IN BOLIVIAEA RLIER this year I held in my hand a bloodstained Rolex taken from the scene of the capture of Che Guevara. Though the watch had belonged not to Che himself but to one of his followers, I experienced a sensation comparable, I imagined, to that of a medieval pilgrim on touching a holy relic. Richard Gott, one of Britain's most informed and committed commentators on the Latin American scene, was lucky enough to meet Che in 1963 and to see for himself the 'allure that people would die for'. Four years later Gott and a mysterious CIA agent were the only witnesses capable of testifying that the corpse of the man caught and executed by the Bolivian army was indeed Che's.
These two anecdotes frame the gripping prologue of Gott's Cuba: A New History, and are reminders of those days in the 1960s when the revolutionary island held an overwhelming romantic attraction for intellectuals everywhere. For most people this attraction did not long outlast Che's death and Castro's subsequent wholehearted affiliation