Che Guevara - A life, a myth

Che Guevara - A life, a myth

Che Guevara is an Argentinian-born revolutionary and guerrilla who fought in the Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro. Become the object of a true cult, incarnation of a revolutionary Marxist and idealist who fought until his last breath, condottiere of the XXth century become an icon, the qualifiers are not lacking to designate"The Che". Behind this legendary figure hides at the same time a man of action, Marxist theorist and politician who has had an eventful journey and inspired many revolutionary movements.

Che Guevara, a young man initiated into social issues

Coming from a rather wealthy, intellectual and cultivated family, Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna was born on June 14, 1928 in Rosario, Argentina. Through his father, who was a civil builder, he was quickly in contact with less affluent social circles, while his mother of a great culture introduced him to French literature. Despite his asthma, he shows his courage and volunteering by increasing his physical activities. An accomplished sportsman, Che also accumulated readings during his youth: from Sophocles to Freud, including Voltaire and Baudelaire.

Very early on, he therefore came into contact with social and political issues. On the strength of this solid education and aided by limitless curiosity, he began studying medicine in Buenos Aires in 1947. In search of adventure and taken interest in pre-Columbian civilizations, Ernesto Guevara undertook a journey through the Latin America, accompanied by his friend Alberto Granado. This trip plays a decisive role in shaping his political future, since he is faced with striking social realities, such as the condition of minors in Chile.

In 1953, Ernesto embarked on a second trip which would take him first to Bolivia, in the midst of political turmoil due to the numerous social reforms in progress, then to Guatemala. In this country considered to be one of the poorest in Latin America, he perfected his political education alongside a Peruvian activist Hilda Gadea, thanks to whom he discovered the thought of Mao. Alas, a coup d'état breaks out in Guatemala against President Jacobo Arbenz, supported by the CIA: Ernesto is forced to leave for Mexico, where he will make a decisive meeting. In July 1955, he met Fidel Castro in Mexico City, with whom he shared an anti-imperialist analysis and quickly took sympathy for him.

The revolutionary commitment

Che then decides to engage alongside the one we will call Leader Maximo and joins his July 26 movement. After receiving military training, he landed in Cuba in 1956 and then received command powers in 1958, actively contributing to Castro's seizure of power in January 1959. In the first act of the Cuban Revolution, Che therefore acquired a reputation a fine fighter and an exemplary commander.

Once the power of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista is overthrown, Che, if he is not going to take center stage, plays an important political role while becoming more radicalized. First prosecutor of a revolutionary tribunal responsible for eliminating opponents, for six years he held important positions - notably that of Minister of Industry - within the Castro government and participated in the establishment of an economy socialist.

As the representative of Cuba, he made himself known for his qualities as a speaker in international meetings, in the midst of the Cold War. He then becomes a true ambassador of the Revolution. In 1965, when he became more and more critical of the USSR, he left his post in order to resume the armed struggle in the Congo and then in Bolivia with the hope of creating there, on the basis of the guerrillas. existing, a revolutionary focus similar to that of the Sierra Maestra. He led the revolt of peasants and tin miners against the military government without much success. Faithful to his ideas to the end, he died young and brutally following his capture by the Bolivian army on October 9, 1967.

Ernesto Che Guevara: a political model

Through its major role in the success of the Cuban Revolution, a real state cult in Guevara has settled over time on the island of Cuba. Upon his death, the flags are half-masted in Cuba for 30 days and the day of October 8 is commemorated as that of the “heroic guerrilla”. Several ceremonies are organized on the island then directed by Fidel Castro, bringing together large crowds moved. While he was sometimes disturbing in Cuba, Che Guevara rose to the rank of myth through the speeches of his fellow combatant Fidel Castro, who particularly insisted on his exemplary nature.

Later, in 1987, as Cuba faced economic hardship, Castro used the integrity that Che symbolized to re-mobilize Cubans. This cult in Guevara is amplified with the repatriation of his remains in July 1997 in Cuba. In October, for the 30th anniversary of his death, a state funeral is organized and his remains are transferred to the Che Guevara Memorial in Santa Clara: Che has his place of worship.

From the 1960s, Che inspired far-left movements through his actions and writings. Through his criticism of the USSR, he embodies an alternative to the Soviet model. First for the JCR (Revolutionary Communist Youth), he is with Trotsky an important reference, but also within Maoist currents. This is why we see him appear in the streets and behind the barricades of May 68, through numerous portraits with his effigy. After a slump in the 1980s, it is today taken over by the French far left, since Olivier Besancenot recently devoted a book to Guevara which he considers to be one of his references.

While he was an important figure for European youth in the 1960s, Guevara inspired more radical movements: the guerrillas. While the guerrilla movements of the 1960s and 1970s which had Guevara as a reference wanted to copy the Cuban model, he became an important inspiration for all the guerrillas: such as the Brazilian MST which claims to be Guevara but is not guevariste. In Colombia, a guerrilla group, the ELN openly claims Guevarianism. Finally in Mexico, the EZLN of sub-commander Marcos, counts Guevarianism as one of its references.

If there are few openly Guevarist movements, Che remains a symbol of the struggle against injustice, against imperialism, and the possibility of transforming a system by revolutionary initiative.

Popular worship and maintenance of the myth of Che Guevara

Beyond political and ideological recovery, the Che is today a figure deeply rooted in popular consciousness. This anchoring is made possible thanks to several factors: popular masses, recovery for economic and advertising purposes.

It is indeed Latin America which constitutes the main source of maintenance of the myth of Che. He is in certain regions of Latin America perceived as a martyr, by the brutality of his death. Thus, in Bolivia, in the area where Che was captured, certain peasants, who at the time had not understood or accepted his call to struggle, made him a sort of saint. Since his death in 1967, Che's story has been transmitted orally, making him a popular legend, where he is known as San Ernesto de la Higuera. We should also add that since 1995 several tourism projects following in Che's footsteps have been under discussion between several Latin American countries, including Argentina, Bolivia and Cuba.

What about the artistic phenomenon around Che? It essentially boils down to a famous photograph: the photo of Korda (assistant photographer of the Revolucion newspaper), taken on March 5, 1960, expressing all its virtues: honesty, bravery, disinterestedness, loyalty, pride, authority, commitment with this star on his beret, negligence with his atypical hair and his imposing beard. All this contributes to a mythical name: "Guerrillero Heroico".

It appears on the cover of a book only after Che's death. It is then conveyed by art, through Jim Fitzpatrick, Irish artist who stylizes the portrait, by exposing a face of Che very contrasted on a plain colored background. In the 1990s, this image was taken over by advertising, which understood the interest of the protest character of this image.

Concerning the 7th art, several adaptations have appeared. First of all “Travel Notebooks”, by Walter Salles, released in 2004, which retraces Che's journey with Alberto Grenado and insists on his fundamental role in the construction of Che's thought. More recently, in 2009, “Che: l'Argentin” then the second part “Guerilla” by Steven Soderbergh, which retraces the fights of Che. These two films do not approach Guevara's life critically and rather tend to convey a positive image of the guerrilla.

Finally, the Guevarian myth takes shape with a song by Carlos Puebla (1917-1989), nicknamed the “Singer of the Cuban Revolution”, which is a real praise of Che. This version piece, with typically Cuban sounds, is a true tribute to Che and quickly gained great popularity, testifying to the mobilizing role played by the figure of Che. This song was also taken up in 1998 by Nathalie Cardone, and as a sign of the great popularity of Che, was also a great commercial success.

By the scope of his action and the influence of his thought, Che Guevara has become a major figure in Latin America and in the history of the twentieth century. It is also the unfinished taste of his work which contributes to many political movements to claim Che's claim, and the charisma that he exudes which have made one of him a symbol of resistance which has been reclaimed many times.

Bibliography on Le Che

- ABRASSART Loïc, Che Guevara, Itineraries of a revolutionary. Edtion Milan, 2007.

- KALFON Pierre, Che Ernesto Guevara - A legend of the century. Threshold, 1997.

Che Guevara: The time of revelations, by Jean Cormier. Editions du Rocher, 2017.


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