Guevara, Ernesto "Che" (1928–1967)

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Guevara, Ernesto "Che" (1928–1967)

Ernesto "Che" Guevara (b. 14 June 1928; d. 9 October 1967), Marxist revolutionary and guerrilla. Guevara was born into a middle-class family in Rosario, Argentina. He attended medical school in Buenos Aires and received a medical degree in 1953. Guevara traveled widely throughout Latin America and arrived in December 1953 in Guatemala, where he became active in the Guatemalan revolution and met exiled Cuban revolutionaries. When U.S.-backed forces toppled the Guatemalan government in 1954, Guevara fled to Mexico.

Guevara's Cuban friends introduced him to Raúl and Fidel Castro in Mexico City during the summer of 1955. Guevara joined Castro's rebel group as one of the eighty-two revolutionaries who landed on the coast of Cuba on 2 December 1956. When Castro created a second rebel column in 1957, he promoted Guevara to commander. Guevara and his troops were among the rebel forces that entered Havana on 2 January 1959.

Guevara championed insurrection against dictatorship and U.S. imperialism throughout Latin America. His book Guerrilla Warfare, published in 1960, offered a practical guide for aspiring revolutionaries. Guevara recommended the creation of guerrilla focos in the countryside to serve as bases of operations. From the foco guerrillas would serve as a vanguard and eventually create an invincible people's army. Guevara stressed that there was no need to wait for revolutionary conditions to develop; the insurrection itself would create such conditions. Guerrilla fronts, inspired by the Cuban model and Guevara's call to arms, emerged throughout Latin America in the 1960s, but these groups had limited impact.

Guevara played a central role in the early government of revolutionary Cuba. As director of the Industrial Department of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), president of the National Bank of Cuba, and Minister of Industry, Guevara shaped the early economic policy of the revolution. He favored extensive state ownership of productive enterprises and central economic planning. Guevara sought to create a "new socialist man" dedicated to the revolution and motivated by moral rather than material incentives. He hoped ultimately to abolish money altogether. Castro sided with Guevara against opponents who favored reliance on market forces within a socialist framework, and Guevara's economic policies enjoyed official sanction until the late 1960s. Guevara also carried out numerous diplomatic missions abroad.

Eventually Guevara's influence in Cuban government waned. In 1965 he resigned his post as minister of industry. The reasons are obscure. Some scholars suggest a falling out between Guevara and Castro, while others claim Guevara left to engage in guerrilla activity. Guevara planned to use Bolivia as a base for continental revolution, and he set up a guerrilla foco there in 1966. They launched their first military action in March 1967. The movement, however, suffered numerous difficulties, including failure to win the trust of local peasants, inhospitable terrain, internal divisions, and poor relations with the Bolivian Communist Party. Bolivian troops, assisted by U.S. military advisers, inflicted serious losses on Guevara's forces. A Bolivian army unit captured Guevara and his last followers on 8 October 1967. These same troops murdered Guevara the next day. His image and political theory, however, have remained an inspiration for Latin American leftists into the 1990s.

See alsoCastro Ruz, Fidel; Cuba, Revolutions: Cuban Revolution.


Ernesto Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare, translated by J. P. Morray (1961).

Andrew Sinclair, Che Guevara (1970).

Michael Lowy, The Marxism of Che Guevara: Philosophy, Economics, and Revolutionary Warfare, translated by Brian Pearce (1973).

Ernesto Guevara, Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution: Writings and Speeches of Ernesto Che Guevara, edited by David Deutschmann (1987).

Gary Prado Salmón, The Defeat of Che Guevara: Military response to Guerrilla Challenge in Bolivia, translated by John Deredita (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Anderson, Jon Lee. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Grove Press, 1997.

Cardona Castro, Francisco-Luis. "Che" Guevara. Madrid: Edimat Libros, 2003.

Castañeda, Jorge G. Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Dosal, Paul J. Comandante Che: Guerilla Soldier, Commander, and Strategist, 1956–1967. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.

Sweig, Julia. Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.

                                     Steven S. Gillick