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Famous Like Me > Writer > G > Ernesto 'Che' Guevara

Profile of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara on Famous Like Me

Name: Ernesto 'Che' Guevara  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 14th June 1928
Place of Birth: Rosario, Argentina
Profession: Writer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna (June 14, 1928 – October 9, 1967), commonly known as Che Guevara or el Che, was an Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary and Cuban guerrilla leader. Guevara was a member of Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement that seized power in Cuba in 1959. After serving in various important posts in the new government, Guevara left Cuba in 1965 with the hope of fomenting revolutions in other countries, first in the Congo-Kinshasa (currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and later in Bolivia, where he was captured in a CIA-organized military operation. It is believed by some that the CIA wished to keep Guevara alive for interrogation but, after his capture in the Yuro ravine, he died at the hands of the Bolivian Army in La Higuera near Vallegrande on October 9, 1967. Some of those who participated in the hunting of Che, later said the United States tried to cover it up, presenting it as an entire Bolivian operation. Testimony by other individuals who were participants in, or witnesses to, events during his final hours indicates that the Bolivian government summarily executed him in order to avoid a public trial and the complications that might arise if he were incarcerated on Bolivian soil. After his death, Guevara became a hero of Third World socialist revolutionary movements, as a theorist and tactician of asymmetric warfare.


Guevara at age 13

Guevara was born in Rosario, Argentina, the eldest of five children in a family of mixed Spanish, Basque and Irish descent. The date of birth recorded on his birth certificate was June 14, 1928, although some sources assert that he was actually born on May 14, 1928 and the birth certificate deliberately falsified to shield the family from a potential scandal relating to his mother's having been three months pregnant when she was married.

One of Guevara's forebears, Patrick Lynch, was born in Galway, Ireland in 1715. He left for Bilbao, Spain, and traveled from there to Argentina. Francisco Lynch (Guevara's great-grandfather) was born in 1817, and Ana Lynch (his beloved grandmother) in 1861. Her son Ernesto Guevara Lynch (Guevara's father) was born in 1900. Guevara Lynch married Celia de la Serna y Llosa in 1927 and they had five children.

In this middle class family with leftist leanings, Guevara became known for his dynamic and radical perspective even as a boy. Though suffering from the crippling bouts of asthma that were to afflict him throughout his life, he excelled as an athlete. He was an avid rugby player despite his handicap, and earned the nickname "Fuser" for his aggressive style of play. In 1948, he entered the University of Buenos Aires to study medicine. There he also excelled as a scholar and completed his medical studies in March 1953.

While a student, Guevara spent many of his vacation breaks traveling around Latin America. In 1951, Guevara's older friend, Alberto Granado, a biochemist and a political radical, suggested that Guevara take a year off from his medical studies to embark on a trip they had talked of doing for years, traversing South America. Guevara and the 29-year-old Alberto soon set off from their hometown of Alta Gracia, riding a 1939 Norton 500 cc motorcycle nicknamed La Poderosa II meaning "the mighty one", with the idea of spending a few weeks volunteering at the San Pablo leper colony in Peru on the banks of the Amazon River during the trip. Guevara narrated this journey in The Motorcycle Diaries, translated in 1996 (and turned into a motion picture of the same name in 2004).

Through his first-hand observations of the poverty, oppression and powerlessness of the masses, Guevara decided that the only remedy for Latin America's economic and social inequities lay in revolution. His travels also inspired him to look upon Latin America not as a collection of separate nations but as a single cultural and economic entity, the liberation of which would require an intercontinental strategy. He began to develop his concept of a united Ibero-America without borders, bound together by a common 'mestizo' culture, an idea that would figure prominently in his later revolutionary activities. Upon his return to Argentina, he completed his medical studies as quickly as he could, in order to continue his travels around South America.


Following his graduation from the University of Buenos Aires medical school in 1953, Guevara went on to Guatemala, where President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán headed a populist government that, through various reforms, particularly land reform, was attempting to bring about a social revolution. Around this time, Guevara also acquired his famous nickname, "Che", due to his Argentine roots. Che (pronounced /tʃe/) is a Spanish interjection used commonly in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, some parts of Bolivia, Costa Rica and in the Portuguese of the south of Brazil. It is an exclamation, often used to get attention or express surprise, and so it corresponds in some ways to exclamations such as "hey!", "eh!" and "wow!".

It is also used in a vocative sense as though it meant "friend", and thus corresponds in some ways to expressions such as "mate", "pal", "man", "dude" that can be found in the speech of various English speakers. In English, the misspelling "Ché" (with an acute accent) and the mispronunciation /ʃeɪ/ are fairly common, probably due to French linguistic influence.

The overthrow of the Arbenz government by a 1954 CIA-backed coup d'état cemented Guevara's view of the United States as an imperialist power that would consistently oppose governments attempting to address the socioeconomic inequality endemic to Latin America and other developing countries. This helped strengthen his conviction that socialism was the only true way to remedy such problems. Following the coup, Guevara volunteered to fight, but Arbenz told his foreign supporters to leave the country, and Guevara briefly took refuge in the Argentine consulate before moving on to Mexico.


Guevara met Fidel Castro and Fidel's brother Raúl in Mexico City where the two sought refuge after being exiled from Cuba. The Castro brothers were preparing to return to Cuba with an expeditionary force in an attempt to overthrow General Fulgencio Batista, who had assumed dictatorial powers following a coup d'état during the 1952 presidential elections. Guevara quickly joined the "26th of July Movement", named in commemoration of the date of the failed attack on the Moncada barracks that was the cause of Castro's exile.

Castro, Guevara, and 80 other guerrillas departed from Tuxpan, Veracruz, aboard the cabin cruiser Granma in November 1956. (The name was most likely a tribute to the grandmother of the previous owner, an American.) Guevara was the only non-Cuban aboard.

Shortly after disembarking in a swampy area near Niquero in southeastern Cuba, the expeditionary unit was attacked by Batista's forces. Only 15 rebels survived. Guevara, the group's physician, laid down his knapsack containing medical supplies in order to pick up a box of ammunition dropped by a fleeing comrade, a moment which he later recalled as marking his transition from doctor to combatant.

After the battle of Santa Clara (January 1, 1959)

The remaining rebels fled into the Sierra Maestra mountains, where they slowly grew in strength, seizing weapons and winning support and recruits from the local peasants in rural areas and intellectuals and workers in urban areas. Guevara exhibited great courage, skills in combat, boldness and intrepidity, an outstanding self-discipline, and high expectations towards himself and others, and soon became one of Castro's ablest and most trusted aides. He also took the responsibility for the execution of several informers, deserters and spies in the revolutionary army.

Within months, Guevara rose to the highest rank, Comandante (Major), in the revolutionary army. His march on Santa Clara in late 1958, where his column derailed an armored train filled with Batista's troops and took over the city, was the final straw that forced Batista to flee the country. Guevara recorded the two years spent in overthrowing Batista's regime in a detailed account entitled Pasajes de la Guerra Revolucionaria (English translation, Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, 1968), first published in 1963. The book is composed of a series of articles that originally appeared in Verde Olivo, a weekly publication of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. A newer translation was published in 1996 under the title Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War.

Revolutionary government

After the 26th of July Movement entered the capital of Havana on January 2, 1959, a new socialist government was established. Shortly thereafter, Guevara was declared "a Cuban citizen by birth" and divorced his Peruvian wife, Hilda Gadea, with whom he had one daughter. Later he married a member of Castro's army, Aleida March. The couple would have four children together.

TIME magazine, August 8, 1960

Che Guevara became as prominent in the new government as he had been in the revolutionary army. In 1959, he was appointed commander of the La Cabaña Fortress prison. During his six months tenure in this post (January 2 through June 12, 1959), he oversaw the trials and executions of former Batista regime officials, members of the BRAC secret police, war criminals. The amount of executions vary with source. Some sources say 156 people were executed, while others claim more. Cuban journalist Luis Ortega, who knew Che as early as 1954, writes in his book "Yo Soy El Che!" that Guevara sent 1,897 men to the firing squad. The condemned were found guilty of murder, torture and other serious crimes.

Later, Guevara became an official at the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, President of the National Bank of Cuba, and Minister of Industries. In this capacity, Guevara faced the challenge of transforming Cuba's capitalist agrarian economy into a socialist industrial economy. After negotiating a trade agreement with the Soviet Union in 1960, Guevara represented Cuba on many missions and delegations to Soviet-aligned nations in Africa and Asia after the U.S. imposed an embargo on the nation.

Guevara helped guide Cuba on its socialist path. An active participant in the economic and social reforms implemented by the government, he became known in the West for his fiery attacks on U.S. foreign policy in Africa, Asia, and especially Latin America.

Che Guevara with Fidel Castro (Havana - April 1961)

During this period, he defined Cuba's policies and his own views in many speeches, articles, letters, and essays. His highly influential manual on guerrilla strategy and tactics (English translation, Guerrilla Warfare, (1961)) advocated peasant-based revolutionary movements in the developing countries. El socialismo y el hombre en Cuba (1965), published in English as Man and Socialism in Cubain 1967, is an examination of Cuba's new brand of Socialism and Communist ideology. The ideal Communist society is not possible unless the people first evolve into a 'new man' (el Hombre Nuevo). For this a socialist state would first be necessary, a ladder to be ascended and then cast away in a society of equals without states or governments.

Prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Guevara was part of a Cuban delegation to Moscow in early 1962 with Raúl Castro where he endorsed the planned placement of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. Guevara believed that the installation of Soviet missiles would protect Cuba from any direct military action against it by the United States.

The ideas presented in Guevara's book, Guerrilla Warfare, were seen for a time as the definitive philosophy for fighting irregular wars. Guevara believed that a small group (foco) of guerrillas, by violently targeting the government, could actively foment revolutionary sentiment among the general populace, so that it was not necessary to build broad organisations and advance the revolutionary struggle in measured steps before launching an armed insurrection. However, the failure of his "Cuban Style" revolution in Bolivia was thought to have been due to his lack of grassroots support there, and hence this strategy is now thought by some to be ineffective. It worked in Cuba because the people already wanted to get rid of Batista. All they needed was a vanguard to inspire them.

As a government official, Guevara served as an example of the "New Man" (el Hombre Nuevo). He regularly devoted his weekends and evenings to volunteer labour, be it working at shipyards, in textile factories or cutting sugarcane. He believed such sacrifice and dedication on the part of the people was necessary to achieve Communism through the Socialist society. Guevara was also known for his austerity, simple lifestyle and habits. For example, upon becoming a member of the government, he refused an increase in pay, opting to continue drawing the (considerably) lower salary he received as a Comandante (Major), in the Rebel Army. This austerity also manifested itself as a general dislike of luxury. Once, on a trip to Russia, Guevara was dining with high-ranking officials from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, when the group's food was served to them on expensive china. To the Russians, Guevara caustically remarked, "Is this how the proletariat lives in Russia?"

Disappearance from Cuba

Che Guevara addressing the UN (New York City - December 11, 1964)

After April 1965 Guevara dropped out of public life and then vanished altogether. He was not seen in public after his return to Havana on March 14 from a three-month tour during which he visited the People's Republic of China, the United Arab Republic (Egypt), Algeria, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Dahomey, Congo-Brazzaville and Tanzania. Guevara's whereabouts were the great mystery of 1965 in Cuba, as he was regarded as second in power to Castro himself. His disappearance was variously attributed to the relative failure of the industrialization scheme he had advocated while minister of industry, to pressure exerted on Castro by Soviet officials disapproving of Guevara's pro-Chinese Communist tendencies as the Sino-Soviet split grew more pronounced, and to serious differences between Guevara and the Cuban leadership regarding Cuba's economic development and ideological line. It may also be that Fidel had grown increasingly wary of Che Guevara's popularity and considered him a potential threat. Castro's explanations for Che's disappearance have always been suspect (see below) and many found it surprising that Che never announced his intentions publicly, but only through an undated letter to Castro.

Guevara's pro-Chinese orientation was increasingly problematic for Cuba as the nation's economy became more and more dependent on the Soviet Union. Since the early days of the Cuban revolution Guevara had been considered an advocate of Maoist strategy in Latin America and the originator of a plan for the rapid industrialization of Cuba which some (although by many seen as incorrectly) compared to China's "Great Leap Forward". According to Western "observers" of the Cuban situation, the fact that Guevara was opposed to Soviet conditions and recommendations that Castro seemed obliged to accept might have been the reason for his disappearance. However, both Ernesto and Castro were supportive of the idea of a united front, including the Soviet Union and China.

Indeed, by this point Guevara had grown more skeptical of the Soviet Union. He saw the Northern Hemisphere, led by the US in the West and the Soviets in the East, as the exploiter of the Southern Hemisphere. But he strongly supported the Communist side in the Vietnam War, despite North Vietnam's pro-Soviet position, and urged his comrades in South America to take up arms and create "many Vietnams".

Pressed by international speculation regarding Guevara's fate, Castro stated on June 16, 1965 that the people would be informed about Guevara when Guevara himself wished to let them know. Numerous rumors about his disappearance spread both inside and outside Cuba. On October 3 of that year, Castro revealed an undated letter purportedly written to him by Guevara some months earlier in which Guevara reaffirmed his enduring solidarity with the Cuban Revolution but stated his intention to leave Cuba to fight abroad for the cause of the revolution. He explained that "other nations of the world are calling for the help of my modest efforts" and that he had therefore decided to go and fight as a guerrilla "on new battlefields". In the letter Guevara announced his resignation from all his positions in the government, in the party, and in the Army, and renounced his Cuban citizenship, which had been granted to him in 1959 in recognition of his efforts on behalf of the revolution.

During an interview with four foreign correspondents on November 1, Castro remarked that he knew where Guevara was but that he would not disclose the place, and added, denying reports that his former comrade-in-arms was dead, that "he is in the best of health." Despite Castro's assurances, the fate of Guevara remained a mystery at the end of 1965. Guevara's movements and whereabouts continued to be a closely held secret for the next two years.


Listening to a shortwave radio are (seated from the left) Rogelio Oliva, José María Martínez Tamayo (known as "Mbili" in the Congo and "Ricardo" in Bolivia), and Che. Standing behind them is Roberto Sánchez ("Lawton" in Cuba and "Changa" in the Congo).
Che teaching guerrilla tactics to Congolese forces. His plan was to use the liberated zone on the western shores of Lake Tanganyika as a training ground for the Congolese and fighters from other liberation movements. To his left is Santiago Terry (codename: "Aly"), to his right, Angel Felipe Hernández ("Sitaini").

During their all-night meeting on March 14 - March 15, 1965, Guevara and Castro had agreed that he would personally lead Cuba's first military action in Africa. Some usually reliable sources state that Guevara persuaded Castro to back him in this effort, while other sources of equal reliability maintain that Castro convinced Che to undertake the mission, as the conditions in many places of Latin America were not optimal. Fidel himself has said the latter is true. The Cuban operation was to be carried out in support of the pro-Lumumba, Marxist Simba movement in the former Belgian Congo (later Zaïre and currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

In 1965, Guevara was assisted for a time in the former Belgian Congo by guerrilla leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who helped Lumumba supporters lead a revolt that was suppressed in November of that same year by the Congolese army and a large group of white mercenaries. Guevara dismissed Kabila as insignificant. "Nothing leads me to believe he is the man of the hour," Guevara wrote.

Guevara was 37 at the time and had no formal military training. His asthma prevented him from entering military service in Argentina, a fact of which he was proud, given his opposition to the government. He had the experiences of the Cuban revolution, including his successful march on Santa Clara, which was central to Batista finally being overthrown by Castro's forces.

CIA advisors working with the Congolese army were able to monitor Guevara's communications, arrange to ambush the rebels and the Cubans whenever they attempted to attack, and interdict Guevara's supply lines. Guevara's aim was to export the Cuban Revolution by teaching local Simba fighters in communist ideology and strategies of guerrilla warfare. The incompetence, intransigence and infighting of the local Congolese forces are cited by Che in his Congo Diaries as the key reasons for the revolt's failure. Later that same year, ill, suffering from his asthma and frustrated after seven months of hardship, Guevara left the Congo with the Cuban survivors (six of Guevara's column had died). At one point, Guevara considered sending the wounded back to Cuba, standing alone and fighting until the end in Congo as a revolutionary example, but after much back and forth, and after being persuaded by his comrades in arms, he left Congo.

Because Fidel Castro had made public Che's "farewell letter" to him in which he wrote that he was severing all ties with Cuba in order to devote himself to revolutionary activities in other parts of the world, Guevara felt that he could not return to Cuba for moral reasons, and he spent the next six months living clandestinely in Dar-es-Salaam, Prague and the GDR. During this time he compiled his memoirs of the Congo experience, and also wrote drafts of two more books, one on philosophy and the other on economics. Throughout this period, Castro continued to importune him to return to Cuba, but Guevara only agreed to do so when it was understood that he would be there on a strictly temporary basis for the few months needed to prepare a new revolutionary effort somewhere in Latin America, and that his presence on the island would be cloaked in the tightest secrecy.


Map of Bolivia showing location of Vallegrande

Speculation continued throughout 1966 and into 1967 as to the whereabouts of the former Minister of Industry and President of the National Bank. Finally, in a speech at the 1967 May Day rally in Havana, the Acting Minister of the armed forces, Maj. Juan Almeida, announced that Guevara was "serving the revolution somewhere in Latin America". The persistent reports that he was leading the guerrillas in Bolivia were ultimately proven true.

A parcel of jungle land in the Ñancahuazú region was purchased by native Bolivian Communists and turned over to him for use as a training area. The evidence suggests that this training was more hazardous than combat to Guevara and the Cubans accompanying him. Little was accomplished in the way of building a guerrilla army. On learning of his presence in Bolivia, President René Barrientos is alleged to have expressed the desire to see Guevara's head displayed on a pike in downtown La Paz. He ordered the Bolivian Army to hunt Guevara and his followers down.

Guevara's guerrillas, numbering about 50 and operating under the name Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Bolivia (ELN) were well equipped and scored a number of early successes in difficult terrain in the mountainous Camiri region of the country against Bolivian regulars. In September, however, the Army managed to eliminate two guerrilla groups, reportedly killing one of the leaders.

Guevara's hope of fomenting revolution in Bolivia appears to have been predicated upon a number of misconceptions. He had expected to deal only with the country's military government. However, there was a US presence in Bolivia. After the US government learned of his location, CIA operatives were sent into Bolivia to aid the anti-insurrection effort. He had expected to deal with a poorly trained and equipped national army. Instead, the Bolivian Army was being trained by US Army Special Forces advisors, including a recently organized elite battalion of Rangers trained in jungle warfare. Guevara had also not received the expected assistance and cooperation from the local dissidents when he undertook his journey, and Bolivia's Moscow-oriented Communist Party did not aid him in the insurrection. His isolation was further exacerbated by the fact that the two shortwave transmitters provided to him by Cuba turned out to be non-operational so that he was unable to send messages to Havana, and some months into the campaign the tape recorder that the guerrillas used to decode shortwave messages sent to them from Havana was lost while crossing a river.

Guevara and his associates found themselves hamstrung in Bolivia by the American aid and military trainers to the Bolivian government and a lack of assistance from his allies. In addition, the CIA also helped anti-Castro Cuban exiles set up interrogation houses for those Bolivians thought to be assisting Guevara and/or his guerrillas. Some were tortured for information.

Capture and Execution

Rodríguez with the captured Che Guevara(La Higuera, Bolivia - October 9, 1967)

The Bolivian Special Forces were notified of the location of Guevara's guerrilla encampment by a deserter. On October 8, the encampment was encircled and Guevara was captured while leading a patrol in the vicinity of La Higuera. His surrender was offered after being wounded in the legs and having his rifle destroyed by a bullet. According to soldiers present at the capture, during the skirmish as soldiers approached Guevara he allegedly shouted, "Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead". This claim is disputed, as some soldiers say this story was set loose to show Guevara in a more humiliating light. Barrientos ordered his execution immediately upon being informed of his capture. Guevara was taken to a dilapidated schoolhouse where he was held overnight. Early the next afternoon he was executed, bound by his hands to a board. The executioner was a sergeant in the Bolivian army, who had drawn a short straw and had to shoot Guevara. Several versions exist about what happened next. Some say the executioner was too nervous, left, and was forced back inside. Others say he was so nervous he refused to look Guevara in the face and shot him in the side and the throat, which was the fatal wound. The most widely agreed upon account is that Guevara received multiple shots to the legs, so as to avoid maiming his face for identification purposes and simulate combat wounds in an attempt to conceal his execution. Biting his arm to avoid crying out, he was eventually spared his pain and shot in the chest, his lungs filling with blood. Che Guevara did have some last words before his death; he allegedly said to his executioner, "I know you are here to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man". His body was lashed to the landing skids of a helicopter and flown to neighboring Vallegrande where it was laid out on a laundry tub in the local hospital and displayed to the press. Photographs taken at that time gave rise to legends such as those of "San Ernesto de La Higuera" and "El Cristo de Vallegrande". After a military doctor surgically amputated his hands, Bolivian army officers transferred Guevara's cadaver to an undisclosed location and refused to reveal whether his remains had been buried or cremated.

A CIA agent and veteran of the US invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, Félix Rodríguez headed the hunt for Guevara in Bolivia. Upon hearing of Guevara's capture Rodríguez relayed the information to CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia via CIA stations in various South American nations. After the execution, Rodríguez took Guevara's Rolex watch and several other personal items, often proudly showing them to reporters during the ensuing years.

The schoolhouse in La Higuera where Che Guevara was executed at 1:10 PM on October 9, 1967

A side issue connected with the guerrillas was the arrest and trial of Régis Debray. In April 1967 government forces captured Debray, a young French Marxist theoretician and writer who was a close friend of Fidel Castro, and accused him of collaborating with the guerrillas. Debray claimed that he had merely been acting as a reporter, and revealed that Che, who had mysteriously disappeared several years earlier, was leading the guerrillas. As Debray's trial — which had become an international cause célèbre — was beginning in early October, Bolivian authorities on October 11 reported (falsely) that Guevara had been shot and killed in an engagement with government forces on October 9.

On October 15 Castro acknowledged that the death had occurred and proclaimed three days of public mourning throughout Cuba. The death of Guevara was regarded as a severe blow to the socialist revolutionary movements throughout Latin America, and the rest of the third world countries.

In 1997, the skeletal remains of Guevara's handless body were exhumed from beneath an air strip near Vallegrande, positively identified by DNA matching, and returned to Cuba. On October 17, 1997 his remains were laid to rest with full military honours in a specially built mausoleum in the city of Santa Clara where he had won the decisive battle of the Cuban Revolution thirty-nine years before.

The Bolivian Diary

Also removed when Guevara was captured was his diary, which documented events of the guerrilla campaign in Bolivia. The first entry is on 7 November 1966 shortly after his arrival at the farm in Ñancahuazú, and the last entry is on 7 October 1967, the day before his capture. The diary tells how the guerrillas were forced to begin operations prematurely due to discovery by the Bolivian Army, explains Guevara's decision to divide the column into two units that were subsequently unable to re-establish contact, and describes their over-all failure. It records the rift between Guevara and the Bolivian Communist Party that resulted in Guevara having significantly fewer soldiers than originally anticipated. It shows that Guevara had a great deal of difficulty recruiting from the local populace, due in part to the fact that the guerrilla group had learned Quechua rather than the local language which was Tupí-Guaraní. As the campaign drew to an unexpected close, Guevara became increasingly ill. He suffered from ever-worsening bouts of asthma, and most of his last offensives were carried out in an attempt to obtain medicine.

The Bolivian Diary was quickly and crudely translated by Ramparts magazine and circulated around the world. Fidel Castro has denied involvement in this translation.

The intellectual and artistic

Guevara started playing chess by the age of 12, only later to become one of the Island's Grandmasters. After the revolution, Che's fondness for chess was rekindled, and he attended most national and international tournaments held in Cuba. He also fought and drew against the International Master Miguel Najdorf.

In his adolescence he became passionate about poetry and he wrote poems throughout his life. His favorite poet was Chilean Pablo Neruda; a volum of Neruda's poetry was found in his bag after he was killed.

He was also an avid photographer and spent many hours photographing people and places. In later travels he enjoyed photographing acheological sites.

Hero cult

Portrait of Che Guevara at the bus station in Santa Clara. The Cuban Communist Party promotes the image of Che as the "Heroic Guerrilla" and children throughout the country begin every school day with the chant: "Pioneers for Communism -- We will be like Che!"
Che Guevara's Monument and Mausoleum

While pictures of Guevara's dead body were being circulated and the circumstances of his death debated, his legend began to spread. Demonstrations in protest against his execution occurred throughout the world, and articles, tributes, and poems were written about his life and death. Even liberal elements that had felt little sympathy with Guevara's communist ideals during his lifetime expressed admiration for his spirit of self-sacrifice. He is singled out from other revolutionaries by many young people in the West because he rejected a comfortable bourgeois background to fight for those who were deprived of political power and economic stability. And when he gained power in Cuba, he gave up all the trappings of high government office in order to return to the revolutionary battlefield and ultimately, to die.

Especially in the late 1960s, he became a popular icon symbolizing revolution and left-wing political ideals among youngsters in Western and Middle Eastern culture. A dramatic photograph of Guevara taken by photographer Alberto Korda in 1960 (see Che Guevara (photo)) soon became one of the century's most recognizable images, and the portrait was simplified and reproduced on a vast array of merchandise, such as T-shirts, posters, and baseball caps. Guevara's reputation even extended into theatre, where he is depicted as the narrator in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Evita. This portrays Guevara as becoming disillusioned with Eva Perón and her husband, President Juan Domingo Perón, because of Perón's increasing corruption and tyranny. The narrator role involves creative license, because Guevara's only interaction with Eva Perón was to write her a letter in his youth, asking for a Jeep.

Guevara's remains, along with those of six of his fellow combatants during the guerrilla campaign in Bolivia, have rested since 1997 within a special mausoleum in the Plaza Comandante Ernesto Guevara in Santa Clara, Cuba. Some 205,832 persons visited the mausoleum in 2004, of whom 127,597 were foreigners. Among the tourists visiting the site were people from Argentina, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Africa, the United States, and Venezuela. Also inside the mausoleum is the original letter Guevara wrote to Castro in which he stated he would leave Cuba to continue to fight abroad for the cause of the revolution and renouncing all posts and his Cuban citizenship.

An intellectual and a thinker, Che believed in putting his theories into action. Called "the most complete human being of our age" by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Che's supporters believe he may yet prove to be the most important thinker and activist in Latin America since Simón Bolívar, leader of the South American independence movement and hero to subsequent generations of nationalists throughout Latin America.

Photo gallery

Che with his puppy "Hombrito" in the Sierra Maestra, 1958
At the memorial service for the victims of the explosion of the ship Le Coubre, March 5, 1960
Doing volunteer work cutting sugarcane, 1963
Minister of Industries, 1963
Che ("Ramon") riding a mule during the early days of the Bolivia campaign


  1. ^  While June 14, 1928 is Guevara's official date of birth, it may not be the actual date of birth. The official story is that he was born eight months after his parents married; several sources suggest that he was born earlier (the date May 14 is the most prevalent), and that his mother was already pregnant at the time of her marriage.
  2. ^  Re origin of the surname Guevara: "Basque: Castilianized form of Basque Gebara, a habitational name from a place in the Basque province of Araba. The origin and meaning of the place name are uncertain; it is recorded in the form Gebala by the geographer Ptolemy in the 2nd century ad. This is a rare name in Spain." Dictionary of American Family Names, Patrick Hanks, ed., London: 2003, Oxford University Press
  3. ^  "Fuser" was a contraction of "El Furibundo Serna". See Anderson, Jon Lee. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, New York: 1997, Grove Press, p. 28
  4. ^ "Quizás esa fue la primera vez que tuve planteado prácticamente ante mí el dilema de mi dedicación a la medicina o a mi deber de soldado revolucionario. Tenía delante de mí una mochila llena de medicamentos y una caja de balas, las dos eran mucho peso para transportarlas juntas; tomé la caja de balas, dejando la mochila ..." (English: "Perhaps this was the first time I was confronted with the real-life dilemma of having to choose between my devotion to medicine and my duty as a revolutionary soldier. Lying at my feet were a knapsack full of medicine and a box of ammunition. They were too heavy for me to carry both of them. I grabbed the box of ammunition, leaving the medicine behind ...".) First published in an article in Verde Olivo, La Habana, Cuba, February 26, 1961. Subsequently published in the book, Guevara, Ernesto Che. Pasajes de la Guerra Revolucionaria, La Habana, Cuba: 1963, Ediciones Unión.
  5. ^  Anderson, Jon Lee. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, New York: 1997, Grove Press, p. 372 and p. 425
  6. ^  Buró de Represión de Actividades Comunistas (English: Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities)
  7. ^  October 7, 1959
  8. ^  November 26, 1959
  9. ^  February 23, 1961
  10. ^  Anderson, Jon Lee. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, New York: 1997, Grove Press, p. 545
  11. ^  For complete text in Spanish, see Carta; for a generally accurate English translation, which, however, inexplicably omits the last paragraph of the letter, refer to Anderson, Jon Lee. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, New York: 1997, Grove Press, pp. 632-3.
  12. ^  Profile of Laurent Kabila by BBC News
  13. ^  Apuntes Filosóficos
  14. ^  Notas Económicas
  15. ^  English translation: National Liberation Army of Bolivia
  16. ^  Alberto Korda
  17. ^  For example, on August 31, 1967 Che wrote in his diary "Hay mensaje de Manila pero no se pudo copiar.", i.e. "There is a (coded radio) message from Manila ('Manila' being the code name for Havana) but we couldn't copy it." The content of this message has not been revealed, but it may have been of critical importance since by then Castro and the other Cubans who were directing the guerrillas' support network from Havana had to be aware of their dire straits.
  18. ^  Castañeda, Jorge G. Che Guevara: Compañero, New York: 1998, Random House, pp. xiii - xiv; pp. 401-402. Guevara's amputated hands, preserved in formaldehyde, turned up in the possession of Fidel Castro a few months later. Castro reportedly wanted to put them on public display but was dissuaded from doing so by the vehement protests of members of Guevara's family.
  19. ^ On December 30, 1998 the remains of ten more of the guerrillas who had fought alongside Guevara in Bolivia and whose secret burial sites there had been recently discovered by Cuban forensic investigators were also placed inside the "Che Guevara Mausoleum" in Santa Clara.

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