Article abstract: Guevara is best known as a theorist and practitioner of revolutionary guerrilla warfare in Latin America. Guevara’s writings and his ill-fated military experience in Bolivia have influenced Latin American revolutionary strategy as well as created posthumously a heroic international symbol for those who share his political ideals.
Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was born in Rosario, Argentina, on June 14, 1928, to politically conscious upper-middle-class parents. In spite of a severe asthmatic condition that persisted throughout his life, Ernesto became an active youth with adventurous personality traits. The young Guevara demonstrated leadership capabilities in sports requiring much physical endurance and skill, and was an enthusiastic hiker and traveler. Guevara undertook his most ambitious journey in 1952, when he was one year short of finishing an M.D. degree at the University of Buenos Aires. Guevara and a student companion motored and hitchhiked northward over the continent from Chile to Caracas, Venezuela.
After returning to complete his medical degree, Guevara again set out in the same direction, observing social conditions in a number of countries. In 1954, Guevara reached Guatemala, where he became a sympathetic witness to the radical reform program of Jacobo Arbenz’s government. When rebels sponsored by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overthrew this regime in late 1954, Guevara, who had endangered himself by attempting to organize support for Arbenz, received asylum in the Argentine Embassy. In early 1955, Guevara arrived in Mexico City. There he joined a group of Cuban revolutionaries under Fidel Castro who were seeking to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Following clandestine military training, Guevara, now known to his colleagues by the Argentine nickname “Che,” participated in the contingent’s landing by boat on the coast of Cuba’s Oriente Province in early December, 1956. During the next two years, Guevara distinguished himself in military actions and reached the rank of major with command of his own guerrilla column.
Guevara emerged from the victorious armed struggle as an important leader in Castro’s July 26th Movement and a trusted adviser to the Cuban revolutionary chief. On January 9, 1959, the revolutionary regime bestowed Cuban citizenship upon the Argentine-born revolutionary. Guevara soon became one of the best-known figures associated with Castro’s regime. Guevara undertook numerous diplomatic and commercial missions on behalf of the new government. Between 1959 and 1965, Guevara held several important posts in the areas of economic planning and finance. Guevara headed the Department of Industry within the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (1959), managed the National Bank (1959-1961), and served as minister of industry from 1961 to 1965. Guevara represented the most radical tendency within the Cuban revolutionary regime. Through his writings and speeches, he came to be regarded as the leading Castroist theorist on socialist economic development and revolutionary warfare. While his views were clearly Marxist and even communist in a broad sense, Che’s views were frequently at odds with those of the Soviet leadership and the Moscow-oriented Latin American Communist parties.
In his administrative posts, Guevara promoted a program of accelerated industrialization to diversify the Cuban economy. When it became clear that this overambitious project was failing and adversely affecting agricultural output, Soviet advisers recommended that the Cubans put aside this goal and return to the country’s traditional emphasis on the production and export of sugar. Although Guevara was forced to adopt this policy in 1963, he refused to abandon the long-term goal of industrialization and insisted that the Soviet Union had a moral obligation to finance Cuba in this effort. Guevara’s advocacy of moral rather than material incentives to stimulate worker productivity and create the new communist man coincided with the Maoist position in the Sino-Soviet dispute.
Guevara’s ideas on revolutionary strategy and tactics also put him in conflict with the Soviets and their allied Communist parties in Latin America. The Argentine’s concepts on revolutionary struggle are found in his now famous La guerra de guerrillas (1960; Che Guevara on Guerrilla Warfare, 1961) and in a 1963 article entitled “Guerrilla Warfare: A Method.” Guevara projected the Cuban example of hit-and-run tactics by small, highly mobile, rural-based partisan bands as the proper path to revolutionary transformations in Latin America. Armed struggle based in the countryside, Guevara asserted, was a more...
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