Saturday, March 10, 2007

The "Cult of Che"

Despite the controversies, Guevara's status as a popular icon has continued throughout the world, leading commentators to speak of a global "cult of Che". A photograph of Guevara taken by photographer Alberto Korda has became one of the century's most ubiquitous images, and the portrait, transformed into a monochrome graphic, is, somewhat ironically, reproduced endlessly on a vast array of merchandise, such as T-shirts, posters, coffee mugs, and baseball caps largely for profit.

In Latin America, the perceived failures of the neo-liberal reforms of the 1990s intensified opposition to the Washington consensus, leading to a resurgence in support for many of Guevara’s political beliefs including Pan-Americanism, support for popular movements in the region, the nationalization of key industries and centralization of government. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, a group with ideological roots in Guevarism were re-elected to government after 16 years. Supporters wore Guevara T-Shirts during the 2006 victory celebrations. Bolivian president Evo Morales has paid many tributes to Guevara and installed a portrait of the Argentinian made from local coca leaves in his presidential suite. In 2006, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who has been known to address audiences in a Che Guevara T-shirt, accompanied Fidel Castro on a tour of Guevara’s boyhood home in Córdoba, describing the experience as “a real honor”. Awaiting crowds of thousands responded with calls of “We feel it! Guevara is right with us!" Guevara’s daughter Aleida also transcribed an extensive interview with Chávez where he outlined his plans for “The New Latin America”, releasing the interview in book form. Guevara remains a key inspirational figure to the Colombian guerrilla movement, the FARC, and the Mexican Zapatista group.

In North America, Western Europe and many regions outside Latin America, the image had been likened to a global brand, long since shedding its ideological or political connotations, and the obsession with Guevara has been dismissed by some as merely "adolescent revolutionary romanticism". In the United States, a country often the focus of Guevara inspired protests in the hemisphere, his image was removed from a CD carrying case after significant public opposition which compared Guevara to Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler. Retail group Target Corporation issued a public apology for producing the item. American, Latin American and European writers, Jon Lee Anderson, Régis Debray, Jorge Castañeda and others contributed to demystify the image of Guevara via articles and biographies, which detailed his life and legacy in more unidealistic terms; and, in the case of Octavio Paz, was accompanied by a critical indictment of the Marxism espoused by many in the Latin American left. Political writer Paul Berman went further, asserting that the "modern-day cult of Che" obscures the work of dissidents and what he believes is a "tremendous social struggle" currently taking place in Cuba. Author Christopher Hitchens, a supporter of the Cuban revolution in the 1960s, summarised Guevara's legacy thus: "Che's iconic status was assured because he failed. His story was one of defeat and isolation, and that's why it is so seductive. Had he lived, the myth of Che would have long since died."

Disappearance from Cuba

In December 1964 Guevara traveled to New York City as the head of the Cuban delegation to speak at the UN (listen, requires RealPlayer; or read). He also appeared on the CBS Sunday news program Face the Nation, met with a gamut of individuals and groups including U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy, several associates of Malcolm X, and Canadian radical Michelle Duclos, and dined at the home of the Rockefellers. On 17 December, he flew to Paris and from there embarked on a three-month international 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, with stops in Ireland, Paris and Prague. He also visited Pyongyang and told the press that North Korea was a model to which revolutionary Cuba should aspire. In Algiers on 24 February 1965, he made what turned out to be his last public appearance on the international stage when he delivered a speech to the "Second Economic Seminar on Afro-Asian Solidarity" in which he declared, "There are no frontiers in this struggle to the death. We cannot remain indifferent in the face of what occurs in any part of the world. A victory for any country against imperialism is our victory, just as any country's defeat is our defeat." He then astonished his audience by proclaiming, "The socialist countries have the moral duty of liquidating their tacit complicity with the exploiting countries of the West." He proceeded to outline a number of measures which he said the communist-bloc countries should implement in order to accomplish this objective. He returned to Cuba on 14 March to a solemn reception by Fidel and Raúl Castro, Osvaldo Dorticós and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez at the Havana airport.

Two weeks later, Guevara dropped out of public life and then vanished altogether. His whereabouts were the great mystery of 1965 in Cuba, as he was generally 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 bent 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. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis and what he perceived as a Soviet betrayal of Cuba when Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles from Cuban territory without consulting Castro, Guevara had grown increasingly skeptical of the Soviet Union. As revealed in his last speech in Algiers, he had come to view the Northern Hemisphere, led by the U.S. in the West and the Soviet Union in the East, as the exploiter of the Southern Hemisphere. He strongly supported Communist North Vietnam and the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War, and urged the peoples of other developing countries to take up arms and create "many Vietnams".

Guevara with members of his "reception committee" at Havana airport
(Havana - 14 March 1965)Pressed by international speculation regarding Guevara's fate, Castro stated on 16 June 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 3 October 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 declared his intention to leave Cuba to fight abroad for the cause of the revolution. He explained that "Other nations of the world summon 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 1 November, Castro remarked that he knew where Guevara was but would not disclose his location, and added, denying reports that his former comrade-in-arms was dead, that "he is in the best of health." Despite Castro's assurances, Guevara's fate remained a mystery at the end of 1965 and his movements and whereabouts continued to be a closely held secret for the next two years.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Congo (Expedition)

During their all-night meeting on March 14–March 15, 1965, Guevara and Castro had agreed that the former would personally lead Cuba's first military action in Sub-Saharan Africa.Algeria 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 Guevara to undertake the mission, arguing that conditions in the various Latin American countries that had been under consideration for the possible establishment of guerrilla focos were not yet optimal. Castro himself has said the latter is true. According to Ahmed Ben Bella, who was president of Algeria at the time and had recently held extended conversations with Guevara, "The situation prevailing in Africa, which seemed to have enormous revolutionary potential, led Che to the conclusion that Africa was imperialism’s weak link. It was to Africa that he now decided to devote his efforts."

The Cuban operation was to be carried out in support of the pro-Patrice Lumumba Marxist Simba movement in the Congo-Kinshasa (formerly Belgian Congo, later Zaire and currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Guevara, his second-in-command Victor Dreke, and twelve of the Cuban expeditionaries arrived in the Congo on 24 April 1965; a contingent of approximately 100 Afro-Cubans joined them soon afterwards. They collaborated for a time with guerrilla leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila,Kabila who helped Lumumba supporters lead a revolt that was suppressed in November of that same year by the Congolese army. Guevara dismissed Kabila as insignificant. "Nothing leads me to believe he is the man of the hour," Guevara wrote.

Although Guevara was thirty-seven at the time and had no formal military training, 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. His asthma had prevented him from being drafted into military service in Argentina, a fact of which he was proud given his opposition to Perón's government.

South African mercenaries including Mike Hoare and Cuban exiles worked with the Congolese army to thwart Guevara. They were able to monitor his communications, arrange to ambush the rebels and the Cubans whenever they attempted to attack, and interdict his supply lines. Despite the fact that Guevara sought to conceal his presence in the Congo, the U.S. government was fully aware of his location and activities: The National Security Agency (NSA) was intercepting all of his incoming and outgoing transmissions via equipment aboard the USNS Valdez, a floating listening post which continuously cruised the Indian Ocean off Dar-es-Salaam for that purpose.NSA

Guevara's aim was to export the Cuban Revolution by instructing local Simba fighters in communist ideology and strategies of guerrilla warfare. In his Congo Diary, he cites the incompetence, intransigence, and infighting of the local Congolese forces as the key reasons for the revolt's failure. Later that same year, ill with dysentery, suffering from his asthma, and disheartened after seven months of frustrations, Guevara left the Congo with the Cuban survivors (six members of his column had died). At one point Guevara had considered sending the wounded back to Cuba, then standing alone and fighting until the end in the Congo as a revolutionary example; however, after being urged by his comrades in arms and pressured by two emissaries sent by Castro, at the last moment he reluctantly agreed to leave the Congo. A few weeks later, when writing the preface to the diary he had kept during the Congo venture, he began it with the words: "This is the history of a failure."

Saturday, February 03, 2007


On 7 July 1953, Guevara set out on a trip through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. During the final days of December 1953 he arrived in Guatemala where leftist President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán headed an elected populist government that, through land reform and other initiatives, was attempting to bring an end to the U.S.-dominated latifundia system. In a contemporaneous letter to his Aunt Beatriz, Guevara explained his motivation for settling down for a time in Guatemala: "In Guatemala", he wrote, "I will perfect myself and accomplish whatever may be necessary in order to become a true revolutionary."

Shortly after reaching Guatemala City, Guevara acted upon the suggestion of a mutual friend that he seek out Hilda Gadea Acosta, a Peruvian economist who was living and working there. Gadea, whom he would later marry, was well-connected politically as a result of her membership in the socialist American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) led by Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, and she introduced Guevara to a number of high-level officials in the Arbenz government. He also re-established contact with a group of Cuban exiles linked to Fidel Castro whom he had initially met in Costa Rica; among them was Antonio "Ñico" López, associated with the attack on the "Carlos Manuel de Céspedes" barracks in Bayamo in the Cuban province of Oriente, and who would die at Ojo del Toro bridge soon after the Granma landed in Cuba. Guevara joined these "moncadistas" in the sale of religious objects related to the Black Christ of Esquipulas, and he also assisted two Venezuelan malaria specialists at a local hospital. It was during this period that he acquired his famous nickname, "Che", due to his frequent use of the Argentine interjection Che (pronounced /tʃe/), which is used in much the same way as "hey", "pal", "eh", or "mate" are employed colloquially in various English-speaking countries. Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil (where the interjection is rendered 'tchê' in written Portuguese) are the only areas where this expression is used, making it a trademark of the Rioplatense region.

Guevara's attempts to obtain a medical internship were unsuccessful and his economic situation was often precarious, leading him to pawn some of Hilda's jewelry. Political events in the country began to move quickly after May 15, 1954 when a shipment of Skoda infantry and light artillery weapons sent from Communist Czechoslovakia for the Arbenz Government arrived in Puerto Barrios aboard the Swedish ship Alfhem. The amount of Czech weaponry was estimated to be 2000 tons by the CIA though only 2 tons by Jon Lee Anderson. (Anderson's tonnage estimate is thought to be a typographical error due to how few scholarly sources support it.) Guevara briefly left Guatemala for El Salvador to pick up a new visa, then returned to Guatemala only a few days before the CIA-sponsored coup attempt led by Carlos Castillo Armas began. The anti-Arbenz forces tried, but failed, to stop the trans-shipment of the Czechoslovak weapons by train. However, after pausing to regroup and recover energy, Castillo Armas' column seized the initiative and, apparently with the assistance of US air support, started to gain ground. Guevara was eager to fight on behalf of Arbenz and joined an armed militia organized by the Communist Youth for that purpose; but, frustrated with the group's inaction, he soon returned to medical duties. Following the coup, he again volunteered to fight but his efforts were thwarted when Arbenz took refuge in the Mexican Embassy and told his foreign supporters to leave the country. After Gadea was arrested, Guevara sought protection inside the Argentine consulate where he remained until he received a safe-conduct pass some weeks later. At that point, he turned down a free seat on a flight back to Argentina that was proffered to him by the Embassy, preferring instead to make his way to Mexico.

The overthrow of the Arbenz regime by a coup d'état backed by the Central Intelligence Agency cemented Guevara's view of the United States as an imperialist power that would implacably oppose and attempt to destroy any government that sought to redress the socioeconomic inequality endemic to Latin America and other developing countries. This strengthened his conviction that socialism achieved through armed struggle and defended by an armed populace was the only way to rectify such conditions.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Congo (Interlude)

Because Castro had made public Guevara's "farewell letter" to him — a letter Guevara had intended should only be revealed in case of his death — wherein he had written that he was severing all ties to Cuba in order to devote himself to revolutionary activities in other parts of the world, he felt that he could not return to Cuba with the other surviving combatants for moral reasons, and he spent the next six months living clandestinely in Dar-es-Salaam, and Prague. During this time he compiled his memoirs of the Congo experience, and wrote the drafts of two more books, one on philosophy and the other on economics. He also visited several countries in Western Europe in order to "test" a new false identity and the corresponding documentation (passport, etc.) created for him by Cuban Intelligence that he planned to use to travel to South America. 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.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Speculation on Guevara's whereabouts continued throughout 1966 and into 1967. Representatives of the Mozambican independence movement FRELIMO reported meeting with Guevara in late 1966 or early 1967 in Dar es Salaam, at which point they rejected his offer of aid in their revolutionary project. In a speech at the 1967 May Day rally in Havana, the Acting Minister of the armed forces, Major 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 eventually shown to be true.

At Castro's behest, a 3,700 acre parcel of jungle land in the remote Ñancahuazú region had been purchased by native Bolivian Communists for Guevara to use as a training area and base camp Camp. The evidence suggests that the training at this camp in the Ñancahuazú valley was more hazardous than combat to Guevara and the Cubans accompanying him. Little was accomplished in the way of building a guerrilla army. Former Stasi operative Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider, better known by her nom de guerre "Tania", who had been installed as his primary agent in La Paz, was reportedly also working for the KGB and is widely inferred to have unwittingly served Soviet interests by leading Bolivian authorities to Guevara's trail. The numerous photographs taken by and of Guevara and other members of his guerrilla group that they left behind at their base camp after the initial clash with the Bolivian army in March 1967 provided President René Barrientos with the first proof of his presence in Bolivia; after viewing them, Barrientos allegedly stated that he wanted Guevara's head displayed on a pike in downtown La Paz. He thereupon ordered the Bolivian Army to hunt Guevara and his followers down.

Guevara's guerrilla force, numbering about 50 and operating as the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Bolivia; English: "National Liberation Army of Bolivia"), was well equipped and scored a number of early successes against Bolivian regulars in the difficult terrain of the mountainous Camiri region. In September, however, the Army managed to eliminate two guerrilla groups, reportedly killing one of the leaders.

Despite the violent nature of the conflict, Guevara gave medical attention to all of the wounded Bolivian soldiers whom the guerrillas took prisoner, and subsequently released them. Even after his last battle at the Quebrada del Yuro, in which he had been wounded, when he was taken to a temporary holding location and saw there a number of Bolivian soldiers who had also been wounded in the fighting, he offered to give them medical care. (His offer was turned down by the Bolivian officer in charge.)

Guevara's plan for fomenting revolution in Bolivia appears to have been based upon a number of misconceptions:

He had expected to deal only with the country's military government and its poorly trained and equipped army. However, after the U.S. government learned of his location, CIA and other operatives were sent into Bolivia to aid the anti-insurrection effort. The Bolivian Army was being trained and supplied by U.S. Army Special ForcesUSMilitary advisors, including a recently organized elite battalion of Rangers trained in jungle warfare that set up camp in La Esperanza, a small settlement close to the guerrillas' zone of operations.
Guevara had expected assistance and cooperation from the local dissidents. He did not receive it; and Bolivia's Communist Party, under the leadership of Mario Monje, was oriented towards Moscow rather than Havana and did not aid him, despite having promised to do so. (Some members of the Bolivian Communist Party did join/support him, such as Coco and Inti Peredo, Rodolfo Saldaňa, Serapio Aquino Tudela, and Antonio Jiménez Tardio, against the Party leadership's wishes.)
He had expected to remain in radio contact with Havana. However, the two shortwave transmitters provided to him by Cuba were faulty, so that the guerrillas were unable to communicate with Havana. (In this, and in many other respects, Manuel Piñeiro, the man to whom Castro had assigned the task of coordinating support for Guevara's operations in Bolivia, performed abysmally.) To further complicate matters, some months into the campaign, the tape recorder that the guerrillas used to record and decipher the one-time pad-encoded radio messages sent to them from Havana was lost while crossing a river, making de-coding such messages more difficult.Message
In addition, his penchant for confrontation rather than compromise appears to have contributed to his inability to develop successful working relationships with local leaders in Bolivia, just as it had in the Congo. This tendency had surfaced during his guerrilla warfare campaign in Cuba as well, but had been kept in check there by the timely interventions and guidance of Castro.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Family heritage and early life

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was born in Rosario, Argentina, the eldest of five children in a family of Spanish and Irish descent; both his father and mother were of Basque ancestry.Basque The date of birth recorded on his birth certificate was June 14, 1928, although one tertiary source (Julia Constenla, quoted by Jon Lee Anderson) asserts that he was actually born on May 14 of that year. (Constenla alleges that she was told by an unidentified astrologer that his mother, Celia de la Serna, was already pregnant when she and Ernesto Guevara Lynch were married and that the birthdate of their son was forged a month later than the actual date to avoid scandal.) 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 1868Galway 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 three sons and two daughters.

Growing up in this upper-class family with leftist leanings, Guevara became known for his dynamic personality and radical perspective even as a boy. He idolized Francisco Pizarro and yearned to have been one of his soldiers. 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 union player despite his handicap and earned himself the nickname "Fuser" — a contraction of "El Furibundo" (English: "The Raging") and his mother's surname, "Serna" — for his aggressive style of play.

Guevara on a burro at the age of 3Guevara learned chess from his father and began participating in local tournaments by the age of 12. During his adolescence he became passionate about poetry, especially that of Pablo NerudaNeruda[›]. Guevara, as is common practice among Latin Americans of his class, also wrote poems throughout his life. He was an enthusiastic and eclectic reader, with interests ranging from adventure classics by Jack London, Emilio Salgari and Jules Verne to essays on sexuality by Sigmund Freud and treatises on social philosophy by Bertrand Russell. In his late teens, he developed a keen interest in photography and spent many hours photographing people, places and, during later travels, archaeological sites.

With his parents and siblings in 1936In 1948 Guevara entered the University of Buenos Aires to study medicine. While a student, he spent long periods traveling around Latin America. In 1951 his older friend, Alberto Granado, a biochemist, suggested that Guevara take a year off from his medical studies to embark on a trip they had talked of making for years, traversing South America. Guevara and the 29-year-old Granado soon set off from their hometown of Alta Gracia astride a 1939 Norton 500 cc motorcycle they named La Poderosa II (English: "the Mighty One, the Second") with the idea of spending a few weeks volunteering at the San Pablo Leper colony in Peru on the banks of the Amazon River. Guevara narrated this journey in The Motorcycle Diaries, which was translated into English in 1996 and used in 2004 as the basis for a motion picture of the same name.

Witnessing the widespread poverty, oppression and disenfranchisement throughout Latin America, and influenced by his readings of Marxist literature, Guevara decided that the only solution for the region’s inequalities was armed revolution. His travels and readings also led him to view Latin America not as a group of separate nations but as a single entity requiring a continent-wide strategy for liberation. His conception of a borderless, united Ibero-America sharing a common 'mestizo' cultureIbero-America[›] was a theme that would prominently recur during his later revolutionary activities. Upon returning to Argentina, he expedited the completion of his medical studies in order to resume his travels in Central and South America and received his diploma on 12 June 1953.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Capture and execution

The Bolivian Special Forces were notified of the location of Guevara's guerrilla encampment by an informant. On 8 October, the encampment was encircled, and Guevara was captured while leading a detachment with Simeón Cuba Sarabia in the Quebrada del Yuro ravine. He was taken prisoner after being wounded in the legs and having his rifle destroyed by a bullet. According to some soldiers present at the capture, during the skirmish as they approached Guevara, he allegedly shouted, "Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead."

Barrientos promptly ordered his execution upon being informed of his capture.Barrientos Guevara was taken to a dilapidated schoolhouse in the nearby village of La Higuera where he was held overnight. Early the next afternoon he was executed. The executioner was Mario Terán, a Sergeant in the Bolivian army who had drawn a short straw after arguments over who got the honour of killing Guevara broke out among the soldiers. 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. 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 (Local people came to refer to Guevara as a saint, "San Ernesto de La Higuera", whom they ask for favors. Others claim his ghost walks the area.). 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.Amputation

The hunt for Guevara in Bolivia was headed by Félix Rodríguez, a CIA agent, who previously had infiltrated Cuba to prepare contacts with the rebels in the Escambray Mountains and the anti-Castro underground in Havana prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion, and had been successfully extracted from Cuba afterwards. 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. Today, some of these belongings, including his flashlight, are on display at the CIA.

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

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 17 October 1997, his remains, along with those of six of his fellow combatants killed during the guerrilla campaign in Bolivia, were laid to rest with full military honors in a specially built mausoleumMausoleum in the city of Santa Clara, where he had won the decisive battle of the Cuban Revolution.