Che Guevara: The Revolutionary Activist With A Long, Misunderstood History
By | June 12, 2020
Most Americans know Che Guevara, the Argentine revolutionary, from the image that's been emblazoned on millions of t-shirts and posters on dorm room walls, but he's so much more than a stoic, mysterious face. The lack of historians hanging around revolutionary Cuba has resulted in a lot of apocryphal stories about Guevara, so it's hard to separate the man from the myth, but what we do know makes it
Born Ernesto Guevara on June 14, 1928 in Rosario, Argentina, Guevara was one of five children in a middle-class family who rubbed elbows with survivors of the Spanish Civil War. As a young man, he threw himself into the literary works of philosophers like Nietzsche and Freud and caught a persistent case of wanderlust from Jack London, the latter inspiring him to blow off med school at the University of Buenos Aires to take the first of two lengthy motorcycle journeys throughout South America in 1950.
This first trip took him through rural Argentina, while his second trek one year later turned into a nine-year journey through South America that culminated with a few weeks of volunteer work at the San Pablo leper colony in Peru. Both put Guevara in touch with a poverty he never knew existed, inspiring him to abandon medicine and dive into the Marxist revolution.
Radicalized By Fruit
In December 1953, Guevara traveled to Guatemala with the intent of shutting down the United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation that used Latin American land to grow produce for North America. At the time, Guatemala was trying to peacefully reform the latifundia system that allowed the United Fruit Company to hold massive quantities of land while locals had nothing. While Guevara was in the country, however, the U.S. military showed up to drop propaganda against the Guatemalan government as well as a few bombs in support of a group of Guatemalan refugees who were tasked with overthrowing the current government.
Guevara offered his services as a medic during the disaster, but what he really wanted to do was fight back. He found himself dissatisfied with the inaction of the government, and after a new Guatemalan regime was installed, Guevara was no longer welcome in the country anyway. He escaped to Argentina, where he stayed for a few weeks before traveling to Mexico. Even though he didn't directly fight the military coup, he became radicalized by the sight of the U.S. government's forceful support of the fruit company.