January 1, 2007 8:21am CST
Dr. Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna (June 14, 1928 – October 9, 1967), commonly known as Che Guevara or el Che, was an Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary and Cuban guerrilla leader. Guevara was a member of Fidel Castro's "26th of July Movement" that seized power in Cuba in 1959. After serving in various important posts in the new government, Guevara left Cuba in 1965 with the hope of fomenting revolutions in other countries, first in the Congo-Kinshasa (currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and later in Bolivia, where he was captured in a CIA-organized military operation. It is believed by some that the CIA wished to keep Guevara alive for interrogation, but after his capture in the Yuro ravine, he died at the hands of the Bolivian Army in La Higuera near Vallegrande on October 9, 1967. Testimony by various individuals who were participants in, or witnesses to, events during his final hours indicates that the Bolivian government summarily executed him in order to avoid a public trial and the complications that might arise if he were incarcerated on Bolivian soil. After his death, Guevara became a hero of Third World communist revolutionary movements, as a theorist and tactician of asymmetric warfare. He also became a popular icon for revolution and left-wing political ideals in western culture and throughout much of the world. Youth Guevara was born in Rosario, Argentina, the eldest of five children in a family of mixed Spanish and Irish descent. The date of birth recorded on his birth certificate was June 14, 1928, although some sources assert that he was actually born on May 14, 1928 and the birth certificate deliberately falsified to shield the family from a potential scandal relating to his mother's having been three months pregnant when she was married. One of Guevara's forebears, Patrick Lynch, was born in Galway, Ireland in 1715. He left for Bilbao, Spain, and traveled from there to Argentina. Francisco Lynch (Guevara's great-grandfather) was born in 1817, and Ana Lynch (his beloved grandmother) in 1861. Her son Ernesto Guevara Lynch (Guevara's father) was born in 1900. Guevara Lynch married Celia de la Serna y Llosa in 1927 and they had five children. In this upper-middle class family with strongly left-wing views, Guevara became known for his dynamic and radical perspective even as a boy. Though suffering from the crippling bouts of asthma that were to afflict him throughout his life, he excelled as an athlete. He was an avid rugby player despite his handicap, and earned the nickname "Fuser" for his aggressive style of play. In 1948, he entered the University of Buenos Aires to study medicine. There he also excelled as a scholar and completed his medical studies in March 1953. While a student, Guevara spent many of his vacation breaks traveling around Latin America. In 1951, Guevara's older friend, Alberto Granado, a biochemist and a political radical, suggested that Guevara take a year off from his medical studies to embark on a trip they had talked of doing for years, traversing South America. Guevara and the 29-year-old Alberto soon set off from their hometown of Alta Gracia, riding a 1939 Norton 500 cc motorcycle nicknamed La Poderosa II meaning "the mighty one", with the idea of spending a few weeks volunteering at the San Pablo leper colony in Peru on the banks of the Amazon River during the trip. Guevara narrated this journey in The Motorcycle Diaries, translated in 1996 (and turned into a motion picture of the same name in 2004). Through his first-hand observations of the poverty and powerlessness of the masses, Guevara decided that the only remedy for Latin America's economic and social inequities lay in revolution. His travels also inspired him to look upon Latin America not as a collection of separate nations but as a single cultural and economic entity, the liberation of which would require an intercontinental strategy. He began to develop his concept of a united Ibero-America without borders, bound together by a common 'mestizo' culture, an idea that would figure prominently in his later revolutionary activities. Upon his return to Argentina, he completed his medical studies as quickly as he could, in order to continue his travels around South America.