Ernesto “Che” Guevara was one of the most prominent Cold-War-era revolutionaries, active in Cuba, the Congo, and Bolivia.
He was born in Rosario, Argentina on May 14th, 1928 to Celia de la Serna de Guevara and Ernesto Rafael Guevara Lynch, an architect. As a child and young man, he excelled in sports (despite his asthma), chess, poetry, reading, and photography. His parents separated not long after the family moved to Cordoba in 1943.
After graduating high school, Guevara worked in a laboratory in Villa Maria and decided he wanted to be a doctor. In 1948, he matriculated at the University of Buenos Aires, earning a medical degree five years later. As outlined in his work The Motorcycle Diaries, he traveled throughout Latin America with a friend, Alberto Granado. He settled in Guatemala, but a social revolution he was involved with did not pan out; so, he moved to Mexico. By this time, he had decided it was his life’s goal to resist the United States’ imperialism and capitalism in the Third World.
In Mexico City, Guevara met Fidel Castro and the two became fast friends. After Castro and Guevara served brief time in prison, they traveled to Cuba where Guevara helped Castro plan and execute the overthrow of the Cuban government led by Fulgencio Batista.
Guevara was an important figure in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution, becoming a Cuban citizen and divorcing his first wife so he could marry the Cuban Aleida March, with whom he had for children. He was often called “Che” during this time, the Argentinian word for “friend.” Castro appointed Guevara the president of the National Bank of Cuba as well as an official working in agrarian reform. Guevara wrote of his experiences in guerrilla warfare and published them in the early 1960s.
Between 1961 and 1965, Guevara was the Minister of Industries for Cuba. Castro became increasingly frustrated with Guevara’s open hostility toward the Soviet Union, with whom he strongly associated, and claimed that Guevara wrote a farewell letter and resigned from public life.
Guevara went to the Belgian Congo to help organize a rebellion, returned to Cuba briefly in 1966, then traveled to Bolivia to command the National Liberation Army. He was there for a year and his army was down to seventeen men. On October 8, 1967, he was captured by Bolivian troops, interrogated, and executed the following day.
Guevara’s body was flown to Vallegrande and laid out for viewing. His hands were severed and preserved in formaldehyde; two wax masks were made of his face, and his body was then buried in an unknown location. It was discovered in June of 1997 and returned to Cuba.