Forty years after his death, Che Guevara still inspires.
Whether his legacy inspires admiration or hatred may depend on where one stands: with the oppressed or with the privileged, as a social leftist or as a conservative. His image has come to represent revolution and radical politics around the world, particularly in Latin America, and particularly among youth.
Born into a family of both privilege and leftist ideals, Che Guevara had access to education, including medical training and deep studies of political systems. His travels as a young man throughout Latin America inspired him to act on behalf of the poor and the powerless.
His experiences led him to became a Marxist and a guerilla fighter who believed the only way to stop imperialism and the suffering of people was to pick up arms. “We cannot and may not cherish the illusion that we can obtain freedom without battle,” said Che Guevara.
He is best known for his leading role in helping Fidel Castro overthrow Fulgencia Batista, the dictator of Cuba, in 1959. His other attempts at overthrowing governments in Latin American countries failed.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna was born June 14, 1928 in Rosario, Argentina. His parents, who were of Spanish and Irish descent, had four more children after Ernesto. The family was well-to-do, with aristocratic roots but socialistic ideas.
Guevara took on the name “Che” as a teenager after he began calling everyone “Che,” which means “pal” or “friend” in English.
Che Guevara set out on a motorcycle trip with his friend Alberto Granado through the countries of Latin America in 1952. It was during this trip that he found his life’s desire and dedication to fight to improve the lives of the common people. In Valparaiso, Chile, he wrote in his diary : "We are looking for the bottom part of the town. We talk to many beggars. Our noses inhale attentively the misery."
In a very poor region of Peru he noted in his journal the words of another Latin American named José Marti: "I want to link my destiny to that of the poor of this world."He returned to Argentina to complete his medical studies at Buenos Aries Medical School in 1953. Che Guevara’s quest to bring freedom to the people of Cuba began in 1956. In November of that year he joined with Fidel Castro and 80 other revolutionaries and sailed from Mexico to Cuba. A major battle took place against Batista’s forces in 1958 and in 1959, Che Guevara became part of the new Cuba governing regime. Two Chinese journalist, Mai K’ung and An Ping, interviewed Che Guevara in 1959, shortly after the Cuban revolution took place. During the interview he described the difficulties the revolutionaries had experienced, such as being pursued by the Mexican
Che Guevara and Fidel Castro
authorities, the disagreements that caused some members to leave the movement, and the difficulty of traveling over mountains. He also shared that he learned it was essential to have the working class join in the revolution and fight for it. He said that the only foreign enemies of the revolution were those that had economic interests and connections with the U.S. State Department.
The U.S. government considered him a threat and the news media were fascinated by him. Both closely followed the activities of Che Guevara. Numerous articles about him were featured in Time magazine and other media. Time ran an illustration of Che Guevara on its cover in August 1960.
Time Magazine Cover: August 8, 1960
Che Guevara held several positions in the new Cuban government, including head of the national bank, and was considered Fidel Castro’s right hand. However, he remained committed to overthrowing other oppressive regimes and in 1965 he left Cuba to lead revolutions in Latin America and Africa.
In his farewell letter to Castro, written April 1, 1965, Che Guevara wrote: “Other nations of the world summon my modest efforts of assistance. I can do that which is denied you due to your responsibility as the head of Cuba, and the time has come for us to part.
You should know that I do so with a mixture of joy and sorrow. I leave here the purest of my hopes as a builder and the dearest of those I hold dear. And I leave a people who received me as a son. That wounds a part of my spirit. I carry to new battlefronts the faith that you taught me, the revolutionary spirit of my people, the feeling of fulfilling the most sacred of duties: to fight against imperialism wherever it may be. This is a source of strength, and more than heals the deepest of wounds.’
In 1967, while leading a small guerilla band of revolutionaries in Bolivia, he was captured and wounded by members of the Bolivian Army. He was executed a few days later on October 9, 1967. He was buried in the small village of Vallegrande, Bolivia.