By the time Ernesto Guevara, known to us as Che, was murdered in the jungles of Bolivia in October 1967, he was already a legend to my generation, not only in Latin America but also around the world.
In 1953 Guevara graduated from the University of Buenos Aires, where he was trained as a doctor. During these years Guevara read Stalin and Mussolini but did not join radical student organizations. He made long travels in Argentina and in other Latin America countries. At the same time his critical views about the expanding economic influence of the United States deepened. In 1952 he made journey with his motor bike, an old Norton 500 single, around South America. The journey opened his eyes about the situation of the Indians and was crucial for the awakening of his social conscience. Like Jack Kerouac later in his book On the Road (1957), Guevara recorded his impressions in The Motorcycle Diaries. "The person who wrote these notes died the day he stepped back on Argentine soil," Guevara wrote in his diary. "Wandering around our 'America with a capital A' has changed me more than I thought."
THE MAKING OF GUEVARA AND THE ROAD TO HAVANA
After witnessing American intervention in Guatemala in 1954, Guevara radicalized and become convinced that the only way to bring about change was by violent revolution. He wrote in a letter to home: "Along the way, I had the opportunity to pass through the dominions of the United Fruit, convincing me once again of just how terrible these capitalist octopuses are. I have sworn before a picture of the old and mourned comrade Stalin that I won’t rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated." In Guatemala Guevara met Hilda Gadea. They married 1955 and had one child. Guevara was arrested with Fidel Castro in Mexico for a short time. He had joined Castro's revolutionaries to overthrow the Batista government. In 1956 they loaded 38-feet long motor yacht Granma full of guerrillas and weapons and sailed to Cuba, landing near Cabo Cruz on December 2.
They made their base in the mountains of Sierra Maestra, attacking garrisons and recruiting peasants to the revolutionary army. In the areas controlled by the guerrillas, Guevara started land reform and socializing process. In spite of his chronic asthma, Guevara enjoyed the hard conditions and war. Land reform become the slogan, the "banner and primary spearhead of our movement" as Guevara described it in an interview, that made eventually peasants participate in the armed struggle. Guevara was respected by his men, although considered violent - he shot Eutimio Guerra who had cooperated with dictator Fulgencio Batista's army.
In the mountains Guevara met Aleida March in 1958, 24-year-old revolutionary fighter, and she became Guevara's second wife in 1959. He continued to write his diary and composed also articles for El Cubano Libre. A selection of Gurvara's articles, which he wrote between 1959 and 1964, was published in 1963 as PASAJES DE LA GUERRA REVOLUCIONARIA. For the media Cuba was a hot subject - New York Times, Paris Match and Latin American papers sent reporters to the mountains to make stories of the revolutionaries. At the same time when Guevara was in the mountains, his uncle was Ambassador to Cuba.
Guevara rose to the rank of major and led one of the forces that invaded central Cuba in the late 1958.
GUEVARA IN POLITICS
After the conquest of power in January 1959 Guevara gained fame as the leading figure in Castro's government. He attracted much attention with his speeches against imperialism and US policy in the Third World. He argued strongly for centralized planning, and emphasized creation of the 'new socialist man'. In his famous article, 'Notes on Man and Socialism', he argued that "to build communism, you must build new men as well as the new economic base." The basis of revolutionary struggle is "the happiness of people," the the goal of socialism is the creation of more complete and more devoped human beings.
In a discussion on September 14, 1961 Guevara opposed the right of dissidents to make their views known even within the Communist Party itself. However, privately Guevara was critical of the Soviet bloc, but so was also Nikita Khruschev. When the executions of war criminals started Guevara acted as the highest prosecuting authority. The condemned were soldiers found guilty of murder, torture and other serious crimes. Because Guevara was a doctor, one of his friends once asked how he could work in such a position. Guevara's answer was like from Western movies: "Look, in this thing you have to kill before they kill you." In 1959 Guevara adopted formally the nickname Che and was granted honorary Cuban citizenship. He was visited by such intellectuals as de Beauvoir, and Sartre who saw in him the "most complete human being of our age". The most famous picture of Guevara was taken by Alberto Diaz Gutiérrez, known professionally as Korda. He declined to take royalties when the picture became worldwide icon. When a British advertising agency appropriated the image for a vodka ad Korda rejected the idea: he never drank himself," said the photographer, "and drink should not be associated with his immortal memory."
From 1961 to 1965 Guevara was minister for industries, and director of the national bank, signing the bank notes simply 'Che'. He traveled widely in Russia, India and Africa, meeting the leading figures of the world, among others Jawaharel Nehru and Nikita Khruschev. Guevara was also the architect of the close relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union. Although good relationships with Moscow become the cornerstone of Castro's foreign policy, Guevara followed the emergence of the Maoists. In 1965 Guevara made public his disappointments in Algiers and described the Kremlin as "an accomplice of imperialism". Guevara's dismissal from the ministry followed immediately on his return from Algiers.
To test his revolutionary theories Guevara resigned from his post as a politician. He had published highly influential manuals Guerrilla Warfare (1961) and Guerrilla Warfare: A Method (1963), which were based on his own experiences and partly chairman Mao Zedong's writings. President John F. Kennedy had Guerrilla Warfare rapidly translated for him by the CIA. Guevara stated that revolution in Latin America must come through insurgent forces developed in rural areas with peasant support. The is no need for right precondition for revolution - guerrilla warfare can begin the activities. In his last article, 'Vietnam and World Struggle', Guevara outlined his global perspectice for revolutionary struggle, and stressed the dual role of hate and love.
"And he did have a saving element of humor. I possess a tape of his appearance on an early episode of "Meet the Press" in December 1964, where he confronts a solemn panel of network pundits. When they address him about the "conditions" that Cuba must meet in order to be permitted the sunshine of American approval, he smiles as he proposes that there need be no preconditions: "After all, we do not demand that you abolish racial discrimination…." A person as professionally skeptical as I.F. Stone so far forgot himself as to write: "He was the first man I ever met who I thought not just handsome but beautiful. With his curly reddish beard, he looked like a cross between a faun and a Sunday-school print of Jesus…. He spoke with that utter sobriety which sometimes masks immense apocalyptic visions." (Christopher Hitchens in New York Review of Books, July 17, 1997)
During his disappearance from public life Guevara spent some time in Africa organizing the Lumumba Battalion which took part in the Congo civil war. He was not happy how Laurent Kabila fought against Joseph Mobutu, although his first impression on Kabila was positive. "Africa has a long way to go before it reaches real revolutionary maturity," Guevara concluded in his diary.
Rodríguez enters the schoolhouse to tell Che of the orders from the Bolivian high command. Che understands and says, "It is better like this ... I never should have been captured alive." Che gives Rodríguez a message for his wife and for Fidel, they embrace and Rodríguez leaves the room. (Rodríguez:2; Anderson, 796)
According to one source, the top ranking officers in La Higuera instruct the noncommissioned officers to carry out the order and straws are drawn to determine who will execute Che. Just before noon, having drawn the shortest straw, Sergeant Jaime Terán goes to the schoolhouse to execute Che. Terán finds Che propped up against the wall and Che asks him to wait a moment until he stands up. Terán is frightened, runs away and is ordered back by Colonel Selich and Colonel Zenteno. "Still trembling" he returns to the schoolhouse and without looking at Che’s face he fires into his chest and side. Several soldiers, also wanting to shoot Che, enter the room and shoot him.
In Jon Lee Anderson’s account, Sergeant Terán volunteers to shoot Che. Che's last words, which are addressed to Terán, are "I know you've come to kill me. Shoot, you are only going to kill a man." Terán shoots Che in the arms and legs and then in Che's thorax, filling his lungs with blood. (Anderson, 796)
OCTOBER 9, 1967: Early in the morning, the unit receives the order to execute Guevara and the other prisoners. Lt. Pérez asks Guevara if he wishes anything before his execution. Guevara replies that he only wishes to "die with a full stomach." Pérez asks him if he is a "materialist" and Guevara answers only "perhaps." When Sgt. Terán (the executioner) enters the room, Guevara stands up with his hands tied and states, "I know what you have come for I am ready." Terán tells him to be seated and leaves the room for a few moments. While Terán was outside, Sgt. Huacka enters another small house, where "Willy" was being held, and shoots him. When Terán comes back, Guevara stands up and refuses to be seated saying: "I will remain standing for this." Terán gets angry and tells Guevara to be seated again. Finally, Guevara tells him: "Know this now, you are killing a man." Terán fires his M2 Carbine and kills him. (Dept. of Defense Intelligence Information Report - 11/28/67).
Guevara as a young man
Moments before Guevara was executed he was asked if he was thinking about his own immortality. "No", he replied, "I'm thinking about the immortality of the revolution. When Sergeant Terán entered the hut, Che Guevara then told his executioner, "I know you've come to kill me. Shoot, coward! You are only going to kill a man! Terán hesitated, then opened fire with his semiautomatic rifle, hitting Guevara in the arms and legs. Guevara writhed on the ground, apparently biting one of his wrists to avoid crying out. Terán then fired several times again, wounding him fatally in the chest at 1:10 pm, according to Rodríguez. In all, Guevara was shot nine times. This included five times in the legs, once in the right shoulder and arm, once in the chest, and finally in the throat.
Cruel leaders are replaced only to have new leaders turn cruel.
I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting.
I know you are here to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.
Many will call me an adventurer - and that I am, only one of a different sort: one of those who risks his skin to prove his platitudes.
Silence is argument carried out by other means.
The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.
Whenever death may surprise us, let it be welcome if our battle cry has reached even one receptive ear and another hand reaches out to take up our arms.
“In fact, if Christ himself stood in my way, I, like Nietzsche, would not hesitate to squish him like a worm”
“Better to die standing, than to live on your knees.”
“Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.”
“It's a sad thing not to have friends, but it is even sadder not to have enemies.”
VIDEO: CHE DIES; PART 3
TEN THINGS ABOUT CHE....
Not so Glamorous Name
The name “Che Guevara” either incites love or hate. The name is synonymous with freedom fighting to some, and butchery to others. What most people don’t know is that Che’s real name was not quite so romantic; he was born Ernesto Lynch. That’s right – Che Guevara was actually plain old Mr Lynch. It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it does it? His surname comes from the fact that his family was half Irish. Ernesto Lynch is pictured above at the age of 22.
Che Guevara as a youth was nicknamed “Chancho” (pig) because of his bathing habits (or lack thereof) and the fact that he proudly wore a “weekly shirt” – ie, a shirt he changed once a week. All through his life people commented on his smelliness (though obviously not to his face once he had the power to execute people on a whim).
Ernesto The Geek
Contrary to the image we all have of Guevara, in his youth he was quite the geek. He loved playing Chess and even entered local tournaments. In between hanging out with his chess buddies, Ernesto would read poetry which he loved with a passion. His favorite subjects at school were mathematics and engineering. I think we could safely say that if he were a teenager today, he would be EMO. Pictured above is an artist’s impression of EMO Ernesto Lynch (AKA Che Guevara).
Cuban or not?
While Guevara is best remembered for his actions in Cuba, he was actually born in Argentina to wealthy parents and he never became a Cuban citizen. When he was born, his father said “the first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels.”
Doctor of Medicine
There seems to be some dispute about this fact around the Internet, but in June 1953, Guevara completed his medical studies and graduated as Doctor Ernesto Guevara. While studying he was particularly interested in the disease Leprosy.
In 1964, Guevara travelled to the United States to give a speech to the United Nations in New York. You can watch a portion of it in the video clip above. Whilst there he condemned the US for their racial segregation policies: “Those who kill their own children and discriminate daily against them because of the color of their skin; those who let the murderers of blacks remain free, protecting them, and furthermore punishing the black population because they demand their legitimate rights as free men — how can those who do this consider themselves guardians of freedom?”
We tend not to see Guevara as a family man, but in fact he had one child with his first wife, Hilda Gadea, a daughter who was born in Mexico City on February 15, 1956, and he had four children with his second wife, the revolutionary Aleida March. Pictured above is Camilo – Che’s son.
After hie execution, a military doctor amputated Che’s hands. Bolivian army officers transferred Guevara’s body to an undisclosed location and refused to reveal whether his remains had been buried or cremated. The hands were preserved in formaldehyde to be sent to Buenos Aires for fingerprint identification. (His fingerprints were on file with the Argentine police.) They were later sent to Cuba.
The high-contrast monochrome graphic of his face has become one of the world’s most universally merchandized and objectified images, found on an endless array of items, including t-shirts, hats, posters, tattoos, and even bikinis, ironically contributing to the consumer culture he despised. The original image was snapped at a memorial service by newspaper photographer Alberto Korda. At the time, only Korda thought highly of the shot, and hung the picture on his wall, where it stayed until an Italian journalist saw it, asked if he could have it, and Korda obliged.
Guevara remains a beloved national hero to many in Cuba, where his image adorns the $3 Cuban Peso and school children begin each morning by pledging “We will be like Che.” In his native homeland of Argentina, where high schools bear his name, numerous Che museums dot the country, and in 2008 a 12 foot bronze statue of him was unveiled in his birth city of Rosario. Additionally, Guevara has been sanctified by some Bolivian farm workers as “Saint Ernesto”, to whom they pray for assistance. Needless to say, the Catholic Church does not consider Guevara to be a saint and strongly opposes the adulation of him.
Guevara might have been enamored of his own death, but he was much more enamored of other people’s deaths. In April 1967, speaking from experience, he summed up his homicidal idea of justice in his “Message to the Tricontinental”: “hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine.” His earlier writings are also peppered with this rhetorical and ideological violence. Although his former girlfriend Chichina Ferreyra doubts that the original version of the diaries of his motorcycle trip contains the observation that “I feel my nostrils dilate savoring the acrid smell of gunpowder and blood of the enemy,” Guevara did share with Granado at that very young age this exclamation: “Revolution without firing a shot? You’re crazy.” At other times the young bohemian seemed unable to distinguish between the levity of death as a spectacle and the tragedy of a revolution’s victims. In a letter to his mother in 1954, written in Guatemala, where he witnessed the overthrow of the revolutionary government of Jacobo Arbenz, he wrote: “It was all a lot of fun, what with the bombs, speeches, and other distractions to break the monotony I was living in.”
The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for "two, three, many Vietnams," he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: "Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …"— and so on. He was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy—a tragedy on the hugest scale.
Part 1 begins on November 26, 1956, as Fidel Castro (Demián Bichir) sails into Cuban waters with 80 rebels in tow. Among those rebels is Argentine doctor Ernesto "Che" Guevara (Benicio Del Toro), a man who shares Castro's dream of overthrowing corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista. As the struggle gets under way, Guevara proves an indispensable part of the revolution due to his firm grasp on the concepts of guerilla warfare. Guevara is heartily embraced by both his comrades and the Cuban people, and quickly rises through the ranks to become first a commander, and ultimately a revolutionary hero.
Part 2 of the saga begins with Guevara at the absolute peak of his fame and power. Disappearing suddenly, Guevara subsequently resurfaces in Bolivia to organize a modest group of Cuban comrades and Bolivian recruits in preparation for the Latin American Revolution. But while the Bolivian campaign would ultimately fail, the tenacity, sacrifice, and idealism displayed by Guevara during this period would make him a symbol of heroism to followers around the world.
Part 1 and Part 2 were screened together as Che at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, and also received a limited theatrical release under that same title in US theaters later that same year
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