we drew inspiration from people like Maya Angelou and, of course, Che Guevera.

But it was not until I put myself, albeit infinitesimally briefly, in his boots, that I finally caught a glimpse of what it takes to make the mind of a revolutionary.

Julio Etchart is a Uruguayan-British photo-journalist.

Julio Etchart

There is an area of life in some societies when work and play blend with each other. Children and young people learn survival skills at a very early age. Hunting birds with a sling provides food and trains the user in good target practice, an essential skill in hunting-gathering social groups.

I took this picture in a village in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and included it in Toys, my photo-book on global play. The book does not pretend to be an A-Z of toys and games around the world. I am rather trying to show that children and young people have not lost the ability to imagine and to improvise games, despite the relentless assault by the toy and electronics transnationals designed to convert them into cyber-nerds!

*Julio Etchart*, Chile, from the book _Toys_- (Mets & Schilt, Amsterdam 2006, distributed in the UK by Pluto).

Julio Etchart

I photographed this boy in the playground of a youth centre run by Nicaragua’s YMCA – supported by the London-based charity Y Care International – in Managua. Located in the Acahualinca area of Managua, a very poor neighbourhood near the municipal garbage dump, the centre offers training and recreational activities for disadvantaged and working youth. They are encouraged to run their own facilities and the workshop makes among other things, swings and playground equipment like the one enjoyed by the boy in the picture.

This image is part of ‘The Playing Fields’, a long-term photographic project which I have been developing for more than five years.

As a photographer who has covered development issues for many years, I have witnessed a fair amount of injustice and poverty around the world.

It became my personal crusade to document the world of toys and games, from the factory to the playground via the shopping mall, from rich kids to humble shantytown and rural children.

Play is precious to children. It is a time for growing and learning or just having fun.

The toys children play with tell us much about their lives. Many poorer children can’t take their toys for granted. They may have to work, or fight a war, or they are refugees on the run. Yet even in the worst situations you find children making do with wonderfully improvised toys made from tin cans, wire or wood – whatever they can lay their hands on.

*Julio Etchart*, a Uruguayan photographer currently based in London, Britain.

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