Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (1928 - 1967)
National Hero of Cuba
was born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna on
14 June 1928
in Rosario, Argentina, into a relatively upper-middle class
family. His father was a construction engineer. He was the first of
Develops a severe asthmatic condition at the age of two, prompting his
family to move to the drier climate of Alta Gracia, Cordoba.
Most of his early education was provided by his mother at home. He is
reported to have read widely and deeply from his father's library,
in his early teens.
In 1941, he attends the Colegio Nacional Dean Funes, a secondary school
Enrolled in the University of Buenos Aires in 1948, studies medicine,
becomes interested in leprosy. His asthma disqualifies him for military
Makes a 4,000 mile long journey through Northern Argentina alone on a
moped, encountering many indigenous tribes and experiencing first hand
the impoverished conditions of their lives.
In 1951, he takes off on a motorcycle journey with his good friend,
Alberto Granado. They travel from Buenos Aires, down the coast of Argentina, through the Andes into Chile, and then north into Peru, Columbia and Venezuela. The diary Che kept during this time has been published as:
The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America.
He qualifies as a doctor in 1953, specializing in dermatology. Around
this time he was exposed to the attempted worker reforms following the
National Revolution of 1952 in Boliva.
Walks and hitchhikes to Guatemala, witnesses the overthrow of the radical socialist
government of Jacobo Arbenz by USA-supported Castillo Armas. He could
not help but note the vital role that the CIA
played in the counter-revolution. Establishes connections with Peruvian Apristas and other Latin American radicals.
In September of 1954, he moves to Mexico City, finding work in the
General Hospital. Through Hilda Gadea, a Peruvian Marxist, he meets
and involves himself in the planned invasion of Cuba. He marries Gadea.
They have a daughter, Hildita.
Under the influence of Castro, Alberto Bayo and the writings of
he begins to form the primary axioms of his philosophy of guerrilla
warfare. In this time he also began to be called 'Che', for his habit of ending his sentences and calling his friends 'Che'- which is an Argentinian expression for buddy.
In 1956, the revolutionaries land in Cuba on the "yacht" Granma,
initating a three-year guerrilla war against the dictator, Fulgencio
Batista. Che is included at first for his medical expertise but soon
rises through the ranks to become the Commandante of the Revolutionary
Army of Barbutos. In this role, he is directly responsible for dozens
of executions of defectors and Batista loyalists.
The revolutionaries succeed in overthrowing the Batista regime in
January of 1959. Che is now considered second only to Castro, who
appoints him Governor of the National Bank.
He marries Aleida March de la Torre, with whom he eventually has
He is made Minister for Industry in 1961, becomes increasingly hostile
towards US interests in the Cuban economy, strengthens relationship
with USSR. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Che advocates nuclear
From 1961 to 1965, he travels with his wife around the world as an
ambassador for Cuba.
Becomes disillusioned with Soviet Communism, makes a formal break in a
speech delivered in February of 1965. Calls for guerrilla-type
revolutionary actions in Africa, Asia and South America.
Che goes underground, traveling through Africa, eventually assembling
a group of Cubans to fight in the Kinshasa rebellion in the Congo. The
rebellion fails and Che withdraws in August of 1965.
Castro informally removes Guevara from office, their ideas for the future
of Cuba having radically diverged.
He disguises himself as Uraguayan economist, shaving off his beard and
not wearing his famous beret, in order to travel incognito through Latin
In November 1966, he leads a group of guerrillas through southeastern
Bolivia, hoping to inspire the peasants and workers into a revolutionary
movement that would spread all throughout Latin America, sparking off
"twenty new Vietnams". Dispirited by casualties, illness and depression,
the ragged group is cornered by a Bolivian battalion (which had been
trained by US Special Forces in anti-guerrilla warfare) in a gorge on
October 8. Two jets and a helicopter provide air support. Che is taken
to the nearby town of La Higuera.
He refuses all attempts at interrogation by CIA and Bolivan officials.
The Bolivian president, General Rene Barrientos, orders the execution
of Guevara as soon as possible.
9 October 1967.
After a few false starts and Che's telling them to get it over with,
six or more shots are fired into Guevara's torso. One version of his
reported last words were: "I knew you were going to shoot me; I should
never have been taken alive. Tell Fidel that this failure does not
mean the end of the revolution, that it will triumph elsewhere. Tell
Aleida to forget this, remarry and be happy, and keep the children
studying. Ask the soldiers to aim well." Others have claimed his last
words to have been: "Shoot, coward! You are going to kill a man."
After his death, a death mask was made and his hands were cut off to
ensure identification. His body was buried in a secret grave. Guevara
was 39 years old.
In June of 1997, a team of Cuban and Argentinian scientists recovered
the skeleton, missing both hands, of Guevara in the town of Vallegrande,
Bolivia. The bones have since been "repatriated" to Cuba.
"It is better to die standing than to live on your knees."
"The question is one of fighting the causes and not just the effects.
This revolution is bound to fail if it doesn't succeed in reaching deep
inside them, stirring them right down to the bone, and giving them back
their stature as human beings. Otherwise, what's the use?"
"Hatred is an element of struggle; relentless hatred of the enemy that
impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man and transforms us
into effective, violent, selective, and cold killing machines. Our soldiers
must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy."
"Man really attains the state of complete humanity when he produces,
without being forced by physical need to sell himself as a commodity."
The 30 year anniversary of Guevara's death, the publication of a slew of
books, and the timely recovery of his bones have amply served to underscore
the recent surge in the popularity of the sixties guerrilla leader. The
famous photograph of Che in black beret taken by Korda has become an icon
all over the world. His image is used by everyone from politically subversive
rock bands to advertisers seeking credibility. In Cuba and many parts of
Latin America, he is spoken of in an almost Christ-like reverence. The Cuban
government actively cultivates a "Che mythos", exploiting the nostalgia for
the good old revolutionary days.
The issue of Che Guevara's relevance is two-fold. Primarily, his life
represents the archetype of revolutionary in the late 20th century
political theater. On the other hand, the blatant and nothing less
than pornographic whoring of his image vividly illustrates the dangers
of mediated manipulation and recontextualization of a threatening
personality. It would be a sad, but telling, fate if Che ended up only
being remembered as fashionable martyr-rebel icon for Madsion
Avenue. The imperative here is to not become seduced by the advertized
images and empty slogans; but to see through it into the complexities
and, at times, difficult aspects of the extraordinary human being that
was Che Guevara.
Biographical and Related Secondary Texts
Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend - Patrick Symmes [2/2000]
I, Che Guevara - John Blackthorn (novel)
Che: Ernesto Guevara, Una Leyenda De Nuestro Siglo - Pierre Kalfon
Che: The Photobiography of Che Guevara - Christophe Loviny
Che For Beginners (Readers and Writers Documentary Comic Book)
Che Guevara - David Sandison (lots of photos)
Che Guevara (Pocket Biographies Series) - Andrew Sinclair
Che Guevara: A Biography by Daniel James, Stein & Day Publishers
Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson, Grove Press, 1997
Che Guevara and the Fight for Socialism Today: Cuba Confronts the World Crisis of the '90s - Mary-Alice Waters
Che Guevara and the FBI edited by Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith
Che Guevara: Economics and Politics in the Transition to Socialism
Death of Che Guevara: A Novel - Jay Cantor, Random House
The Defeat of Che Guevara: Military Response to Guerilla Challenge in Bolivia - Gary Prado Salmon
The Fall of Che Guevara: A Story of Soldiers, Spies & Diplomats - Henry Butterfield Ryan
Guevara, Also Known As Che by Paco Ignacio Taibo, St Martins, 1997
Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara - Jorge G. Castaneda
Great Rebel: Che Guevara in Bolivia - Luis Gonzalez, Grove Press
Roll Over Che Guevara: Travels of a Radical - Marc Cooper, Norton, 1996
The Marxism of Che Guevara: Philosophy, Economics and Revolutionary Warfare - Michael Lowy
Death of a Revolutionary: Che Guevara's Last Mission (revised edition) - Richard Harris (8/2000)
Fat Capitalist's Song On the Death of Che Guevara
Video, Documentary and Otherwise
Author: Bonesy Jones