Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Revolutionary Remembered

From a revolutionary of the 50's to an icon today, say the name Che and almost everyone on earth will know who you are talking about.  For many living in third world countries under oppressive right wing regimes he remains a hero to the poor and forgotten and hated by others.  

The iconic image of Guevara, worn by youth worldwide, was created by Dublin artist Jim Fitzpatrick.

Born in 1928, he grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Rosario, Argentina as Ernesto Guevara Lynch De la Serna. 

Nicknamed "Fuser" he would spend many hours in his fathers library reading books that included those by Marx and Engels, and Freud. His grandmother, Ana, was the daughter of Patrick Lynch, who was born in Galway, Ireland. 

Guevara's Irish links have been traced to Galway, and one Patricio Lynch, the founder of the Argentine branch of his family, was said to have been born in Galway in 1715. From there he spent some time in Spain before eventually settling in Argentina.

Galway City Council supporters of Che have passed a motion calling for a statue to be erected in his honor which is being condemned by House Foreign Affairs Committee Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and those of Cuban descent. 

“The romanticized reputation of Ernesto “Che” Guevara as a liberator and freedom fighter is nothing more than a myth of the Cuban revolution. In reality, Guevara was a mass murderer and a bigot.” Ros-Lehtinen wrote.  “Che Guevara embodied hatred. Using his own words, he exulted 'hatred as an element of the struggle' to transform a person into a 'violent, selective and cold killing machine.'" Ros-Lehtinen wrote.

Che's father, Ernesto Guevara Lynch, said in a 1969 interview: "The first thing to note is that in my son's veins flowed with the blood of the Irish rebels. Che inherited some of the features of our restless ancestors. There was something in his nature which drew him to distant wandering, dangerous adventures and new ideas". 

As a young man finding his place in this world, he kept a journal of his experiences that detailed how he was shaped as a young man.  He witnessed the harshness of military despots and the poverty and misery among the people he met when traveling through the country on his bicycle with his friend Alberto Granado, which was excellently portrayed in the Motorcycle Diaries.  

In 1952, a semester before Guevara is due to complete his medical degree specializing in dermatology, he and his older friend Alberto Granado, a biochemist, leave Buenos Aries in order to travel across South America. At first they intend to work in a leper colony in Peru, but the main purpose is initially fun and adventure and to court as many woman as possible while getting to see as much of Latin America as they can.  They would eventually travel more than 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) in just four and a half months.  Their initial method of transport is Granado's dilapidated Norton 500 motorcycle christened La Poderosa ("The Mighty One").

Through the people they encounter on their Latin American continental trek, Guevara and Granado witness firsthand the injustices that the destitute face and are exposed to people and social classes they would have never encountered otherwise. As a result, the trip also plants the initial seed of  radicalization within Guevara, who would later view armed revolution as a way to challenge the continent's economic and social inequalities.

He was a handsome, well educated, a man who could have had a comfortable life as a doctor; yet he gave up all this, putting his life on the line for the things he believed.  After he had finished his academic career, qualifying as a doctor and specializing in dermatology, his experiences in Guatemala, where the CIA was instrumental in overthrowing the government and installing a military dictatorship, were the final steps in his radicalization.

Che met Fidel Castro in Mexico City in September of 1954 and soon joined Castro's group, training as a revolutionary on a Mexican farm. He had found his calling. Che was in the group of revolutionaries that sailed for Cuba in November of 1956. A group of about 80 left from Mexico, but only 12 made it safely to Cuba. Just 12 men, and yet in less than three years these 12 would conquer the country; of such stuff are legends made. Though Che started out as the doctor for the group, he was soon a Commandant, leading men in battle.

Che was involved with the Cuban government for some years after the revolution, but he had the heart of a revolutionary, not a politician and was soon out of the government and in Africa. His attempt at exporting revolution to the Belgian Congo was a failure but through the attempt his legend grew. He soon moved on to Bolivia, a country he thought was ripe for an uprising.

In the anti-Vietnam, anti-American era of the '60s, Che became the poster boy for revolution. But his life would come to a violent end on October 8th, 1967, when he was captured and executed by Bolivian soldiers with the help of the American CIA. His body was put on display by the Bolivians and then put into a secret, unmarked grave along with some other revolutionaries.

In 1997 Che's body was found, dug up, and returned to Cuba. His remains were met by Castro and members of Che's family. 

For me, he was a hero who became misguided either by the rush of power or the need for revenge.  But there is no question his is a life that will always be debated and never forgotten.  

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