Many Revolutionary leaders had evolved in this world but very had left their mark. With their ideas and actions they had done many things which helped in the development of many nations. People assess their ideas, take action, and make them a reality. Few figures fit in this category as perfectly as Argentina guerilla leader Ernesto Che Guevara. Perhaps no revolutionary is better known than Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. I’ve seen many school and college students wearing Che’s T shirts, headbands etc. But do they really know the who the man is? and the glory he had achieved? May only 60% of teens know the greatness of this great revolutionary leader. He was not born a revolutionary. He grew up in a middle-class family and lived an ordinary life until he died. No matter which corner of the world you go to, you will hear about Che Guevara. So today I would like to take that privilege to let you know about this great personality.
Early Life & Motorcycle Trips:
Che was born in June 14, 1928, to a middle-class family in Rosario, Argentina. The eldest of five children in an Argentine family of Spanish, Basque and Irish descent, his father, Ernesto Guevara Lynch, was an engineer. He was nicknamed “Che” years later by Cuban revolutionaries in Mexico. The word “Che” (roughly translated as “hey you”) came from the Guarani Indians that is commonly used in Argentina. It was in 1959, after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution that he became a Cuban citizen and legally adopted Che as part of his name.
In 1948 he enrolled in University of Buenos Aires to study medicine. Although Che eventually graduated, he was never seriously committed to the profession. Almost a decade later, after arriving in Cuba with Fidel Castro to launch an insurrectionary war against the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, when forced to choose he decided to carry bullets instead of stethoscopes.
In his early twenties, Che made two motorcycle trips in which he observed first-hand the lives of workers and peasants for the first time. In 1950 he took a four-thousand-mile trip alone through Argentina on a moped. Later on, during 1951 and 1952 he journeyed through South America on a 500cc Norton with a radical doctor and leprologist named Alberto Granado. These trips opened his eyes to the political and economic realities of Latin America and the poverty and exploitation under which the majority of Latin American people lived. It was a cathartic experience and an ultimate turning point of Che’s life.
In 1953 he embarked on his third journey through the continent. On this particular trip he observed the mobilization of workers and the implementation of agrarian reform following the popular 1952 revolution. He then continued to Guatemala and stayed there until a US-backed coup overthrew the revolutionary government under Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. He gleaned important lessons from this experience which would give impact to his later ideology. According to Becker, Che believed that it was necessary to destroy completely the political and military forces of the old system, something Arbenz had not done. Che contended that if Arbenz had had more faith in the Indians, peasants and workers and had been willing to organize them into armed militias, the revolutionary would have maintained power. The role of the US in the coup also turned Che into a dedicated fighter against US imperialism in Latin America.
Che escaped to Mexico following the overthrow of Arbenz and it was here that he met Fidel Castro through the latter’s younger brother Raul. At the time, the Castros were planning an invasion of their native Cuba. It was also at this time that Che began to study Marxism and became an ideological communist. A Peruvian political exile named Hilda Gadea, whom Che married, had a particularly strong influence on the development of his ideology.
Start of Che’s Revolution:
Che joined Fidel and his small band of guerrilla army in 1956 when they traveled to Cuba’s eastern region to begin a guerrilla war against the Batista regime. Che was chosen for his medical skills and was the only non-Cuban included in the group. For two years, they fought in the Sierra Maesttra mountains and, eventually, Che rose to the rank of Rebel Army commander.
After the victory of the Cuban Revolution on New Year’s Day in 1959, Che assumed a series of positions in the new government. He was first named to head the national bank and in 1961 he took on the post of ministry of industry. He also led a Cuban delegation to the Inter-American Economic and Social Council sponsored by the Organization of American States in Uruguay, where he strongly denounced the motives of John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress program. This alliance was a ten-year development program that sought, through mild social and economic reforms, to prevent in other Latin American countries radical social revolutions such as that in Cuba. In fact, Che’s book Guerrilla Warfare probably led Kennedy to his conclusion that those who make peaceful change impossible make violent revolution inevitable.
Che travelled to other countries more and more as an ambassador for Cuba but later left the Caribbean island in 1965 to spread the revolutionary struggle. He first surfaced in Africa fighting in the Congo and then returned to Latin America in a mission to begin a hemisphere-wide guerrilla uprising. Che became increasingly vocal in denouncing US imperialism. He believed that people throughout Latin America were ready for a revolutionary uprising. In his last public statement, a message to the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Ospaaal, also known as the Tricontinental), he spoke of creating “two, three, or many Vietnams,” which would strike a deadly blow against imperialism. Much like Simón Bolívar and José Martí before him, Che was a true internationalist who believed that the destiny of Latin America was singular and unified. To him, national borders simply served to divide people in their struggle to achieve a more just social order.
Che chose Bolivia as the place to launch this pan-American war because of its strategic geographic location rather than out of concern for local conditions . This turned out to be a costly mistake. Che alienated the Bolivian Communist Party based in La Paz, depriving him of a critically important base of support for his efforts. Moreover, at that time, the Guaraní Indians living in the sparsely populated eastern jungle had received land in a government-sponsored agrarian reform program and felt little animosity toward the Bolivian army (members of which were often recruited from their own ranks). The local population had few reasons to defend a foreign guerrilla army that was culturally different, did not speak their language, and did not reflect local concerns. Ironically, in a short essay from 1963 entitled Guerrilla Warfare: A Method, he emphasized the importance of popular support to a guerrilla struggle. Without this backing, a disaster was inevitable.
In the several months of skirmishes with the Bolivian military, Che’s side was always on the defensive. The army captured Che and his few remaining guerrilla fighters on October 8, 1967, near the small village of La Higuera. The next day they executed him and publicly displayed his body. The army buried his body in a mass grave, where it remained until it was repatriated to Cuba in 1997 with a hero’s welcome.
But the Legacy still Continues:
Che’s death, which happened two years after Malcolm X’s assassination (February 21, 1965), ushered in a year of violent repression of political opposition movements around the world. In April and June of 1968 assassins killed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy in the US. During May student and worker protests paralyzed Paris, France. In August Chicago police attacked Vietnam War protestors at the Democratic National Convention. The Mexican army shot an estimated three hundred protestors in October at the Plaza of Three Cultures in Mexico City. Che’s death did not mean the end of revolutionary actions, and it only helped to polarize further an already tense global political situation.
Since his death, Cubans and Che’s supporters throughout Latin America observes October 8 as ‘The ‘Day of the Heroic Guerrilla’ in memory of Che Guevara. Like the late First Lady of Argentina, Eva Perón (a.k.a. Evita), Che became a more potent symbol in death than he had ever been in life. He was a doctor, an intellectual, a visionary, a revolutionary freedom fighter, Fidel Castro’s right-hand man, an ambassador, a minister, a martyr, an icon and an inspiration who went down in history as the one of the greatest legends in the history of politics, war and popular culture. Ernesto “Che” Guevara may be physically dead but his the fighting spirit still lives on.
You paint a romantic and rosy picture of Guevara. Indeed, he’s a fascinating icon of the political left, and impressionable young people are attracted to his unconventional rebel image. But he was also extremely brutal, overseeing summary executions of hundreds, and even pulling the trigger on one revolutionary traitor himself (Eutimio Guerra). He also defended the use of atomic warfare, during the Cuban missile crisis. Now, it can be argued that, in a revolution, harshness is necessary. But you’re being coy and dishonest with readers when you don’t present the full picture.
But the world saw him as great leader. Many people believe in him and his ideologies. Every Man/Woman in this world has something negative in them. We can’t just project the negative side which is equal to a single drop in a big ocean. Hope you understand 🙂
I agree with what you say. We shouldn’t just project the negative side. But, alternatively, we shouldn’t only project the positive side, otherwise historical understanding and truth is ill-served. Even the greatest leaders are imperfect, and it’s important to recognize that. One of my heroes is John F. Kennedy. But, if I were to biograph him, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t mention the Bay of Pigs invasion, which was a great mistake.
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