Che Guevara has become a cultural symbol for people all over the world. Che is an icon for anyone who stands up against oppression of any form. As a matter of fact Che Guevara did not fight and die in the country where he was born.
Ernesto Che Guevara's birth happened under a garb of ambiguity. Guevara's birth certificate records his birthday as June 14, 1928. His real birth date was on May 14, 1928. In a way this typified the way Che spent most of his adult life.
The birth certificate was doctored because the family wanted to protect Che's mother from scandal that would come about due to her being pregnant at the time of her marriage.
Che was born in Rosario, Argentina. He was the eldest of his 4 siblings. Che is a nickname that was acquired when Guevara was studying. It means "mate" or "friend" in South America. Che studied medicine in the University of Buenos Aires. He completed his studies in 1953.
It was at this point in time that Che's life changed forever. Unable to watch Fulgencio Batista oppress the poor people of Cuba, Che Guevara left the medical profession and joined the forces of Fidel Castro. Castro and his forces which now included Che, crossed the Caribbean in 1956, in a treacherous journey aboard the yacht -Granma. The invading party landed and fought bravely to conquer The Sierra Maestra.
Che Guevara was a natural at warfare. He was soon made commander of Castro's forces. A large part of the Guerilla forces led by Castro and Guevara, sometimes above 80 percent, were peasants, some dispossessed, all abused by feudal land arrangements of Cuba before the revolution. The guerrilla warfare spanned over a period of two years, Che's men eventually vanquished Batista's forces.
Guevara took special delight in torturing and killing traitors and informants. Executions were personally done. He published a book called Guerilla Warfare. It became the definitive work on that form of battle. It documented how a small group of irregulars could defeat the organized army of the Government by drumming up support from the common man on the street.
The only quality required to take on a strong oppressor was to have the will to do so. The cult that was to surround Che Guevara for the rest of his life and death was beginning to build.
Gradually the battle in Cuba changed from one that was purely centered on the ouster of Batista to one that was concerned with the social and economic development of the country. Che wanted to cut down the landlords to size. He was a great believer in the Zapatista phrase "Land for those who work it." On October 7, 1959, Che became the director of the industrialization program of the National Agrarian Reform Institute.
However he left the job a month later because he became the head of the National Bank of Cuba. Che realized that monetary funding was essential to the revolution. He began changing the banking system at a fundamental level. Che Guevara's greatest contribution was to implement controls over the foreign currency reserves held by Cuba.
Six years later in 1965, Che dropped out of public life completely. He was last seen after his return to Cuba from a tour to China, Egypt, Algeria, Ghana, and Congo. Initially there was great curiosity over the mystery of the missing second in command. It was learned later that he had resurfaced in Bolivia to lead the revolution against President René Barrientos. Guerrilla warfare commenced again in the jungles of Bolivia. But the Bolivian army was trained by foreign military experts. They were prepared for everything that Che had to throw at them.
Che Guevara was executed in Vallegrande. He was 39 years old. The circumstances surrounding his death have added to his mystique. He was taken to an old school house and was tied to a board. Che Guevara's alleged last words to the firing squad were "Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man".
Over the years Che Guevara has been lionized in Latin America and immortalized all over the world. Che has been portrayed in the musical play, Evita where he is the narrator. A 1960s' photograph of his by the photographer Alberto Korda has become one of the most easily recognizable images.
It has become a symbol for freedom and liberty. There were many political parties that were started by similar minded idealists all over the world. These parties espoused Che's values but most of them have died natural deaths.
Today, it has become cool to own a part of Che. It could be in the form of a T-shirt, cap, football or bumper car sticker. Not many people understand or even attempt to understand what he stood for but they know that being part of the Che cult is the thing to do.
By Anish Chandy