Che Guevara was a Marxist revolutionary allied with Fidel Castro during the Cuban Revolution.
Born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1928, Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna studied medicine before traveling around South America, observing conditions that spurred his Marxist beliefs. He aided Fidel Castro in overturning the Batista government in the late 1950s, and then held key political offices during Castro’s regime. Guevara later engaged in guerrilla action elsewhere, including in Bolivia, where he was captured and executed in 1967.
Che Guevara was born into a middle-class family on June 14, 1928, in Rosario, Argentina. He was plagued by asthma in his youth but still managed to distinguish himself as an athlete. He also absorbed the left-leaning political views of his family and friends, and by his teens had become politically active, joining a group that opposed the government of Juan Perón.
After graduating from high school with honors, Guevara studied medicine at the University of Buenos Aires, but in 1951 he left the school to travel around South America with a friend. The poor living conditions he witnessed on their nine-month journey had a profound effect on Guevara, and he returned to medical school the following year, intent on providing care for the needy. He received his degree in 1953.
However, as Guevara’s interest in Marxism grew, he decided to abandon medicine, believing that only revolution could bring justice to the people of South America. In 1953 he traveled to Guatemala, where he witnessed the CIA-backed overthrow of its leftist government, which only served to deepen his convictions.
By 1955, Guevara was married and living in Mexico, where he met Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl, who were planning the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista’s government. When their small armed force landed in Cuba on December 2, 1956, Guevara was with them and among the few that survived the initial assault. Over the next few years, he would serve as a primary adviser to Castro and lead their growing guerrilla forces in attacks against the crumbling Batista regime.
In January 1959 Fidel Castro took control of Cuba and placed Guevara in charge of La Cabaña prison, where it is estimated that perhaps hundreds of people were executed on Guevara’s extrajudicial orders. He was later appointed president of the national bank and minister of industry, and did much to assist in the country’s transformation into a communist state.
In the early 1960s, Guevara also acted as an ambassador for Cuba, traveling the world to establish relations with other countries, most notably the Soviet Union, and was a key player during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. He also authored a manual on guerrilla warfare, and in 1964 delivered a speech to the United Nations in which he condemned U.S. foreign policy and the apartheid in South Africa.
By 1965, with the Cuban economy in shambles, Guevara left his post to export his revolutionary ideologies to other parts of the world. He traveled first to the Congo to train troops in guerrilla warfare in support of a revolution there, but left later that year when it failed.
After returning briefly to Cuba, in 1966 Guevara departed for Bolivia with a small force of rebels to incite a revolution there. He was captured by the Bolivian army and killed in La Higuera on October 9, 1967.
Since his death, Guevara has become a legendary political figure. His name is often equated with rebellion, revolution and socialism. Others, however, remember that he could be ruthless and ordered prisoners executed without trial in Cuba. In any case, Guevara’s life continues to be a subject of great public interest and has been explored and portrayed in numerous books and films, including The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), which starred Gael García Bernal as Guevara, and the two-part biopic Che (2008), in which Benicio Del Toro portrayed the revolutionary.