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Guevara de la Serna, Ernesto (1928–1967)

Argentine Marxist revolutionary and contributor to the doctrine of revolutionary warfare. Born on 14 June 1928 to a middle-class family in Rosario, Argentina, Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna trained as a medical doctor at the University of Buenos Aires, graduating in 1953. That same year he traveled throughout Latin America, witnessing the early months of the Bolivian National Revolution and the last months of the October Revolution in Guatemala during the reign of Jacobo Arbenz. America's covert 1954 operation that ousted the leftist Arbenz from power radicalized Guevara, as did his later encounter in Mexico with several Cuban revolutionaries, including Fidel Castro. Guevara subsequently joined Castro's expedition to Cuba in December 1956 and fought with his July 26 Movement until it triumphed in January 1959.

Guevara became Cuba's first president of the National Bank and then minister of industry in Cuba's early postrevolutionary government, where he espoused unorthodox Marxist economic ideas about the scope and timing of economic transformation. His notion of the "New Man" and his advocacy of centralized planning and the urgency of abolishing capitalist influences pitted him against more orthodox Marxist and Soviet advisors. Guevara's line won out in the early and mid-1960s, leading to a reliance on moral rather than material incentives and experiments with the abolition of currency. What was sometimes called Sino-Guevarism climaxed in the disastrous Ten-Million-Ton Sugar Harvest Campaign of 1968. Following this, Cuba's economic policy retreated from Guevarista utopianism.

Guevara left Cuba in 1965, possibly because of disagreement with its political leadership and certainly because of a long-standing commitment to promoting worldwide revolution. In his early years in Cuba, he had been a proponent of the heretical political and military ideas of what became known as foco theory. The foquistas, including the French philosopher Régis Debray, challenged the orthodox communist emphasis on parliamentary and legal struggle, advocating instead the establishment of rural, peasant-based centers ( focos) to foment revolutionary commitments.

Guevara traveled to the Congo in 1965 and then to Bolivia in 1966. It is now believed that Guevara's project to initiate an insurrection there was prompted by a desire to use Bolivia as a focus for the transformation of neighboring countries rather than by a belief in the viability of making revolution in Bolivia itself, where a major social revolution had begun in 1952. Guevara's overwhelming goal was to provide a diversion that would weaken U.S. resolve and resources then dedicated to waging war in Vietnam.

The foquistas were aware that postrevolutionary Cuba would increase American efforts to prevent more revolutions by modernizing Latin American militaries and developing modernization and reform projects such as the Alliance for Progress. But they underestimated the speed with which sections of the Bolivian armed forces would be transformed by U.S. aid and training once Guevara had located to Bolivia.

Guevara's revolutionary expedition was also handicapped by tense relations with the Bolivian Communist Party and its leader, Mario Monje, who was offended by Guevara's insistence on maintaining leadership of the revolutionary focos. There was also little peasant support for the Guevarista force, which was made up of both Bolivian recruits and experienced Cuban revolutionaries. Difficult terrain also complicated the revolutionaries' work, and eventually they split into two groups.

The most controversial issue surrounding the collapse of Guevara's efforts in Bolivia is whether or not Cuban support for the guerrillas was satisfactory. Some Guevara biographers have suggested that Soviet and Cuban relations with the revolutionaries were partly shaped by Soviet annoyance at the impact that the new revolutionary front might have on its relations with the United States. Thus far, there is no conclusive evidence to support this line of argument.

A Bolivian Army unit captured Guevara in the Yuro ravine on 8 October 1967 and summarily executed him the next day at La Higuera, Villagrande. One of his hands was removed to facilitate identification by U.S. intelligence. A copy of Guevara's diaries was smuggled to Cuba, where it was published (along with an edition brokered by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) as his Bolivian Diaries. Guevara's body was uncovered in an unmarked site in Bolivia in 1997 and, together with the remains of a number of other Cuban revolutionaries who died in Bolivia, was repatriated to Cuba for internment in a monument in Santa Clara City.

Barry Carr


Further Reading
Castañeda, Jorge. Companero: The Life and Death of Che. New York: Vintage, 1998.; Lowy, Michael. The Marxism of Che Guevara: Philosophy, Economics and Revolutionary Warfare. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974.
 

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