“I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves” - Che Guevara
June 14, 2018 marks 90 years since the birth of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, more popularly known as Che Guevara or simply 'Che.'
Born in 1928 in Rosario, Argentina, Che pursued a medical degree while studying at the University of Buenos Aires, which he interspersed with two long journeys on a motorized-bicycle and a semi-proper motorcycle.
The second expedition, where he was accompanied by his friend and fellow student, Alberto Granado, encompassed an 8,000-kilometer trek through Chile, Peru, Colombia and other countries in Latin America.
Years later, the journey, an experience which forever shaped how Che viewed the world, was recounted in his book called “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Based on meticulous notes he took during his journey, Che described a persecuted communist couple in the Atacama desert as being “the shivering flesh-and-blood victims of capitalist exploitation.”
Of his encounters at a leper colony in Peru, he wrote, “the highest forms of human solidarity and loyalty arise among such lonely and desperate people.”
Che would go on to Guatemala where, in 1954, Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically-elected president who instituted land reform in favor of peasant farmers and other progressive measures, was overthrown with the backing of a CIA operation codenamed.
It was a pivotal event in Che's life. “The last Latin American revolutionary democracy – that of Jacobo Arbenz – failed as a result of the cold premeditated aggression carried out by the United States,” he stated. “Its visible head was the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a man who, through a rare coincidence, was also a stockholder and attorney for the United Fruit Company.”
Che then traveled to Mexico where he met exiled Cuban revolutionaries, Fidel, Raul Castro and Juan Almeida Bosque included. He would accompany them on the Granma yacht back to the island to re-ignite the revolution started by the Mambises in the late 1900s.
It is no surprise that Fidel chose Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba for his final resting place, alongside dozens of Mambise revolutionaries. They include Antonio Maceo, “the Titan Bronce” or whom Spanish colonizers called “The Greater Lion,” and his mother Mariana Grajales, an Afro-Cuban who operated a rebel mountain settlement and bush hospital, and went on to be known as the “Mother of the Nation.”
Che's participation in the Cuban revolution, notably his column's victory at Santa Clara on New Year's Eve of 1958, was critical for the defeat of Fulgencio Batista and his U.S.-backed armed forces. The revolution came to a completion on Jan. 1, 1959, as Batista fled the island with some US$300 million he had amassed in grafts and bribes.
Che would go on to craft Cuba's land reform policy, serve as Finance Minister, as well as President of Cuba's National Bank.
He addressed the United Nations as head of the Cuban diplomatic mission in 1964, asking the assembly could they do nothing to confront the “brutal policy of apartheid” in South Africa. He also criticized the United States, saying “those who let the murderers of blacks remain free, protecting them, and furthermore punishing the black population...how can those who do this consider themselves guardians of freedom?”
Che also participated in revolutionary expeditions in the Congo and Bolivia. He was executed in the latter country, with the assistance of the CIA, on Oct. 9, 1967.
Some of his famous quotes include:
“The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”
“I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”
“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”
“We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.”
“I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting.”