Friday, September 11, 2015


Intellectual and literary interests

22-year-old Guevara in 1951
Guevara learned chess from his father and began participating in local tournaments by age 12. During adolescence and throughout his life he was passionate about poetry, especially that of Pablo NerudaJohn KeatsAntonio MachadoFederico García LorcaGabriela MistralCésar Vallejo, and Walt Whitman.[29] He could also recite Rudyard Kipling's "If—" and José Hernández's Martín Fierro from memory.[29] The Guevara home contained more than 3,000 books, which allowed Guevara to be an enthusiastic and eclectic reader, with interests including Karl MarxWilliam FaulknerAndré GideEmilio Salgari and Jules Verne.[30] Additionally, he enjoyed the works of Jawaharlal NehruFranz KafkaAlbert Camus,Vladimir Lenin, and Jean-Paul Sartre; as well as Anatole FranceFriedrich EngelsH. G. Wells, and Robert Frost.[31]
black and white photograph of two men on a raft, fitted with a large hut. The far bank of the river is visible in the far distance
Guevara (right) with Alberto Granado(left) aboard their "Mambo-Tango" wooden raft on the Amazon River in June 1952. The raft was a gift from thelepers whom they had treated.[3
As he grew older, he developed an interest in the Latin American writersHoracio QuirogaCiro AlegríaJorge IcazaRubén Darío, and Miguel Asturias.[31] Many of these authors' ideas he cataloged in his own handwritten notebooks of concepts, definitions, and philosophies of influential intellectuals. These included composing analytical sketches ofBuddha and Aristotle, along with examining Bertrand Russell on love and patriotism, Jack London on society, and Nietzsche on the idea of death. Sigmund Freud's ideas fascinated him as he quoted him on a variety of topics from dreams and libido to narcissism and the Oedipus complex.[31] His favorite subjects in school included philosophy, mathematics, engineering, political sciencesociology, history andarchaeology.[32][33]
Years later, a February 13, 1958, declassified CIA 'biographical and personality report' would make note of Guevara's wide range of academic interests and intellect, describing him as "quite well read" while adding that "Che is fairly intellectual for a Latino."[34]
The journey took Guevara through Argentina, Chile, Peru, EcuadorColombiaVenezuelaPanama, andMiami, Florida, for 20 days,[41] before returning home to Buenos Aires. By the end of the trip, he came to view Latin America not as collection of separate nations, but as a single entity requiring a continent-wide liberation strategy. His conception of a borderless, united Hispanic America sharing a common Latino heritage was a theme that recurred prominently during his later revolutionary activities. Upon returning to Argentina, he completed his studies and received his medical degree in June 1953, making him officially "Dr. Ernesto Guevara".[42][43]
Guevara later remarked that through his travels in Latin America, he came in "close contact with poverty, hunger and disease" along with the "inability to treat a child because of lack of money" and "stupefaction provoked by the continual hunger and punishment" that leads a father to "accept the loss of a son as an unimportant accident". It was these experiences which Guevara cites as convincing him that in order to "help these people", he needed to leave the realm of medicine, and consider the political arena of armed struggle.[6]

Algiers, the Soviets, and China

In Algiers, Algeria, on February 24, 1965, Guevara made what turned out to be his last public appearance on the international stage when he delivered a speech at an economic seminar on Afro-Asian solidarity.[163] He specified the moral duty of the socialist countries, accusing them of tacit complicity with the exploiting Western countries. He proceeded to outline a number of measures which he said the communist-bloc countries must implement in order to accomplish the defeat of imperialism.[164] Having criticized the Soviet Union (the primary financial backer of Cuba) in such a public manner, he returned to Cuba on March 14 to a solemn reception by Fidel and Raúl Castro, Osvaldo Dorticós and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez at the Havana airport.
As revealed in his last public speech in Algiers, Guevara 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 in the Vietnam War, and urged the peoples of other developing countries to take up arms and create "many Vietnams".[165] Che's denunciations of the Soviets made him popular among intellectuals and artists of the Western European left who had lost faith in the Soviet Union, while his condemnation of imperialism and call to revolution inspired young radical students in the United States, who were impatient for societal change.[166]
Moreover, the coincidence of Guevara's views with those expounded by the Chinese Communist leadership under Mao Zedong was increasingly problematic for Cuba as the nation's economy became more and more dependent on the Soviet Union. Since the early days of the Cuban revolution, Guevara had been considered by many an advocate of Maoist strategy in Latin America and the originator of a plan for the rapid industrialization of Cuba that was often compared to China's "Great Leap Forward". Castro became weary of Guevara's opposition to Soviet conditions and recommendations: measures that Castro saw as necessary, but which Guevara described as corrupt and "pre-monopolist".[167]

In Guevara's private writings from this time (since released), he displays his growing criticism of the Soviet political economy, believing that the Soviets had "forgotten Marx".[168] This led Guevara to denounce a range of Soviet practices including what he saw as their attempt to "air-brush the inherent violence of class struggleintegral to the transition from capitalism to socialism", their "dangerous" policy of peaceful co-existence with the United States, their failure to push for a "change in consciousness" towards the idea of work, and their attempt to "liberalize" the socialist economy. Guevara wanted the complete elimination of money, interest,commodity production, the market economy, and "mercantile relationships": all conditions that the Soviets argued would only disappear when world communism was achieved.[168] Disagreeing with this incrementalist approach, Guevara criticized the Soviet Manual of Political Economy, correctly predicting that if USSR would not abolish the law of value (as Guevara desired), it would eventually return to capitalism.[168]

Two weeks after his Algiers speech, Guevara dropped out of public life and then vanished altogether.[citation needed] His whereabouts were a great mystery in Cuba, as he was generally regarded as second in power to Castro himself.[citation needed] His disappearance was variously attributed to the failure of the industrialization scheme he had advocated while minister of industries[citation needed], to pressure exerted on Castro by Soviet officials disapproving of Guevara's pro-Chinese Communist stance on the Sino-Soviet split[citation needed], and to serious differences between Guevara and the pragmatic Castro regarding Cuba's economic development and ideological line.[citation needed] Pressed by international speculation regarding Guevara's fate, Castro stated on June 16, 1965, that the people would be informed when Guevara himself wished to let them know.[citation needed]Still, rumors spread both inside and outside Cuba to the missing Guevara's whereabouts.[citation needed]
On October 3, 1965, Castro publicly revealed an undated letter purportedly written to him by Guevara around seven months earlier which was later titled Che Guevara's "farewell letter". In the letter, Guevara reaffirmed his enduring solidarity with the Cuban Revolution but declared his intention to leave Cuba to fight for the revolutionary cause abroad. Additionally, he resigned from all his positions in the Cuban government and communist party, and renounced his honorary Cuban citizenship.[169]


Main article: Ñancahuazú Guerrilla
In late 1966, Guevara's location was still not public knowledge, although representatives of Mozambique's independence movement, the FRELIMO, reported that they met with Guevara in late 1966 in Dar es Salaam regarding his offer to aid in their revolutionary project, an offer which they ultimately rejected.[186]In a speech at the 1967 International Workers' 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".
Before he departed for Bolivia, Guevara altered his appearance by shaving off his beard and much of his hair, also dying it grey so he would be unrecognizable as Che Guevara.[187] On November 3, 1966, Guevara secretly arrived in La Paz on a flight from Montevideo under the false name Adolfo Mena González, posing as a middle-aged Uruguayan businessman working for the Organization of American States.[188]
Three days after his arrival in Bolivia, Guevara left La Paz for the rural south east region of the country to form his guerrilla army. Guevara's first base camp was located in the montane dry forestin the remote Ñancahuazú region. Training at the camp in the Ñancahuazú valley proved to be hazardous, and little was accomplished in way of building a guerrilla army. The Argentine-born East German operative Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider, better known by her nom de guerre "Tania", had been installed as Che's primary agent in La Paz.[189][190]
Guevara's guerrilla force, numbering about 50 men[191] and operating as the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Bolivia; "National Liberation Army of Bolivia"), was well equipped and scored a number of early successes against Bolivian army regulars in the difficult terrain of the mountainous Camiri region during the early months of 1967. As a result of Guevara's units' winning several skirmishes against Bolivian troops in the spring and summer of 1967, the Bolivian government began to overestimate the true size of the guerrilla force.[192] But in August 1967, the Bolivian Army managed to eliminate two guerrilla groups in a violent battle, reportedly killing one of the leaders.
Researchers hypothesize that Guevara's plan for fomenting a revolution in Bolivia failed for an array of reasons:
  • He had expected to deal only with the Bolivian military, who were poorly trained and equipped, and was unaware that the United States government had sent a team of the CIA's Special Activities Division commandos and other operatives into Bolivia to aid the anti-insurrection effort. The Bolivian Army would also be trained, advised, and supplied by U.S. Army Special Forces including a recently organized elite battalion of U.S. Rangers trained in jungle warfare that set up camp in La Esperanza, a small settlement close to the location of Guevara's guerrillas.[193]
  • Guevara had expected assistance and cooperation from the local dissidents that he did not receive, nor did he receive support from Bolivia's Communist Party under the leadership of Mario Monje, which was oriented toward Moscow rather than Havana. In Guevara's own diary captured after his death, he wrote about the Communist Party of Bolivia, which he characterized as "distrustful, disloyal and stupid".[194]

  • He had expected to remain in radio contact with Havana. The two shortwave radio transmitters provided to him by Cuba were faulty; thus, the guerrillas were unable to communicate and be resupplied, leaving them isolated and stranded.
In addition, Guevara's known preference for confrontation rather than compromise, which had previously surfaced during his guerrilla warfare campaign in Cuba, contributed to his inability to develop successful working relationships with local rebel leaders in Bolivia, just as it had in the Congo.[195] This tendency had existed in Cuba, but had been kept in check by the timely interventions and guidance of Fidel Castro.[196]
The end result was that Guevara was unable to attract inhabitants of the local area to join his militia during the eleven months he attempted recruitment. Many of the inhabitants willingly informed the Bolivian authorities and military about the guerrillas and their movements in the area. Near the end of the Bolivian venture, Guevara wrote in his diary that "the peasants do not give us any help, and they are turning into informers."[197]


37-year-old Guevara, holding a Congolese baby and standing with a fellowAfro-Cuban soldier in theCongo Crisis, 1965.
In early 1965, Guevara went to Africa to offer his knowledge and experience as a guerrilla to the ongoing conflict in the Congo. According to Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella, Guevara thought that Africa was imperialism's weak link and so had enormous revolutionary potential.[170]Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had fraternal relations with Che since his 1959 visit, saw Guevara's plan to fight in Congo as "unwise" and warned that he would become a "Tarzan" figure, doomed to failure.[171] Despite the warning, Guevara traveled to Congo using the alias Ramón Benítez.[172] He led the Cuban operation in support of the Marxist Simba movement, which had emerged from the ongoing Congo crisis. Guevara, his second-in-command Victor Dreke, and 12 other Cuban expeditionaries arrived in Congo on April 24, 1965 and a contingent of approximately 100 Afro-Cubans joined them soon afterward.[173][174] For a time, they collaborated with guerrilla leaderLaurent-Désiré Kabila, who had helped supporters of the overthrown president Patrice Lumumba to lead an unsuccessful revolt months earlier. As an admirer of the late Lumumba, Guevara declared that his "murder should be a lesson for all of us".[175] Guevara, with limited knowledge of Swahili and the local languages, was assigned a teenage interpreter, Freddy Ilanga. Over the course of seven months, Ilanga grew to "admire the hard-working Guevara", who "showed the same respect to black people as he did to whites".[176] However, Guevara soon became disillusioned with the poor discipline of Kabila's troops and later dismissed him, stating "nothing leads me to believe he is the man of the hour".[177]
As an additional obstacle, white South African mercenaries, led by Mike Hoare in league with Cuban exiles and the CIA, worked with the Congo National Army to thwart Guevara's movements from his base camp in the mountains near the village of Fizi on Lake Tanganyika in southeast Congo. They were able to monitor his communications and so pre-empted his attacks and interdicted his supply lines. Although Guevara tried to conceal his presence in Congo, the United States government knew his location and activities. The National Security Agency was intercepting all of his incoming and outgoing transmissions via equipment aboard the USNS Private Jose F. Valdez (T-AG-169), a floating listening post that continuously cruised the Indian Ocean off Dar es Salaam for that purpose.[178]
Guevara's aim was to export the revolution by instructing local anti-Mobutu Simba fighters in Marxist ideology and foco theorystrategies of guerrilla warfare. In his Congo Diary book, he cites the incompetence, intransigence and infighting among the Congolese rebels as key reasons for the revolt's failure.[179] Later that year on November 20, 1965, suffering from dysentery and acute asthma, and disheartened after seven months of frustration and inactivity, Guevara left Congo with the six Cuban survivors of his 12-man column. Guevara had planned to send the wounded back to Cuba and fight in Congo alone until his death, as a revolutionary example. But after being urged by his comrades, and two emissaries sent by Castro, at the last moment he reluctantly agreed to leave Africa. During that day and night, Guevara's forces quietly took down their base camp, burned their huts, and destroyed or threw weapons into Lake Tanganyika that they could not take with them, before crossing the border into Tanzania at night and traveling by land to Dar es Salaam. In speaking about his experience in Congo months later, Guevara concluded that he left rather than fight to the death because: "The human element failed. There is no will to fight. The leaders are corrupt. In a word ... there was nothing to do."[180] Guevara also declared that "we can't liberate by ourselves a country that does not want to fight."[181] A few weeks later, he wrote the preface to the diary he kept during the Congo venture, that began: "This is the history of a failure."[182]
Guevara was reluctant to return to Cuba, because Castro had made public Guevara's "farewell letter"—a letter intended to only be revealed in the case of his death—wherein he severed all ties in order to devote himself to revolution throughout the world.[183] As a result, Guevara spent the next six months living clandestinely in Dar es Salaam and Prague.[184] During this time, he compiled his memoirs of the Congo experience and wrote drafts of two more books, one on philosophy and the other on economics. He then visited several Western European countries to test his new false identity papers, created by Cuban Intelligence for his later travels to South America.[citation needed] As Guevara prepared for Bolivia, he secretly traveled back to Cuba to visit Castro, as well as to see his wife and to write a last letter to his five children to be read upon his death, which ended with him instructing them:
"Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary."[185]

Capture and execution

"There was no person more feared by the company (CIA) than Che Guevara because he had the capacity and charisma necessary to direct the struggle against the political repression of the traditional hierarchies in power in the countries of Latin America."
— Philip Agee, CIA agent, later defected to Cuba[198]

Monument to Guevara in La Higuera.

Location of Vallegrande in Bolivia.
Félix Rodríguez, a Cuban exile turned CIA Special Activities Division operative, advised Bolivian troops during the hunt for Guevara in Bolivia.[199] In addition the 2007 documentary My Enemy's Enemy, directed by Kevin Macdonald, alleges that Naziwar criminal Klaus Barbie, a.k.a. "The Butcher of Lyon", advised and possibly helped the CIA orchestrate Guevara's eventual capture.[200]
On October 7, 1967, an informant apprised the Bolivian Special Forces of the location of Guevara's guerrilla encampment in the Yuro ravine.[201] On the morning of October 8, they encircled the area with two battalions numbering 1,800 soldiers and advanced into the ravine triggering a battle where Guevara was wounded and taken prisoner while leading a detachment with Simeón Cuba Sarabia. Che biographer Jon Lee Anderson reports Bolivian Sergeant Bernardino Huanca's account: that as the Bolivian Rangers approached, a twice-wounded Guevara, his gun rendered useless, threw up his arms in surrender and shouted to the soldiers: "Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and I am worth more to you alive than dead."[202]

"There was no person more feared by the company (CIA) than Che Guevara because he had the capacity and charisma necessary to direct the struggle against the political repression of the traditional hierarchies in power in the countries of Latin America."
— Philip Agee, CIA agent, later defected to Cuba[1

Post-execution and memorial

The day after his execution on October 10, 1967, Guevara's corpse was displayed to the world press in the laundry house of the Vallegrande hospital. (photo by Freddy Alborta)
    Camera-photo.svg    Face     Side angle    Shoes
After his execution, Guevara's body was lashed to the landing skids of a helicopter and flown to nearby Vallegrande, where photographs were taken of him lying on a concrete slab in the laundry room of the Nuestra Señora de Malta.[211] Several witnesses were called to confirm his identity, key amongst them the British journalist Richard Gott, the only witness to have met Guevara when he was alive. Put on display, as hundreds of local residents filed past the body, Guevara's corpse was considered by many to represent a "Christ-like" visage, with some even surreptitiously clipping locks of his hair as divine relics.[212] Such comparisons were further extended when English art critic John Berger, two weeks later upon seeing the post-mortem photographs, observed that they resembled two famous paintings: Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulpand Andrea Mantegna's Lamentation over the Dead Christ.[213] There were also four correspondents present when Guevara's body arrived in Vallegrande, including Björn Kumm of the Swedish Aftonbladet, who described the scene in a November 11, 1967 exclusive for The New Republic.[214]
Also removed when Guevara was captured were his 30,000-word, hand-written diary, a collection of his personal poetry, and a short story he had authored about a young Communist guerrilla who learns to overcome his fears.[220] His diary documented events of the guerrilla campaign in Bolivia,[221] with the first entry on November 7, 1966, shortly after his arrival at the farm in Ñancahuazú, and the last dated October 7, 1967, the day before his capture. The diary tells how the guerrillas were forced to begin operations prematurely because of discovery by the Bolivian Army, explains Guevara's decision to divide the column into two units that were subsequently unable to re-establish contact, and describes their overall unsuccessful venture. It also records the rift between Guevara and the Communist Party of Bolivia that resulted in Guevara having significantly fewer soldiers than originally expected, and shows that Guevara had a great deal of difficulty recruiting from the local populace, partly because the guerrilla group had learned Quechua, unaware that the local language was actually a Tupí–Guaraní language.[222]As the campaign drew to an unexpected close, Guevara became increasingly ill. He suffered from ever-worsening bouts of asthma, and most of his last offensives were carried out in an attempt to obtain medicine.[223] The Bolivian diary was quickly and crudely translated by Ramparts magazine and circulated around the world.[224] There are at least four additional diaries in existence—those of Israel Reyes Zayas (Alias "Braulio"), Harry Villegas Tamayo ("Pombo"), Eliseo Reyes Rodriguez ("Rolando")[189] and Dariel Alarcón Ramírez ("Benigno")[225]—each of which reveals additional aspects of the events.

French intellectual Régis Debray, who was captured in April 1967 while with Guevara in Bolivia, gave an interview from prison in August 1968, in which he enlarged on the circumstances of Guevara's capture. Debray, who had lived with Guevara's band of guerrillas for a short time, said that in his view they were "victims of the forest" and thus "eaten by the jungle".[226] Debray described a destitute situation where Guevara's men suffered malnutrition, lack of water, absence of shoes, and only possessed six blankets for 22 men. Debray recounts that Guevara and the others had been suffering an "illness" which caused their hands and feet to swell into "mounds of flesh" to the point where you could not discern the fingers on their hands. Debray described Guevara as "optimistic about the future of Latin America" despite the futile situation, and remarked that Guevara was "resigned to die in the knowledge that his death would be a sort of renaissance", noting that Guevara perceived death "as a promise of rebirth" and "ritual of renewal".[226]