Cold War Biogeaphies: Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-67)

Che Guevara
Figure 1.-Che, even more than Fidel, became an icon of the Western counter culture. This is a snapshot of his wife Aleida March and their children, perhaps taken by Che himself. The photogrph is not dated, but looks to be about the time he left Cuba to pursue revolution. What is interesting about the snapshot is how thorougly bourgeois they all look. The same photograph could have been taken in millions of American suburban backyards--complete with pooch. Certaily not what the counter culture culture would have expectd.

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara became an icomic figure of Latin American Communism and violent armed struggle. He bcame known simply a 'Che'. He has been described in various ways, including Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and self-described military theorist. There seems to be no appreciation among the Left that dictatorship of the left or the right means societal failure and a source of poverty. Many idealize Che who has become a counter-cultural icon on posters and T-shirts. [Casey, p. 128.] There is, however a murderous legacy thant many seek to ignore or excuse for ideological reasons. [Vargas Llosa] He encoraged Castro's brutally crushing any and all dissent, and concentrating wealth in the hands of a Communist elite. Ernnesto was born in Rosario, Argenina (1928). He studied to be a doctor and as a young student he made motocycle (actually motorized bicycle) trips to other South American countries. Guevara claims that the povery and squalid conditions was the primary experience that radicalized him. There is no doubt the poverty he described in the 1950s was very real. I winessed the same in the 1960s. Cut Che went a step further. He concluded that capitalist exploitation of Latin America by the United States was the primary reason for that poverty. He became involved Guatemala's social reforms program under President Jacobo Árbenz. The CIA-assisted overthrow and the United Fruit Company's role only strengthened his evolving political ideology. [Guevara] Subswquently he met Raúl and Fidel Castro in Mexico City and joined the 26th of July Movement. He was with them when they sailed to Cuna aboard the Granma to launch a eevolution against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Guevara with Castro;s support rose to prominence among the insurgents. Castro to Comandante (commander) of a second army column, essentialy becoming Castro' second-in-command. It is not entirely clear what Castro saw in him, but his interest in fundamental chabge and lack of interest in a democratic system surrly must havebeen factors. Time Magazine sescrined him as as 'Castro's brain'. ["Castro's brain"] Guevara would play an imprtant role in the guerrilla campaign that deposed Batista. ith Castro's success, Guevara was given several key assigments in Cuba's new revolutionary government. Revolutionary Tribunls tried and convicted Batisa loyalists. Guevara oversaw the appeals and firing squads executing Batista loyalists. [Taibo, p. 267.] He then oversaw the rural agrarian land reform as Minister of Industries. He was put in charge of a successful nationwide literacy campaign. He then served as the National Bank president and instructional director for Cuba's Armed Forces, Guevara was a the center of transformung the Batista dictatorship into the Castro dictarorship. In this he was very successful. A he helped buld a military capable of repelling the American-financed Bay of Pigs invsion. [Kellner, pp. 69–70.] He also played a key role in seizing private property and building a socialist planned economy. Only the result was economic chaos and turning Cuba from a country with some poor people into a country in which virtually everyone was poor. Castro and Guevara essentially eliminated social inequities by making everyone poor. Despite Revolutionary Cuba's economic failure, Guevara began traveling the globe the world as a diplomat for Communist Revolution. He also play a key role in convincing oviet Premier Nikta Khruschev to depluy nuclear-armed ballistic missiles to Cuba, precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). [Anderson, pp. 526–530.] Cementing his revolutionry credenbtials, Guevara was a prolific writer and diarist. He composed a seminal manual on guerrilla warfare as wekll as a best-selling memoir about his youthful continental motorcycle journey. His central belief was that Marxism–Leninism was the key to building a just society where workers and peasants lived comfortable lives. And that imperialism, colonialism, and monopoly capitalism were the cause of poverty. [Anderson, pp. 526–530.] The only problem with Guevara's asessment is that the economic reforms he orcestrated caused economic chaos and that production declind. Cuba went from a medium-income country to one of the poorest in the world, kept alive by massive Soviet assistance. Guvara also claimed that the United states exploited Cuba abd other countries. It was then difficult to explain after the United states cut economic ties that Cuba not only did not benefit, but got progresively more poor. Fidel's and Guevara's ideals as one historian explains simply "rehashed centralized power'. It meant creating a leftist caudillo, but with ultimately the same impact--pbverty nd hr upresion of baic human rights. [Vargas Llosa] Guevara had a huge public profile in Cuba. But then he precipitously left (1965). It is not exavtly clear why. There are several theories, all unproveable. It is widely believed that his relation with Castro were deteroriating. This can not be proved nor can the issues be known with any certainty. Castro may not have appreciated Guevara's emense popularity. Guevara wanted a more aggressuve effort to promote revolution. Castro seems to hve been desenchanted fowith the economic chaos and failure of Guevara's economic management. For weharever reason, Guevara embarked on new revolutionary adventures, first in Congo-Kinshasa and then Bolivia. Since the failure of his Boliviam guerrila campaign and execution, Guevara has become a legendary figure in the couter-culture world. Alberto Korda photograph which he titled 'Guerrillero Heroico' has been cited by the Maryland Institute College of Art as 'the most famous photograph in the world.


Anderson, Jon Lee. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life (New York: Grove Press, 1997).

Casey, Michael. Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image (Vintage: 2009).

Guevara, Ernesto. 'On Revolutionary medicine,' Speech to the Cuban Militia (August 19, 1960).

Kellner, Douglas. Ernesto "Che" Guevara (Chelsea House Publishers, 1989), 111p.

Taibo II, Paco Ignacio. Guevara, Also Known as Che (St Martin's Griffin: 1999). 2nd edition.

Vargas Llosa, Alvaro. The Che Guevara Myth: And the Future of Liberty (The Independent Institute: 2006), 88p.

"Castro's brain," Time Magzine (1960).


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Created: 1:53 AM 12/20/2015
Last updated: 1:53 AM 12/20/2015