Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (1928-1967) was an Argentine physician and revolutionary who played a key role in the Cuban Revolution. He also served in the government of Cuba after the communist takeover before leaving Cuba to try and stir up rebellions in Africa and South America. He was captured and executed by Bolivian security forces in 1967. Today, he is considered by many to be a symbol of rebellion and idealism, while others see him as a murderer.
Ernesto was born into a middle class family in Rosario, Argentina. His family was somewhat aristocratic and could trace their lineage to the early days of Argentine settlement. The family moved around a great deal while Ernesto was young. He developed severe asthma early in life: the attacks were so bad that witnesses were occasionally scared for his life. He was determined to overcome his ailment, however, and was very active in his youth, playing rugby, swimming and doing other physical activities. He also received an excellent education.
In 1947 Ernesto moved to Buenos Aires to care for his elderly grandmother. She died shortly thereafter and he began medical school: some believe that he was driven to study medicine because of his inability to save his grandmother. He was a believer in the human side of medicine: that a patient's state of mind is as important as the medicine he or she is given. He remained very close to his mother and stayed fit through exercise, although his asthma continued to plague him. He decided to take a vacation and put his studies on hold.
The Motorcycle Diaries
At the end of 1951, Ernesto set off with his good friend Alberto Granado on a trip north through South America. For the first part of the trip, they had a Norton motorcycle, but it was in poor repair and had to be abandoned in Santiago. They traveled through Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, where they parted ways. Ernesto continued to Miami and returned to Argentina from there. Ernesto kept notes during his trip, which he subsequently made into a book named The Motorcycle Diaries. It was made into an award-winning movie in 2004. The trip showed him the poverty and misery all throughout Latin America and he wanted to do something about it, even if he did not know what.
Ernesto returned to Argentina in 1953 and finished medical school. He left again almost immediately, however, heading up the western Andes and traveling through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia before reaching Central America. He eventually settled for a while in Guatemala, at the time experimenting with significant land reform under President Jacobo Arbenz. It was about this time that he acquired his nickname "Che," an Argentine expression meaning (more or less) "hey there." When the CIA overthrew Arbenz, Che tried to join a brigade and fight, but it was over too quickly. Che took refuge in the Argentine Embassy before securing a safe passage to Mexico.
Mexico and Fidel
In Mexico, Che met and befriended Raúl Castro, one of the leaders in the assault on the Moncada Barracks in Cuba in 1953. Raúl soon introduced his new friend to his brother Fidel, leader of the 26th of July movement which sought to remove Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista from power. The two hit it right off. Che had been looking for a way to strike a blow against the imperialism of the United States that he had seen firsthand in Guatemala and elsewhere in Latin America. Che eagerly signed on for the revolution, and Fidel was delighted to have a doctor. At this time, Che also became close friends with fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos.
Che was one of 82 men who piled onto the yacht Granma in November, 1956. The Granma, designed for only 12 passengers and loaded with supplies, gas and weapons, barely made it to Cuba, arriving on December 2. Che and the others made for the mountains, but were tracked down and attacked by security forces. Less than 20 of the original Granma soldiers made it into the mountains: the two Castros, Che and Camilo were among them. Che had been wounded, shot during the skirmish. In the mountains, they settled in for a long guerrilla war, attacking government posts, releasing propaganda and attracting new recruits.