Che Guevara Biography

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The Icon of the Cuban Revolution

The image of the "Che" is well known throughout the world, his policies are still cornerstones of the governments of the countries he aided, and the revolutionary cause he fought for throughout the world has become immortal. 

Starting as a youthful observer driving a motorcycle through the poor places of South America, then finding success in the Cuban Revolution of the late 1950s, and finally having his life cut short by CIA-backed Bolivian soldiers, the Che Guevara biography is truly eventful.

che guevara with cigar

Cuba Pictures: Che with cigar

Early Life and Motorcycle Journey

He was born on June 14, 1928, in Rosario, Argentina. Raised by his father and mother, young Ernesto was the oldest of five children. Early on, he demonstrated an especially high aptitude in literature, sports, philosophy, and chess.

Years later, a CIA profile would describe Guevara as “quite well read” and “fairly intellectual for a Latino” (Central Intelligence Agency). In 1951, Guevara took a year off from his studies in medical school to tour South America on a motorcycle. During this journey, he penned his book, The Motorcycle Diaries, which later became a best-selling book and award-winning film.

The most important impact this trip had on Guevara was seeing the widespread poverty of the people, especially instances of wealthy landowners or corporations making large amounts of money at the expense of the people.

Revolutionary Che Guevara shop in  Havana Cuba

UPDATE March 2011 

Alberto Granado, a close friend of Che Guevara, who accompanied him during his trips through Latin America with a motorcycle, died in Havana Cuba this month.

Granado died at age 88. He settled in La Habana in 1961 where he worked in the medical sector.

He was best known as the companion of Ernesto Che Guevara in the movie "The motorcycle diaries" by the Brazilian director Walter Salles, who won an Oscar for his film in 2005.

Rise and Fall
The Cuban Revolution

Che Guevara returned home to finish his degree in medicine, earning the title Dr. Ernesto Guevara. While often practicing his skills in medicine, Guevara’s real passion was the revolutionary cause for the people. When he met Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico City in 1955 and heard about their plans with the 26th of July Movement to overthrow the Batista dictatorship in Cuba, Guevara dedicated his energies towards this cause. Originally signing on as a combat medic, Guevara found himself picking up arms once the troupe of guerilla fighters landed in Cuba with the yacht GRANMA in late 1956. The Granma yacht is now displayed near the museum of the Revolution in Havana Cuba. GRANMA is also the name of the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party.

Only 22 of the 82 men who landed in Cuba that day survived and withdrew to the hills to reorganize. Here, Guevara was promoted to Comandante, 2nd in command. A Che Guevara biography lists the commander as having great moral authority over his troops. After a brutal two year guerilla war, the growing number of Cubans who joined the forces of Castro and Guevara eventually took over the provincial capital, Santa Clara Cuba, and finally took control of the entire nation of Cuba on New Year's Eve Day, 1958. The area around the landing site was later named Granma Province

The Che Guevara rise and fall began with the Cuban revolution and ended years later in Bolivia.

The Cuba years

As a hero of the Cuban revolution, Che Guevara was appointed to various military, political, and educational roles in the new Castro government. For instance, Guevara increased the national literacy rate from between 60-76% to 96% (Kellner, 1989, p.61). Castro and Guevara also passed land reform laws, effectively hurting the pocketbooks of American agriculture corporations with production in Cuba. In retaliation, the US drastically cut imports of Cuban sugar. The Soviet Union agreed to buy the entire amount, which was passed on by the US. This strengthened Soviet-Cuban ties, later precipitating two major events. 1,400 US trained Cuban exiles launched an attack on Cuba during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Then in 1962, the Soviet Union placed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, which brought the world very close to nuclear war during the tense Cuban Missile Crisis.

Che Guevara bookshop Havana Cuba

Che Guevara - Hemingway - Fidel Castro
Revolutionary bookshop Obispo street Old Havana Cuba

Che Guevara Memorial
Plaza de la Revolución Havana Cuba

A classic trip during holidays is a visit to the Che monument on the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana, a big mural showing the head of the revolutionary leader.

The Memorial Che museum offers insights in his life, a small shop presents a selection of Che memorabilia, Che Guevara T-shirts and postcards.

Che Guevara shop Havana Cuba

Che Guevara shop Obispo street Havana

The Congo Years

A Che Guevara biography states that by 1964, Che had become a "revolutionary statesman of world stature" ("Che Guevara Remains a Hero to Cubans"). He spent his time traveling around the world meeting with political leaders. By 1965, however, Guevara vanished from the public eye, due to deteriorating relations with the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main financial backer. Later that year, Guevara appeared in the Congo to attempt to help the revolutionary cause there. Ultimately finding that there was no will to fight among the guerillas, Guevara left Africa and spent much of his time in Prague.

The Bolivia Years

The Che Guevara rise and fall began in Cuba and ended in Bolivia. By late 1966, Guevara secretly flew into Bolivia to try to once again rally the people behind a revolutionary movement. While he had a reliable group of fifty or so guerilla fighters, he could not unite the poor people of the Bolivian countryside to action. Oftentimes, the peasants turned into informants, who eventually helped the CIA backed Bolivian army to capture and execute Guevara in October 1967.

Che Guevara Biography - Memorial Plaza de la Revolucion Havana

Che Guevara Memorial
Plaza de la Revolucion Havana

Ideals of Che Guevara

Every Che Guevara biography considers this man to have been an ultimate leader, fighter, and humanitarian. Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara found his greatest successes unifying the people of Cuba against imperialistic powers and empowering the Cuban people to better themselves through education, and died while fighting for these causes.

Famous Che Guevara Quote:
Hasta La Victoria Siempre (Up to the victory forever)

Cuban music: The Che Guevara Song

Alberto Korda and Che Guevara

Alberto Korda (real name Alberto Diaz Gutierrez) born in Havana (1928) and died in Paris (2001) was a Cuban professional photographer.

His famous picture of Che Guevara, the Argentine Guerillero with the army beret and waiving hair became one of the most famous images of the twentieth century.

This image of "The Che" became an icon appearing on T-shirts, lighters, bottles of beer, keyrings, army berets and other revolutionary memorabilia.

Korda became Fidel Castro's personal photographer.

After the execution of Che Guevara in Bolivia, thousands of posters with the picture were printed and sold by the Italian publisher Feltrinelli.

The picture made publisher Feltrinelli rich. Korda never got any royalties for his work because he donated the original film pictures as a gift to Feltrinelli.

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