DALLAS (Reuters) - A lock of socialist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s hair and related items were auctioned on Thursday in Dallas to a Houston-area bookstore owner for the very capitalist sum of $119,500.
The curious collection had belonged to Gustavo Villoldo, 71, a former CIA operative who helped hunt Guevara down in the jungles of Bolivia in 1967 and who claims he cut off the lock before burying the guerrilla fighter with two of his comrades.
There was media speculation that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a leftist who greatly admires the iconic Guevara, would bid for the items.
In the end, it went to Houston-based Bill Butler.
“Butler ... is thrilled to own items from Che (and) will display them in his store,” said Kelley Norwine, vice president of marketing for Heritage Auction Galleries, which auctioned the mementos.
The auction house said the hair could provide DNA proof that the remains of Guevara — affectionately known by his admirers as “Che” — are in Cuba, where he is venerated as a hero of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power five decades ago.
Then 39, the bearded rebel was captured by CIA-backed Bolivian soldiers on October 8, 1967 and shot dead the next day in a schoolhouse. Some remains believed to be his were dug up decades later and taken to Cuba.
“This may be the only DNA that could prove that Castro has his body. Gustavo helped bury Che and he claims there were only two other bodies with his corpse,” Norwine told Reuters shortly before the auction, as she pointed to the dark lock of hair sealed in a plastic envelope in a glass display case.
“But when the remains said to be his were dug up and taken to Cuba there were six other bodies in the grave,” she said, adding that Villoldo claimed to know the precise location of his grave because he wrote down the coordinates.
The hair was auctioned with a few related items to Butler in one batch.
A scrapbook containing what Heritage says are previously unpublished photos of the dead guerrilla went with the hair. One shows a group of rag-tag soldiers brandishing rifles and standing proudly around his corpse like hunters posing with a trophy. Others show his corpse propped up, eyes wide open.
A hand-written note from one of Che’s comrades-in-arms to the guerrilla leader saying he had reached an undisclosed location and awaited further orders was also sold.
Heritage had tightened security after receiving threatening e-mails from groups in Argentina, Guevara’s home country, protesting the sale.
Guevera has come to symbolize rebel chic with his likeness emblazoned on countless T-shirts and buttons. But many of his left-wing admirers are uncomfortable with what they see as the commercial exploitation of his legacy.
Conservatives on the other hand see red at the pop-star status accorded a man they see as a ruthless communist killer.
Norwine said Heritage Auction Galleries has auctioned off hair before including strands from the heads of Abraham Lincoln, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.