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Ernesto (Che) Guevara

Che Guevara biographyChe Guevara was born in Rosario in Argentine in 1928, eldest of five children in an Argentine family of Spanish, Basque and Irish descent. Early on in life Ernestito (as he was then called) developed an affinity for the poor, according to his father. He was raised in a family with leftist leanings. His family hosted many veterans from the Spanish Civil War. Although he suffered from bouts of acute asthma from a young age, Che excelled as an athlete

In 1948, Guevara began studying medicine at the University of Buenos Aires. As a young medical student, Guevara traveled throughout Latin America. His travels took him through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and to Miami, Florida. In June 1953, Che Guevara received a received a medical degree. He arrived in Mexico City in early September 1954 and worked in the allergy section of the General Hospital. He also gave lectures on medicine and worked as a news photographer for Latina News Agency.

While in Guatemala in 1954, Guevara witnessed the overthrow of the socialist government of President Jacobo Arbenz by an American backed military coup which disgusted him. In June 1955, a friend and cuban exile, Ñico López, introduced Che to Raúl Castro who later introduced him to his older brother, Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary.

Soon thereafter, Guevara joined the July 26 Movement, led by Fidel Castro who at the time was in Mexico. In 1956, Guevara, Castro and eighty other men and women arrived in Cuba in an attempt to overthrow the government of General Fulgencio Batista.

The plan of the July 26 Movement was to set up their base in the Sierra Maestra mountains of Cuba but while on the way they were attacked by government troops. By the time they reached the Sierra Maestra there were only sixteen men left with a total of twelve weapons. For the next few months, the guerrilla army raided isolated army garrisons and were gradually able to build-up their stock of weapons.

When the guerrillas took control of territory they redistributed the land amongst the peasants. In return, the peasants helped the guerrillas against Batista's soldiers. In some cases the peasants also joined Castro's army, as did students from the cities and occasionally Catholic priests.

As the only other ranked Comandante besides Fidel Castro, Guevara was a harsh disciplinarian who sometimes shot defectors. He became feared for his brutality and ruthlessness. Che was also in charge of executing suspected informers and spies. Although he maintained a demanding and harsh disposition, Guevara also viewed his role of commander as one of a teacher, entertaining his men during breaks between engagements with readings from the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Cervantes, and Spanish lyric poets.

In February 1958, Che was instrumental in creating the clandestine radio station Radio Rebelde (Rebel Radio) which broadcast news and propaganda to the Cuban people. Guevara lead columns of fighters and became an expert at leading hit and run tactics against Batista’s army. Guevara led the column that took Santa Clara on New Year's Eve 1958. Upon getting that news, Fulgencio Batista boarded a plane in Havana and fled for the Dominican Republic, along with an amassed fortune of more than $300,000,000 gotten through graft and payoffs.

After taking control of Cuba, Castro named Guevara commander of the La Cabaña Fortress prison. Between January and mid June 1959, he reviewed the appeals of those convicted during the revolutionary tribunal. It has been estimated that several hundred people were executed nationwide during this time, with Guevara's jurisdictional death total at La Cabaña ranging from 55 to 164.

On June 12, 1959, Castro sent Guevara out on a three-month tour of 14 mostly Bandung Pact countries (Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Yugoslavia, Greece) and the cities of Singapore and Hong Kong. Doing so allowed Castro to appear to be distancing himself from Che and his Marxist sympathies. Upon his return to Cuba, Castro appointed Che Guevara as leader of the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA). In that capacity, Che helped the government seize control of expropriated land and supervise its distribution, and later to set up cooperative farms. Later, Guevara was made Finance Minister as President of the National Bank, which along with Minister of Industries, made him the "virtual czar" of the Cuban economy.

Guevara, who was practically the architect of the Soviet-Cuban relationship, played a key role in bringing to Cuba the Soviet nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

In March 1965, Guevara dropped out of public life and then vanished altogether. His whereabouts were a great mystery in Cuba, as he was generally regarded as second in power. He went to Africa where he led a Cuban contingent in the chaos of the ex-Belgian Congo. From there he organized guerrilla fighters in Bolivia.

On October 9, 1967, Ernesto "Che" Guevara was put to death by Bolivian soldiers, trained, equipped and guided by U.S. Green Beret and CIA operatives.


Recommended Book
Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life
by Jon Lee Anderson

Acclaimed around the world and a national best-seller, this is the definitive work on Che Guevara. Anderson had unprecedented access to the personal archives maintained by Guevara’s widow and guarded Cuban government documents. He conducted extensive interviews with Che’s comrades—some of whom speak here for the first time—and with the CIA men and Bolivian officers who hunted him down. Anderson broke the story of where Guevara’s body was buried, which led to the exhumation and state burial of the bones.

Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life

Che Guavara
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