New Internationalist

The Meaning Of Che

Issue 301

Photo by ALBERTO KORDA
The meaning of Che

ERNESTO 'CHE' GUEVARA is a modern hero, a brooding, powerful symbol of selfless dedication to the poor and the oppressed. He was born into a middle-class Argentine family in 1928 and educated as a doctor.

Travelling through Latin America by motorcycle as a young man, he saw poverty first hand. He ended up in Guatemala where he witnessed a CIA-led coup against the mildly-reformist President Jacobo Arbenz. Later he joined up with a kindred spirit – Fidel Castro – in Mexico.

In Cuba, as part of Castro’s guerrilla army, Che was known for his searing intellect, bravery and military prowess. Rising quickly to the rank of Comandante, he and Fidel soon became the heart and soul of the Revolution. A self-taught Marxist, and an important political theorist in his own right, his vision of social change was pure and uncompromising: ‘I believe in the armed struggle as the only solution for people who fight to free themselves.’

He put his beliefs of the ‘new socialist man’ [sic] into practice, working around the clock. He was in his own words ‘a self-sacrificing worker’ able to give up ‘his hours of rest, his personal tranquillity, his family or his life for the Revolution’.

As Cuba edged closer to the USSR, Che grew disillusioned with growing Soviet-style bureaucracy and the emergence of new élites. In 1965 he secretly quit Cuba, travelling to the Congo and then to Bolivia to foment armed rebellions.

His credo: ‘The first duty of a revolutionary is to make the Revolution.’ In October, 1967 he was captured and murdered by the Bolivian Armed Forces. An icon was born.

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