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Che Guevara

(May 14, 1928—October 9, 1967)

Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna, commonly known asChe Guevara, was an Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary and Cuban guerrilla leader. Guevara was a member of Fidel Castro's "26th of July Movement," which seized power in Cuba in 1959. After serving various important posts in the new government, Guevara left Cuba in 1966 with the hope of fomenting revolutions in other countries, first in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and later in Bolivia, where he was captured in a CIA-organized military operation. The CIA wanted to keep him alive for interrogation, but he was executed by the Bolivian army. His death launched his reputation to new heights as a martyr.

Most of his early education has been provided by his mother at home. He has been reported to have readwidely and deeply from his father's library, encounteringMarx andFreud in his early teens. In 1941, he attended the Colegio Nacional Dean Funes, a secondary school inCordoba. Enrolling in the University of Buenos Aires in 1948, he studied medicine and became interested in leprosy.

He made a 4,000 mile long journey through Northern Argentina alone on a moped, encountering many indigenous tribes and experiencing first hand the impoverished conditions of their lives. In 1951, he took off on a motorcycle journey with his good friend, Alberto Granado. They traveled from Buenos Aires, down the coast of Argentina, through the Andes into Chile, and then north into Peru, Columbia and Venezuela. The diary Che kept during this time has been published as:The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey around South America.

He qualified as a doctor in 1953, specializing in dermatology. Around this time he has been exposed to the attempted worker reforms following the National Revolution of 1952 in Boliva.

Walks and hitchhikes to Guatemala, witnesses the overthrow of the radical socialist government of Jacobo Arbenz by USA-supported Castillo Armas. He could not help but note the vital role that theCIA played in the counter-revolution. So he established connections with Peruvian Apristas and other Latin American radicals.

In September of 1954, he moved to Mexico City, finding work in the General Hospital. Through Hilda Gadea, a Peruvian Marxist, hemetFidel Castro and involves himself in the planned invasion ofCuba. He married Gadea. They had a daughter, Hildita.

Under the influence of Castro, Alberto Bayo and the writings ofMao Tse-tung, he began to form the primary axioms of his philosophy of guerrilla warfare. In this time he also began to be called 'Che', for his habit of ending his sentences and calling his friends 'Che'- which is an Argentinian expression for buddy.

In 1956, the revolutionaries land in Cuba on the "yacht"Granma, initiating a three-year guerrilla war against the dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Che was included at first for his medical expertise but soon rised through the ranks to become the Commandante of the Revolutionary Army of Barbutos. In this role, he is directly responsible for dozens of executions of defectors and Batista loyalists. The revolutionaries succeed in overthrowing the Batista regime in January of 1959. Che was now considered second only to Castro, who appoints him Governor of the National Bank.

He married Aleida March de la Torre, with whom he eventually had four children.

He was made Minister for Industry in 1961, becomes increasingly hostile towards US interests in the Cuban economy, and strengthens relationship with USSR. DuringtheCuban Missile Crisis, Che advocates nuclear confrontation. Becomes disillusioned withSovietCommunism, makes a formal break in a speech delivered in February of 1965. Che goes underground, traveling through Africa, eventually assembling a group of Cubans to fight in the Kinshasa rebellion in the Congo. The rebellion fails and Che withdraws in August of 1965.

Castro informally removed Guevara from office, their ideas for the future of Cuba having radically diverged. He disguised himself as Uraguayan economist, shaved off his beard and not wearing his famous beret, in order to travel incognito through Latin America.

In November 1966, he led a group of guerrillas through southeastern Bolivia, hoping to inspire the peasants and workers into a revolutionary movement that would spread all throughout Latin America, sparking off "twenty newVietnams". Dispirited by casualties, illness and depression, the ragged group is cornered by a Bolivian battalion (which had been trained by US Special Forces in anti-guerrilla warfare) in a gorge on October 8. Two jets and a helicopter provide air support. Che is taken to the nearby town of La Higuera.

He refused all attempts at interrogation by CIA and Bolivan officials. The Bolivian president, General Rene Barrientos, orders the execution of Guevara as soon as possible.

9 October 1967. After a few false starts and Che's telling them to get it over with, six or more shots were fired into Guevara's torso. One version of his reported last words were: "I knew you were going to shoot me; I should never have been taken alive. Tell Fidel that this failure does not mean the end of the revolution, that it will triumph elsewhere. Tell Aleida to forget this, remarry and be happy, and keep the children studying. Ask the soldiers to aim well." Others have claimed his last words to have been: "Shoot, coward! You are going to kill a man."

After his death, a death mask was made and his hands were cut off to ensure identification. His body was buried in a secret grave. Guevara was 39 years old.

 In June of 1997, a team of Cuban and Argentinian scientists recovered the skeleton, missing both hands, of Guevara in the town of Vallegrande, Bolivia. The bones have since been "repatriated" to Cuba.

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