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The Life Of A Scholar, Doctor, And A Revoloutionary

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Ernesto "Che" Guevara has undeniably been one of the most powerful icons of the past forty

years. The Argentine revolutionary has had his picture widely printed on shirts and posters and has become a symbol for the (often young) anarchist. Yet, how many of us really understand or know what "Che" stood for? Do we know what his philosophy was about? Very few of us have taken the time to understand the goals and principles of Guevara and what he fought for - to death.

Dr. Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna (May 14, 1928 - October 9, 1967), commonly known as Che Guevara, was an Argentine-born revolutionary and Cuban guerrilla leader. Guevara was a member of Fidel Castro's "26th of July Movement", which seized power in Cuba in 1959. After serving various important posts in the new government, Guevara left Cuba in 1966 with the hope of fomenting revolutions in other countries, first in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and later in Bolivia, where he was captured in a CIA-organized military operation. The CIA wanted to keep him alive for interrogation, but he was executed by the Bolivian army. After his death, Guevara became a hero of Third World socialist revolutionary movements, as a theorist and tactician of asymmetric warfare.

It's in 1952, during a journey Ernesto made with his motorbike around South America, that he became harshly aware of the ravages of capitalism through the situation of the Native Americans. Influenced by the works of Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Neruda, Ciro Alegrнa and Karl Marx, Che Guevara devoted his life to fighting the "capitalist octopuses" to establish a socialist system that would be fairer to the people.

As a young medical student Che set out on a motorcycle to travel around South America. The poverty and oppression and the impact of imperialism aroused his political awareness. In 1954 the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz attempted to nationalise the vast landholdings of the massive US multinational the United Fruit Company. The US government (which included two executive directors of United Fruit) organised an armed coup to overthrow Arbenz.

Guevara who was in Guatemala at the time was appalled. He believed that well organised armed resistance could have defeated the coup and saved the Arbenz government.

Escaping to Mexico he met a group of Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro, who were planning the armed overthrow of the Batista dictatorship.

Batista's Cuba was dominated by sugar plantations which left the country's peasants in poverty and without land but provided huge profits for the US interests. In addition, Cuba's capital Havana was a seething cesspool of poverty for the city's poor and a playground for rich Americans with prostitution and gambling.

In November 1956, 82 guerrillas in the Granma ( name of a boat) landed in Cuba. Batista's army was waiting for them and only 18 escaped with their lives, among them a wounded Guevara.

Castro and Guevara built a guerrilla army in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra. Che's writings from this period record his emphasis on the "iron will" and "discipline" of dedicated revolutionaries making a revolution for the mass of people.

In the mountains Che personally executed several people and severely punished others for behaviour that failed to live up to these standards.

At the same time Batista's regime was losing the support of nearly all sections of Cuban society and even the US began to abandon his regime.

Within two years, in January 1959, Batista regime collapsed and the columns of revolutionaries marched down from the mountains and entered Havana.

The Cuban Revolution represented a huge blow to the US. With the fall of Peron in Argentina and the crushing of the Arbenz government in Guatemala, the US was hoping to manipulate a whole string of compliant governments across Latin America. But the Cuban revolution inspired millions with the hope that poverty and oppression inflicted by loyal agents of US interests could be rolled back.

After a brief interlude the US government reacted ferociously to the new government in Havana.

The US government put in place an economic blockade preventing trade with Cuba that has lasted 40 years. It stitched up an alliance of states in the region - the "Alliance for Progress" - with economic aid packages as bribes whose overt aim was to crush the revolution.

The CIA organised a bunch of Cuban exiles - pimps and gangsters - in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

After the immediate task of organising the state security apparatus, G-2, and dealing with the execution of Batista's henchmen, Guevara took a key role in creating the machinery of the new state, heading the National Bank and taking charge of Industrial Development.

Guevara recognised that if Cuba was to maintain its independence it would need to break its dependence on sugar production. Sugar accounted for 95 percent of its export earnings.

But to develop a range of industries Cuba would need to import industrial equipment, spare parts, oil and other raw materials. How would this be paid for? Its isolation in the world market - intensified by the US blockade - put Cuba in a seemingly hopeless position.

Cuba entered into a close economic relationship with Russia and for a while Che hoped the USSR would provide the kind of economic assistance necessary to resolve some of these problems. It soon became clear that, whatever the fine speeches of the Russian leaders, the USSR had its own agenda.

Che increasingly saw that it was necessary to spread the revolution to the rest of Latin America and beyond if imperialism was to be broken. At the same time Fidel Castro was inclined to deal pragmatically with the Russians. Che was sickened by these compromises.

His relations with his former close friend and comrade cooled and secretly Che withdrew from the government. In February 1965 Che's public criticism of the Soviets for their lack of internationalism further widened the gulf between them.


In April 1965 Che assembled a small group of Cuban guerrillas and went to the Congo. The Congolese resistance at this time consisted of at least 20 different competing groups.

Che didn't understand the language and had little knowledge of the political and social conditions of the country,



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