Ernesto Guevara (1928-1967) was an Argentine revolutionary, guerrilla theoretician, and the trusted adviser of Cuban premier Fidel Castro.
Ernesto Guevara was born on June 14, 1928, in Rosario. Of Spanish and Irish descent, he suffered from asthma, spending his childhood in a mountain town near Rosario. At an early age he read history and sociology books and was particularly influenced by the writings of the Chilean Communist poet Pablo Neruda. At 19 Guevara entered the medical school of the University of Buenos Aires.
In 1952 "Che" Guevara ("Che" is an Argentine equivalent of "pal") broke off his studies in order to set out with a friend on a transcontinental trip which included motorcycling to Chile, riding a raft on the Amazon, and taking a plane to Florida. He returned to Argentina to resume his studies, graduating with a degree of doctor of medicine and surgery in 1953.
Late in 1953 Guevara left Argentina, this time for good. He moved to Guatemala, where he had his first experience of a country at war. He supported the Jacobo Arbenz regime, and when it was overthrown in 1954 Guevara sought asylum in the Argentine embassy, remaining there until he could travel to Mexico.
It was here that Guevara met the Castro brothers. At the time Fidel Castro was planning an expedition against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, and Guevara agreed to go along as a doctor. On Dec. 2, 1956, the expeditionaries landed in eastern Cuba, becoming the nucleus of a guerrilla force which operated in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. The guerrillas contributed to the crumbling of the Batista regime on Dec. 31, 1958.
In January 1959 Guevara was one of the first rebel commanders to enter Havana and take control of the capital. He held several posts in the Castro government:commander of La Cabaña fortress, president of the National Bank, and minister of industries. But always, most important of all, he was one of Castro's most influential advisers. Guevara visited Communist countries in the fall of 1960 to build up trade relations with the Soviet bloc and criticized United States policy toward Cuba. He also directed an unsuccessful plan to bring rapid industrialization to Cuba and advocated the supremacy of moral over material incentives to increase production. Guevara also masterminded Cuba's subversive program in Latin America and wrote extensively on this subject. In his first book, Guerrilla Warfare (1960), he provided basic instructions on this type of conflict.
Guevara's official tasks did not cure him of his restlessness. He continued to travel. In December 1964 he addressed the United Nations General Assembly and then set out on a long journey to Europe, Africa, and Asia. After his return to Havana he surprisingly disappeared from public view. His wanderings took him to Africa to lead a guerrilla movement which failed. He returned to Cuba, preparing a team of Cuban army officers who would accompany him to his next fighting area, Bolivia.
Guevara expected that a spreading guerrilla operation in Bolivia would force United States intervention, thus creating "two, three, or many Vietnams." Instead the Bolivian army tracked down and annihilated the guerrillas and captured Guevara on Oct. 8, 1967. The next day Guevara was executed.
Further Reading on Ernesto Guevara
Jay Mallin, ed., Che Guevara on Revolution (1969), contains Guevara's most important writings on guerrilla warfare as well as a valuable introduction. Daniel James, Che Guevara (1968), is the most complete biography. Two works on Guevara's activities in Bolivia are Luis J. Gonzales and Gustavo A. Sanchez Salazar, Che Guevara in Bolivia, translated by Helen Lane (1969), a study of Guevara's last months in Bolivia, and Richard Harris, Death of a Revolutionary:Che Guevara's Last Mission (1970), a fair-minded account of his guerrilla campaign in Bolivia and its long-range implications. Written with a left-wing point of view, Jean Larteguy, The Guerrillas (trans. 1970), is an analysis of the South American revolutionary tradition which attempts to link Guevara to Bolívar. Martin Ebon, Che:The Making of a Legend (1969), provides valuable insights into Guevara's personality and activities.