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Ché (Ernesto) Guevara: 1928-1967: Revolutionary Leader

Attempted To Spread Revolution

During the next six months, Guevara organized a group of Cuban guerrillas in preparation for a liberation movement in Bolivia. Guevara's plan was to follow his own guerrilla warfare strategy, as outlined in Guerrilla Warfare. He hoped to use his small army to incite a revolution in Bolivia. Once victory was achieved there, he would establish a base for operations from which he could branch out across South America, spreading revolution and liberation throughout the continent. The entire operation was, however, an abysmal failure. First, Guevara and his Cuban troops never secured the trust of the Bolivian peasantry and consequently enlisted few recruits. Second, Guevara's staunch adherence to theoretically pure socialism allowed no room for compromise with the Bolivian Communist Party, which subsequently withdrew from Guevara's movement. Third, Castro ceased to support his friend when it became increasingly clear that Guevara's plans would not succeed. Finally, Guevara was in poor health and out of medical supplies. His asthma was plaguing him and his weight dropped below 100 pounds. Perhaps as a result of his ill health, the seasoned military tactician made numerous strategic errors in judgment.

Guevara's Bolivian revolution ended after 18 months of warfare with the Bolivian army and U.S. Army Rangers. Going against his own training manual, Guevara divided his forces in two with the intent of regrouping, but the two divisions lost track of each other and wandered for months trying to reunite. On August 31, 1967, one group encountered government forces, which won a decisive battle, leaving Guevara and his smaller contingent with no hope for reinforcements. On October 8, 1967, Guevara and his remaining men were surrounded by the Bolivian army in a canyon at Quebrada del Yuro. In the ensuing battle, Guevara was seriously injured and captured. He was taken to the town of La Higuera and interrogated. The next day he was executed, his hands cut off, and buried in a mass grave along with several of his men. He was 39 years old.

Even before his death Guevara was nearing legendary status, and after his execution he became the martyr and idol of an entire generation in both South and Central America as well as around the world. Fervent supporters marched in the streets chanting "!No lo vamos a olvidar!" (We won't let him be forgotten!). When his secret gravesite was discovered 30 years later, after a deathbed confession by a former member of the Bolivian army, a renewed passion for Guevara's memory was ignited. Bolivia, embracing Guevara more closely in death than it ever had during his lifetime, launched a "Ché Guevara Week" and began promoting Guevara's work in the country as a tourist attraction. His written works, including Guerrilla Warfare, Pasajes de la Guerra revolucionaria (Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War), which describes his personal experiences during the Cuban uprising, and El diario de Ché en Bolivia (The Diary of Ché Guevara), which was published posthumously, gained significant and sustained acclaim. Numerous compilations of speeches and other writings were also published after his death. Guevara has approached the status of sainthood in Latin America. In Europe and the United States, during the late 1990s, Guevara's image began to appear on t-shirts worn by the younger generation. Somehow the socialist martyr had become chic among angst-ridden youth. How Guevara would have felt about his image being sold in trendy shops in the capitalist United States remains a question for speculation.

Selected Writings

La guerra de guerrillas, Departamento de Instruccion de MINFAR, 1960, translation by J. P. Morray published as Guerrilla Warfare, Monthly Review Press, 1961.

Pasajes de la guerra revolucionaria, Union de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba, 1963, translation published as Episodes of the Revolutionary War, International Publishing, 1968; revised and enlarged translation by Victoria Ortiz published as Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, Monthly Review Press, 1968.

Ché Guevara Speaks: Selected Speeches and Writings, edited by George Lavan, Grove, 1967.

El diario de Ché en Bolivia: Noviembre 7, 1966, Octubre 7, 1967, Instituto de Libro, 1968; translation edited by Robert Scheer published as The Diary of Ché Guevara; Bolivia: November 7, 1966-October 7, 1967, Bantam, 1968; enlarged translated edition edited by Daniel James published as The Complete Bolivian Diaries of Ché Guevara and Other Captured Documents, Stein & Day, 1968; translation edited by Mary-Alice Waters published as The Bolivian Diary of Ernesto Ché Guevara, Path-finder, 1994.

Venceremos! The Speeches and Writings of Ernesto Ché Guevara, edited, annotated, and introduced by John Gerassi, Macmillan, 1968.

Ché Guevara and the Cuban Revolution: Writings and Speeches of Ernesto Ché Guevara, Pathfinder Press/Pacific and Asia, 1987.

Notas de viaje, translation by Ann Wright published as The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey around South America, Verso, 1995.



Cold War, 1945-1991, Gale, 1992.

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale, 1998.

Historic World Leaders, Gale, 1994.


Economist, October 11, 1997; December 25, 1999.

Latin American Perspectives, July 1998.

Time, July 14, 1997; June 14, 1999.

U.S. News & World Report, October 27, 1997.

World Press Review, October 1996.


Contemporary Authors Online, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC

—Kari Bethel

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Bob Graham (1942-) Biography - Awards to Francis Hendy Biography - Born to SewChé (Ernesto) Guevara: 1928-1967: Revolutionary Leader Biography - Childhood Influences, Motorcycled Through South America, Introduced To Marxism, Fidel Castro And The Cuban Revolution