Ernesto 'Che' Guevara

His Story

So, here are the skin and bones of the legacy (keep in mind that this type of information can vary widely depending on who you ask): The earlier events of Che's life are agreed on almost unanimously but the later ones are still not perfectly clear; He was born into a middle class family in Rosario, Argentina, on May 14, 1928.* In school he attempted, and often succeeded, in being very active in athletics, but severe asthma limited much of his physical activity. He studied archeology early on and later attended medical school, which he completed in between a "motorcycle" expedition throughout South America. His specialties in the medical field included allergy research and leprology.

It was only after reading many pieces of important literature (a pastime incumbent of his many hours spent incapacitated by severe asthma), the completion of a personal philosophy index, much traveling, the experience of many adventures in northern South America and, probably most importantly, the addition of a highly influential period in Guatemala during the CIA-aided fall of the Arbenz government that Che committed himself to socialism.

It was in Mexico City, in exile caused by being a blacklisted Communist sympathizer in Guatemala, that Che met Fidel and Raul Castro, an encounter that would change Che's life indelibly. Fidel had recently fled Cuba after a period in jail following his group's failed coup of July 26, 1953. He had been released as a result of the poor judgement of Cuba's then dictator, Fulgencio Batista, who exonerated these political prisoners as an "act of goodwill" on Mother's Day.

Fidel and Ernesto were opposite but complementary personalities, Fidel as the one who would settle for nothing less than to be the center of attention and who also maintained a very impulsive personality, Che as the one who sat as an observer, who struck with his razor sharp, and highly educated, tongue when it was necessary to attack an opposing viewpoint and concretely support his arguments.

Che joined Fidel and Raul Castro on an old yacht to Cuba that contained the core of the future guerrilla movement. The Cuban Revolution thus began on December 2, 1956 with the landing of this ship, the Granma, near the Sierra Maestra mountains on the southeastern coast of Cuba.

Che didn't stay long with Castro in Havana, however, considering his enormous role in liberating the island and running its central bank. He stayed on only from the fruition of the revolution in January of 1959 until he left for the Congo in April of 1965, but it was long enough to get the new socialist economy on its feet and provide a living example of the "new man" for the people of Cuba with his well renowned volunteer labor campaigns. He longed to return to the battlefield and sow the seeds of socialism elsewhere.

Having achieved his goal of bringing socialism to Cuba (while possibly noting the changes in Fidel that signaled the emergence of a dictator), Che left his comrade in Cuba to attempt to spark similar movements in other oppressed states, first in central Africa and later in the ill-fated Bolivian movement.

Che set up his African campaign in Dar-Es-Salaam on the mainland of Tanzania in mid-April of 1965 by forming a column that would later invade the neighboring Congo. His mission was a failure. The rebellion didn't have the support of the people or the indigenous soldiers themselves. Bitter, Che left Africa and traveled a bit more while amassing intelligence on other locales more ripe for revolution.

In November of 1966, disguised as a balding, middle aged business man, Che left his temporary European home to begin his guerrilla odyssey in Bolivia. From late 1966 until October of 1967, Che's campaign struggled with little success against the Bolivian Army. Again, a lack of support by the peasantry and a tepid response to recruitment efforts of Bolivian soldiers by Guevara's group led to failure. In both the Congo and Bolivia, Guevara's "blackmail by presence" (Anderson's phrase) was a key factor in the poor reception he received by the indigenous populations. To them it meant just another "foreign invasion," as at least the armies of the state were of their own ethnic and national background.

Thirty-two years later details of the events that transpired shortly after his death in 1967 remain sketchy. Only in 1997 were remains recovered in Bolivia that have been identified as his, the skeleton, handless and piled in a mass grave with other supposed guerrillas. The only thing certain in this chapter of his life is that he was killed by agents of the Bolivian Army, as the United States' full role in clandestine support of their actions remains to be unclear.**

[The above section was written with much help from information provided by Jon Lee Anderson's recently released biography of Che (see references below), whose efforts to obtain information on his subject have also succeeded in causing recent Bolivian government action (under heavy public pressure) to locate and find the remains of Che.]