Che Guevara || INTRODUCTION: THE HISTORY OF A LEGENDARY REVOLUTIONARY

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, commonly known as “Che Guevara,” “El Che,” or just “Che,” is arguably one of the most famous revolutionaries in world history, certainly in the history of the last century or more. In January 2000, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, and the famous photograph that Alberto Korda took of Che, entitled “Guerrillero Heroico” (Heroic Guerrilla Fighter) has been called “the most famous photograph in the world and a symbol of the 20th century” (BBC News 2001). His name, his ideals, and his romantic image have become part of the spirit and symbolism of those who believe that the social injustices and worst forms of human exploitation in this world can be erased only by revolutionary means. Rarely in history has a single figure been so passionately and universally accepted as the personification of revolutionary idealism and practice. Moreover, even those who feel no

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sympathy for the ideals he upheld continue to be affected by the charisma of his historical persona and the enduring legacy of his revolutionary life.
He personified the revolutionary ferment that swept the world during the momentous decades of tumultuous change that shook the world during the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, a prominent Mexican political writer who was the foreign minister of Mexico from 2000 to 2003) has written the following about Che: “Many of us today owe the few attractive and redeeming features of our existence to the sixties, and Che Guevara personifies that era . . . better than anyone” (Castañeda 1997:410). More important, however, is since his death in 1967, Che’s defiant and charismatic image in the 1960s’ photographs of him has become an almost universal symbol of revolution and resistance to social injustice around the globe (Anderson 1998:xiv). Che’s iconic face appears on posters, banners, billboards, flags, books, periodicals, murals, Web sites, T-shirts, and walls in every region of the world. Indeed, his face and to a lesser extent his name are known to people of all ages everywhere. Che Guevara continues to be regarded by millions of people as a heroic figure because of his legendary revolutionary life and his self sacrifice for his revolutionary beliefs. He was a man who not only lived
by his principles but died fighting for them. Four decades after his death,
he remains a figure of veneration among the oppressed, young rebels,
radical intellectuals, social activists, revolutionaries, guerrilla fighters
of all kinds, and the international global justice movement (often referred to by the mainstream media as the anti-globalization movement). He is also hated and vilified by many people in high places and in Cuban-exile communities throughout the Americas which remain vehemently opposed to the socialist government of Cuba and to the role played by Che in this government: first as one of the most outstanding leaders of the revolutionary guerrilla war that brought this government to power and subsequently as one of the most internationally famous leaders of Cuba’s new socialist government and champion of expanding Cuban-style socialist revolutions throughout the rest of Latin America
and the world.

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Today, he is widely perceived in Latin America as “the herald” of a region-wide social revolution (Taibo 1997:10), which many Latin Americans believe is as urgently needed today as it was in the 1960s when Che gave his life fighting for this cause. In fact, the idealistic origins of this cause can be traced back to the 1800s, when many of the inhabitants of the region rose up in rebellions and revolutions against foreign domination, colonialism, slavery, and ethnic discrimination (particularly the extreme forms of discrimination suffered by the Afro Latino and indigenous peoples of the Americas).

There is increasing interest throughout Latin America in his revolutionary example and ideals due to the continuing social injustices, extreme social inequality, chronic poverty, and political corruption in the region as well as the rise of new leftist political movements and the election of popular leftist governments throughout Latin America. In response to this growing resurgence of interest in Che’s revolutionary life and the 40th anniversary of his death (October 9, 2007), a two-part biographical feature film directed by the well-known Hollywood director, screenwriter, and cinematographer Steven Soderbergh was released in 2008 at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Moreover, to memorialize in 2007 the 40th anniversary of his death and in 2008 the 80th anniversary of his birth, many international conferences and public events were held around the world, especially in Latin America and Europe.

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The extensive body of recent literature (hundreds of books and thousands of articles), video documentaries, Hollywood fi lms, Web sites, songs, poems, and works of popular art on Che Guevara have ensured that his legend lives on and that he is known to people all over the world. Many of his own writings have been published, translated into many languages, and read by people of all ages. In fact, Che’s revolutionary legend has grown as the years have passed since his death in 1967, and many of the revolutionary ideals that he lived and died for now appeal to a new generation of 21st-century men and women around the world, particularly in Latin America.

The continued political importance of his revolutionary example and ideals can be found nearly everywhere in contemporary Latin America, especially in socialist Cuba but also in Central and South America. His revolutionary image and many of his ideals have been adopted by the Zapatista liberation movement in Mexico; the newly elected leftist leaders and governments in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela; and the international global justice movement, which is composed of hundreds of environmental, women’s, indigenous peoples, fair trade, radical labor, and peace and social justice organizations around the world. Indeed, the familiar revolutionary political slogan “¡Che vive!” (Che lives!), which was shouted in the 1960s and early 1970s at antiwar protests and political demonstrations and painted as political graffiti on walls and buildings around the world, has as much political significance today in Latin America and the Caribbean as it did in the past.

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This Writing provides a comprehensive account of all aspects and periods of Che Guevara’s life. It is for readers who know very little about him as well as those who know something about him and want to know more. It provides a chronological account of his life, starting with his early life in Argentina during the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s; his travels throughout Latin America during the early 1950s; the important role he played in the Cuban Revolution during the late 1950s and early1960s; his unsuccessful revolutionary mission to Africa in 1965; his last revolutionary mission, in Bolivia, during 1966–1967; and the circumstances surrounding his death on October 9, 1967. It also discusses Che’s contributions to the theory and tactics of revolutionary warfare and socialist theory and practice.

Among other things, this writing reveals that in addition to being a famous revolutionary and international political figure, over the course of his life Che was a road and materials analyst, medical research assistant, ship’s nurse, traveling salesman, street photographer, doctor, author, head of the Central Bank of Cuba, military commander, director of Cuba’s Central Planning Board, minister of industry, and an important foreign statesman. This writing also reveals a great deal about his family life, his likes and dislikes, personality traits, and the most important people in his life. Moreover, it provides a great deal of information about the geography, history, politics, economics, and social problems of Latin America that were the context for his life and his contemporary legacy.
This writing does not focus exclusively on the life and the death of Che
Guevara. It also includes an account of the fascinating story behind
the publication of his Bolivian campaign diary, which was taken from
him when he was captured and killed by elements of the Bolivian army.
Moreover, this account of the posthumous publication of his diary is
followed by the equally fascinating story of how his body, which was
secretly buried after he was killed, was discovered in Bolivia and transferred to Cuba in 1997—30 years after his death.
The last chapters of this book examine how Che has been celebrated
and held up as a revolutionary hero by the government leaders and people of socialist Cuba and by the new leftist political leaders, movements,
and governments that have emerged in Latin America in recent years.
Thus, the last two chapters of the book focus on Che’s enduring political legacy and the important contemporary political influence of his
revolutionary example and ideals throughout Latin America and the
Caribbean.
Readers of this book are encouraged to approach the subjects discussed in the following pages with compassionate objectivity. Adopting
this perspective is especially advisable for those readers who have had
the good fortune to be raised in relatively affluent and secure living conditions and who now are fortunate enough to fi nd themselves living in
comparatively stable and nonthreatening political, economic, and social circumstances. Unlike these readers, the majority of humanity has
been raised in poverty, and they are now living in relatively unstable,
impoverished, and threatening political, economic, and social circumstances. Consequently, their views of the world around them and their
aspirations and frustrations are quite different from the views and aspirations of the minority of humanity who live in affluence and relative
security. For this reason, they are more willing to support revolutionary
leaders and movements that promise to improve their living conditions
and circumstances through the violent overthrow of the existing social
order.

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