On July 7th 1953 Argentine revolutionary Dr. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara set off on a trip across the countries of South America, culminating in the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
This marked another major bask of exploration after he discovered the fraught economic conditions of South America and the injustices of US colonialism during a 5,000 mile motorcycle trip alongside his friend, Alberto Granado, in 1951. The notes taken of crushing poverty and capitalist exploitation across Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, alongside the companionship and solidarity among the peasantry, were made into a New York Times bestseller – ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’. He was now to view Latin America as a single-entity which required liberation, and realised that he must go above and beyond his medical qualifications (he graduated as a doctor in June 1953) to enter an armed political struggle to bring social justice to the people that he met – ensuring for example the loss of a child was not accepted as an unfortunate accident.
During his next northward escapade in July 1953, Guevara settled for a period in Guatemala, where democratically-elected President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán experimented with land reforms which aimed to break up large latifundia estates and redistribute them among the landless peasantry, whilst reducing the influence of the American United Fruit Company. Cultivating association with Hilda Gadea Acosta, a Peruvian economist (who Che married in 1955) from the Alianza Popular Revolucionara Americana (APRA), he was introduced with high-ranking members of the government, and then he made contact with the Cuban exiles who led a botched attack on federal army barracks in Moncada, Santiago.
“If he needed to know anything else about how people in these towns were living, this was a great way to do it. We had the opportunity to see how the miners were treated – Bolivians and miners were treated like animals,”
Carlos Ferrer, Guevara’s close childhood friend who accompanied him in July 1953.
Along the way, I had the opportunity to pass through the dominions of the United Fruit, convincing me once again of just how terrible these capitalist octopuses are. I have sworn before a picture of the old and mourned comrade Stalin that I won’t rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated.
Letter to his aunt Beatriz describing what he had seen while traveling through Guatemala
His time in Guatemala was brought to an end by a US military coup which overthrew the Arbenz government. The CIA Operation PBSUCCESS came into intensity when the Arbenz government recieved infantry from communist Czechoslovakia in May 1954, stirring up anti-government propaganda through leaflets and radio and beginning bombing raids from unmarked planes. The US government again sponsored Castillo Armas to lead the Coup d’etat (despite a failed attempt a year earlier) and the intensity of pressure on the Guatemalan government led to Arbenz resignation on 27th June. The invasion of a 480 CIA-trained men supported by air left the Guatemalan army reluctant to fight and Guevara was left frustrated by the inaction of his militia, and following the coup Arbenz, speaking from the Mexican Embassy, had told his supporters to flee the country. The new military junta elected Armas as President on July 8th and he consolidated power via mass arrest and execution of hundreds of leftists, leaving Guevara isolated as voice of the resistance who was marked for murder in the protection of the Argentine consulate. Labour unions were crushed, United Fruits landholdings were restored and the US was confirmed to Che as an imperialist barrier to socioeconomic equality. He now viewed armed revolution as the only means to secure Marxism and social justice for all.
It was in Mexico in June 1955 when, as a doctor in Mexico City, he met Raul and Fidel Castro and turned his attention to overthrowing the Cuban regime via the 26th July Movement, in order to hit hard a US policy of installing and backing repressive regimes around the world. A harsh disciplinarian, Che was the prized asset of the guerrilla army and is regarded as the intelligence behind Fidel Castro’s operation, fast becoming the Comandante of a second army column. The combined vision, ruthlessness and determination of the two revolutionaries was key to the overthrow of Batista’s government in January 1959, eight years prior to Che’s execution at the hands of US-backed Bolivian troops.
Read on to find out about Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution: