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Granma yacht: the vessel which brought the cuban revolution in cuba.

Granma yacht

On November 1956, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Castro’s brother, Raul Castro, along with 80 other fighters, departed from the Mexican port of Tuxpan, Veracruz and headed to Cuba on the yacht “Granma.” The 60-foot (18 meters) diesel-powered cabin cruiser, originally designed for twelve people, brought the Cuban revolutionaries who overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista.

The cruiser was built in 1943, and it is said that it was originally named after the grandmother of the original owner. However, the revolutionaries called the yacht simply “Granma,” as an affectionate term for a grandmother. The yacht was purchased only a month before the revolution, on the 10th October 1956. It was bought from the United States for MX$ 50,000 (US$15,000), through a gun dealer Antonio “The Friend” del Conde from Mexico City.

Granma Memorial in Havana  Photo credit

Castro’s initial plan for crossing the Gulf of Mexico was to purchase a US naval crash rescue boat or a Catalina flying boat maritime aircraft. However, he wasn’t able to realize his idea due to the lack of funds. The money for the “Granma” yacht was donated to the revolution by the former Cuban President Carlos Prío Socarrás and Teresa Casuso Morín, a prominent Cuban intellectual, and writer, who fought for freedom and democracy in Cuba.

The Cuban Revolutionaries, later known as “Los expedicionarios del yate Granma” (“The Granma yacht expeditioners”) set out from Tuxpan shortly after midnight, on the 25th November. For more than a week, the members of the expedition experienced sea-sickness, diminishing supplies, and a leaking craft until the 2nd December, when the 82 revolutionaries arrived on Playa Las Coloradas, municipality of Niquero, today known as Granma Province. The location was chosen by the Cuban national hero, Jose Marti.

José Julián Martí Pérez was an important figure in Latin American literature   Photo credit

The site was chosen by the Cuban national hero, Jose Marti. He had landed at the very same location 61 years earlier, during the independence wars from the Spanish colonial rule. The yacht was navigated by Castro’s ally and the Cuban Navy veteran, Norberto Collado Abreu.

Here’s what Che Guevara has written about the landing: “We reached solid ground, lost, stumbling along like so many shadows or ghosts marching in response to some obscure psychic impulse. We had been through seven days of constant hunger and sickness during the sea crossing, topped by three still more terrible days on land. Exactly ten days after our departure from Mexico, during the early morning hours of December 5th, following a night-long march interrupted by fainting and frequent rest periods, we reached a spot paradoxically known as Alegría de Pío (Rejoicing of the Pious)”. Ernesto “Che” Guevara (World Leaders Past & Present) by Douglas Kellner, 1989, Chelsea House Publishers, pg 40.

After the triumph of the revolution on 1st January 1959, the yacht was transferred to Havana Bay and its pilot, Norberto Collado Abreu, got the job of guarding and preserving the cabin cruiser. Since 1976, the “Granma” is on permanent display in a glass enclosure at the Granma Memorial adjacent to the Museum of the Revolution in Havana.

The Revolution Square (Plaza de la Revolución) Havana  Photo credit

The location of the Granma landing, Playa Las Coloradas, was declared “Granma National Park,” a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, for its natural habitat.

Read another story from us: CIA attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro on 638 occasions

On 2nd December, when Cuba celebrates the “Day of the Cuban Armed Forces,” a replica of the vessel has been paraded at state functions to commemorate the original revolutionary voyage. Granma is also the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. As a matter of fact, the name has become an icon of the Cuban communism.

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The Boat that Kept the Cuban Revolution Afloat

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On a windy November evening, a band of rebels huddled anxiously on the banks of Tuxpán River. They were former convicts and future world leaders, Naval officers and weapons smugglers — each willing to risk their life to overthrow a murderous dictator.

Overhead an ominous sky loomed, foreshadowing a harrowing voyage ahead.

Standing between the men and their destiny was a treacherous 1,200 nautical mile journey. And despite stormy seas, poor planning and the infinitesimal odds of overpowering Cuba’s military forces, their ship kept their mission afloat.

That ship was a 58-foot Wheeler warship named Granma.

Granma’s Origins

Howard E. Wheeler Sr. founded The Wheeler Shipyard Corporation in 1910 in Brooklyn, New York, to build high-quality, beautifully designed yachts up to 85 feet in length. By the late 1930s, demand was so high they had to expand their facilities to ramp up production.

Shortly after the United States entered the war in late 1941, the government leased land near the Whitestone Bridge in Queens to the Wheeler shipbuilders. Wheeler immediately switched gears to support America’s defense and began producing a fleet of ships for the Navy, Army and Coast Guard. All pleasure boatbuilding was halted.

Granma was originally designed and commissioned for military use as part of a much larger fleet of ships for the war effort. Her carvel-planked hull was made of long-leaf pine on oak frames designed to accommodate 12 passengers with a cruising speed of 9 knots.

After the war, the military ships built by Wheeler were either sold, scuttled or repurposed for private use.

In 1950, Granma first appeared on U.S. Coast Guard records registered to Baton Rouge businessman Robert Erickson . While on a Gulf cruise, Erickson and his wife fell in love with Tuxpán, Mexico, on the banks of Tuxpán River. They decided to build a vacation home there and slept on their yacht while construction was underway.

One frightening night, the Ericksons awoke in Granma’s cabin to thieves who threatened their lives and took all their valuables. Souring their dream, the Ericksons changed tack and relocated to Mexico City, leaving their beloved boat behind. When a storm rolled through Tuxpán, most likely a direct hit from Tropical Storm Florence in 1954, the story of Granma was almost sunk for good.

Granma’s Unlikely Rebirth

Over a thousand nautical miles away in Cuba, Fidel Castro had instigated an ill-fated armed revolt against the Batista government at the Moncada Army Barracks , which led to a 15-year prison sentence. However, under public pressure, Batista released Castro and his collaborators just two years later, a decision that would come back to haunt him.

Fidel and his brother Raúl fled to Mexico, a hub of anti-Batista activists at the time, including Argentinian Marxist Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Mexican arms dealer Antonio Del Conde . Guevara and Del Conde were the exiles’ closest allies in Mexico City, sharing Fidel’s ideals and arming, hiding, funding, feeding and training his growing rebel band.

While passing through Tuxpán to run errands for the rebels, Del Conde saw a white hull peeking out of the marsh grass on the edge of the river. The ship was clearly wrecked, but the name on the transom was legible: Granma. Del Conde was so captivated by the ship’s beauty, he tracked down the Ericksons in Mexico City. While Granma’s diesels were inundated, her keel was broken and the entire boat was generally a mess after being partially submerged, Del Conde was undeterred in his desire to purchase her. He offered the Ericksons $20,000 — equivalent to more than $220,000 today — to buy a ship requiring significant repairs to ever become seaworthy again.

A Bigger Vision for Granma

Granma became Del Conde’s prized possession. He knew it would take him years to restore the ship to her former glory, but he was committed.

His comrade Fidel was also committed … to plotting a revolution. He fervently believed if he could make it to Cuban shores and survive for 72 hours he would be triumphant in overthrowing Batista. After shooting practice one day, Del Conde went to the river to check on Granma, unaware that Fidel followed him. When he set eyes on the mangled ship, Fidel declared his return to Cuba would be on that very boat.

In an instant, Del Conde’s timeline to restore Granma went from years to weeks. He and his team replaced the keel, planks, generator, lights and wiring. The two diesel engines were sent to a GM factory in Mexico City to be repaired. Del Conde commissioned his armory to fabricate new fuel tanks that maximized the space below deck. Sea trials were conducted to establish fuel burn statistics, but without the tonnage of dozens of men and gear on board, their calculations were merely a stab in the dark.

Sailing into the Storm

November 30, 1956, was the date chosen for an attack against the Cuban military, where allies on the island were expecting Fidel’s amphibious force to lead the fight. Castro knew the journey would take a minimum of five days; yet inexplicably he chose November 25 to depart, ignoring the stormy weather forecast and leaving he and his crew no margin for error.

On the evening of the 25 th , Castro’s band of 140 rebels congregated on the bank of Tuxpán River. This posed the first of many challenges – Granma was designed to carry 12 passengers or up to 25 for short trips. Fidel selected 81 men from the group for the mission, including his brother Raúl, trusted aide Ché Guevara and Norberto Collado , a WWII Naval hero with expert navigation skills and an uncanny resistance to seasickness. They packed onto the ship like sardines, shoulder to shoulder with no life vests, only oranges to eat and the hope that they had enough fuel to get to Cuba.

Under the cover of darkness, they sailed down the river and into the Gulf of Mexico where furious seas and 30-knot wind gusts greeted them with impunity.

Tumultuous waters lifted Granma and threw her from cresting waves so hard that the men feared she would sink beneath their feet. The seasick passengers were packed in so tightly they had no choice but to vomit on one another. With the horrendous stench permeating the ship, things went from bad to worse over the next eight hours. The transmission struggled and the men had to bail water out of the boat after the bilge pump failed and Granma took on dangerous amounts of seawater.

For days, Granma’s heavy load struggled against the waves, wind and current. At the helm, Collado slowed her speed to just 6.7 knots, further delaying the crew’s anticipated arrival time.

Ironically, overloading the ship actually made Granma more stable. The weight provided resistance against the roiling seas, without which she would have likely overturned.

Finally, on the third day, the frontal system passed and gave way to mellower seas and sunny skies. After some engine tinkering and winds that calmed to manageable trade winds of 20 knots, Collado revved up Granma to 7.5 knots and steered her toward Cuba.

Making Landfall

Against all odds, Granma’s sturdy construction had delivered them to this point. But their luck was about to run out.

None of the passengers had anticipated such an arduous journey, and misfortune continued to follow them onto land. Guided by the Cape Cruz light, Granma reached Cuba three days behind schedule and not at Castro’s intended rendezvous point with his allies.

Their nautical charts for the coast had been wrong. Their fuel was low. Dawn was approaching. And unbeknownst to them, Batista had caught wind of their surprise attack.

Fearful of being discovered by enemy air patrols, Castro ordered Collado to run Granma aground at full throttle about 100 yards from mangroves. More shipwreck than amphibious assault, the woozy sailors quickly began loading mortars and machine guns into a dinghy, which promptly sank. They had no choice but to lower themselves into chest-deep water and carry their rifles over their heads into the swamp.

The rebels marched through the mangrove forest, but just three days later, their guide betrayed them by leading them straight into an ambush by government troops.

Nearly all of Fidel’s men were killed or captured. A few lucky souls eluded either fate: the Castro brothers, Ché Guevara and about a dozen other men managed to reach the safety of the Sierra Maestra mountains.

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The Aftermath

While the initial coup did not go as planned, Fidel and a handful of his comrades lived to fight another day . They rallied a force of about 300 insurgents who took up arms in a succession of victories against government forces. As Fidel’s forces swarmed to nearly 1,000 men, Batista fled to the Dominican Republic in January of 1959. With the previous dictator gone, Fidel’s revolutionary army seized the capital and put him into power for the next five decades.

Granma Today

Norberto Collado was one of the captured rebels during the unsuccessful coup. His comrades freed him from prison in 1959 and he returned to military service. He rose to the rank of captain, and one of his duties was being the caretaker for their beloved Granma.

The Erickson’s former house in Tuxpán was turned into The Mexico-Cuba Friendship Museum , where Granma’s important role in the Cuban Revolution is on full display. You can find Granma restored to pristine condition in a glass-structure behind the Museum of the Revolution in Havana .

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  • The Wheeler Story

The Landing of the Granma

By j.a. sierra.

FEARING FOR THEIR LIFE after being released from prison on May 15 1955, Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul went to Mexico City to organize the war against dictator Fulgencio Batista . "We will return when we can bring to our people the liberty and the right to live decently without despotism and without hunger," wrote Castro in the weekly Bohemia .

"Seventeen months were to pass from the time Castro left Havana until his disastrous and fateful return to Cuba," says New York Times journalist Herbert L. Matthews in his book Revolution in Cuba . "It was a frustrating, harassed, penurious time. The two great problems were to train his expeditionary force and raise the money for arms and a boat on which to get to Cuba. These had to be done in the face of constant interference by the Mexican police, treachery among the Cubans, and spying by Batista agents. At one time Castro and twenty-two of his comrades spent three weeks in a Mexico City jail for illegally possessing arms."

Shortly after arriving in Mexico, the Castros were introduced to a young Argentine physician named Ernesto Guevara . "I had been linked to him from the outset by a tie of romantic adventurous sympathy," writes Guevara in Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War , "and by the conviction that it would be worth dying on a foreign beach for such a pure ideal." Guevara joined the expedition as the revolutionary army's official doctor.

A leisure yacht named Granma was secured for the trip to Cuba. Although seaworthy, the ship was not in the best shape. Badly worn gears prevented the ship from achieving significant speed, and the radio could only receive, making it impossible to communicate with allies in Cuba. The craft was overcrowded with weapons, ammunition, and 82 soldiers. To make matters worse, the ship's tanks held 1,200 gallons of fuel, not nearly enough to reach Cuba, so an additional 2,000 gallons, in cans, were stored on deck.

"It was 1:00 a.m., November 25 1956, and time to leave," recalls Faustino Pérez in Diary of the Cuban Revolution . "As quietly as possible, with only one engine going at low speed and all her lights out, the Granma began to pull away. We were crouched so close together that we were almost on top of one another. The helmsman followed the middle of the channel toward the river's mouth. On either side of us, the city slept on. It took half an hour to leave the river, and perhaps another half an hour to cross the harbor. No one had seen us, and were now entering the gulf."

"The departure was hasty," writes Matthews in The Cuban Story , "for the Mexican authorities were after him. There was little food; the boat--which could comfortably accommodate no more than a dozen men-was dreadfully overcrowded; the Granma's engines were bad. Everything seemed to go wrong. It had been arranged that his 26th of July followers in Santiago de Cuba would rise on November 30, the day Fidel and his band were supposed to land. There was a brave, but of course, futile uprising on November 30, with Fidel far out to sea."

On the last day of the journey, ex-navy lieutenant Roque fell overboard. "The Granma's search lights were turned on for the first time," recalls Faustino Pérez in Diary of the Cuban Revolution , "when it was more dangerous than ever. Nothing helped. Our comrade was being swallowed by the deep. Never willing to give up, Fidel ordered one more search. We heard the cry "Here!" again, weaker but inexplicably closer now. Pichirilo Mejías, our brave, efficient Dominican helmsman, saw him first and miraculously rescued him. His strength, his ability, his level headedness, as well as Fidel's faith and the efforts of his comrades had saved his life."

The landing of the Granma , in December 1956, was planned to re-enact the route that José Martí had followed to begin Cuba's War of Independence in 1895. The target landing spot was a town called Niquero, in Oriente province. Still waiting for them on December 2 was Celia Sánches, one of the founders of the July-26-Movement , with an assortment of trucks, jeeps, food, weapons and about 50 men.

Leaking and running days behind schedule, the Granma was spotted by a helicopter, and the rebels were forced to beach the ship at a spot called Playa de los Colorados, near the village of "Las Coloradas," about fifteen miles south of the designated spot. The new landing area was more of a swamp than a beach, and the rebels were unable to unload most of their weapons due to the muddy waters, the thick undergrowth plant life and small crabs.

"Just consider where the landing took place," says Celia Sánchez in The Twelve , a book by Carlos Franqui about the early days of the struggle against Batista. "If they had debarked right on the beach instead of at the swamp, they would have found trucks, jeeps, gasoline. It would have been a walkaway."

The troops regrouped inland and began to move toward the Sierra Maestra, unable to find anything to eat that first day. Along the way, peasants and farmers gave them food and water, until on December 5, betrayed by their guide, the rebels were ambushed at Alegría de Pío. They were forced to scatter again, and most were killed in battle, or as they attempted to surrender.

For eleven days the remaining rebels, wounded, hungry and scattered, evaded Batista's army, regrouping on December 18 deep inside the Sierra Maestra Mountains.

Of the 82 who made the trip from Mexico, only twelve made it to the Sierra Maestra, including the Castro brothers, Che Guevara (wounded and bleeding), Camilo Cienfuegos, Juan Almeida, Efigenio Amejeiras, Ciro Redondo, Julio Díaz, Calixto García, Luis Crespo, Jose Ponce and Universo Sanchez. "We will win this war," said Castro, "we're just beginning to fight!"

Related : Escape to the Sierra Maestra by Che Guevara | Frank País and the Underground Movement in the cities, and Battle of Jigüe , from Terrence Cannon's: REVOLUTIONARY CUBA | Contents: Before the Revolution

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Man behind Castro's Granma yacht lost for words over death

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People walk past a graffiti that reads "Long live Fidel" in Havana, Cuba

Writing by Christine Murray; Editing by Dave Graham and Jonathan Oatis

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Fidel Castro and the revolution that (almost) wasn’t

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Professor of Modern History, University of Leeds

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Simon Hall does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Sixty years ago, Fidel Castro launched an audacious bid to liberate Cuba from the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista – the American-backed strongman whose repressive regime was characterised by corruption and economic and social inequality. At the time, though, this effort appeared destined to be little more than a footnote in the history of the 20th century.

In the early hours of Sunday November 25, the Granma , a creaking, twin-engine leisure yacht left Tuxpan, in Mexico, headed for Cuba. At 58 feet long, and with just four small cabins, the Granma was designed to accommodate about two dozen people. Packed aboard that night, however, were 82 men, all members of the 26th of July Movement , a vanguard organisation committed to ending the rule of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Their leader was Fidel Castro, an enigmatic 30-year-old lawyer and professional revolutionary. Squeezed in among the compañeros (who counted Fidel’s younger brother, Raúl , and a young Argentine doctor, Ernesto “Che” Guevara among their number) was a substantial arsenal including two anti-tank guns, a small quantity of food and medical supplies, and 2,000 gallons of fuel stored in metal cans on deck.

A combination of rough seas and the poor state of the Granma itself soon threatened total disaster. Almost the entire crew was afflicted by dreadful seasickness and the boat came perilously close to sinking when the bilge pumps failed. Fidel had originally planned to land at Niquero , on the south-east of the island, on November 30 to coincide with a planned uprising in the nearby city of Santiago de Cuba . But the boat’s badly worn gears meant that the journey itself was painfully slow – and they were still at sea when the city rose up without them . The rebellion, however, was brutally crushed after a couple of days.

The Granma eventually hit the Cuban coast as dawn began to break on December 2. Rather than landing at Niquero , where allies were waiting with supplies and trucks, the Granma ran aground ten miles south of the agreed rendezvous. They could hardly have picked a worse spot.

It was ‘hell’

Forced to abandon most of their equipment, the compañeros – proudly wearing their new drab-olive fatigues and boots and carrying rifles and knapsacks – waded ashore through muddy salt water, only to find themselves faced with seemingly endless mangrove swamps, whose thick mass of roots proved nearly impossible to penetrate. In the words of Raúl Castro, it was “ hell ”. They struggled on for several hours before finally reaching dry land, exhausted and hungry, and caked in mud.

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The rebels’ only hope now was to reach the relative sanctuary of the Sierra Maestra mountains to the east. But by the morning of December 5, malnourished, desperately thirsty and suffering from fungal infections and painful open blisters, they were, as Che Guevara later recalled, “ an army of shadows, ghosts ”.

There was no choice but to stop. They had reached Alegría de Pío (meaning “Joy of the Pious”), a grove of trees that bordered a sugarcane field on one side. Most of the men stretched out, and slept.

Later that afternoon Che was leaning against a tree, munching on a couple of crackers, when the first shot rang out. Betrayed by a guide, who had left the camp earlier in the day, the compañeros were under attack from Batista’s troops . As fighter jets swooped low over the woods an infantry unit opened fire. In the confusion, several revolutionaries were killed; others scrabbled desperately for cover. Wounded in the neck, Guevera returned fire with his rifle, before dragging himself into the relative safety of an adjoining field. Ten days after leaving Mexico, Castro’s “army” had been routed.

Suicide mission

In mid-December 1956, nobody – with the possible exception of Fidel Castro – thought that the little band of rebels would prove victorious. Indeed, Castro’s attempt to launch a revolution was widely dismissed by journalists as “ quixotic ”, “ pathetic ” and even “ suicidal ”.

Rumours abounded that Castro had been killed. The respected news bureau, United Press International, as well as the New York Times, reported his death, and that of his brother Raúl, as “fact” . Having noted Castro’s arrival in Cuba in its leader column on December 4, The Times of London confidently swatted aside its significance. Noting that Batista was a “veteran of many revolutions”, it predicted that : “it is unlikely that the latest will shake his position”.

With many of the Granma’s landing party either killed or captured, and the remaining 20 or so survivors scattered, their prospects in early December certainly looked pretty bleak. For several days Castro himself commanded the grand total of two men (Universo Sánchez, a peasant who served as Fidel’s bodyguard, and Faustino Pérez, a pharmacist). Slowly, though, the rebels began to regroup in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, nearing Mt. Caracas, 4,000 feet above sea level, by year’s end.

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It was from here that Castro launched a remarkable military campaign, which – with the support of the urban-based opposition , the labour movement and others – culminated in his triumphant march into Havana on January 8, 1959, following Batista’s flight nine days earlier , on New Year’s Eve.

The Cuban revolution would reverberate far beyond the Caribbean, and not just because for 13 days in October 1962 the world teetered on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Revolutionary Cuba, under Castro’s leadership, helped to promote socialism throughout Latin America and also played a major role in the global struggles against imperialism, racism, and capitalism .

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Castro provided military support to leftist revolutionaries in Algeria and Angola, and sent tens of thousands of Cuban health workers and physicians to the third world. In the late 1950s and early 1960s many black Americans, too, were inspired by Castro’s commitment to racial equality. During a visit to New York in September 1960 to address the UN General Assembly, Castro, enraged by demands that his delegation pay their bill upfront, and in cash, famously stormed out of the Shelburne Hotel in Manhattan’s Midtown and took up residence at the Hotel Theresa, in the heart of Harlem .

There, he was afforded a rapturous reception by the black population, and entertained a slew of world leaders – including Nikita Khrushchev, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru. A bitter critic of apartheid, Castro also provided consistent support to the ANC .

Although its lustre would eventually fade, not least because of Castro’s dreadful human rights record , the Cuban revolution also re-energised leftist movements across Europe and in the United States – many of which had struggled to find their moorings in the aftermath of Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin and the Soviet invasion of Hungary . Castro, and – above all – Che Guevara, became revolutionary icons for a generation of sixties radicals .

In 1956 , Castro’s bold claim that: “ we will be free or we will be martyrs ” resonated with the times. The year also saw African American activists in Montgomery, Alabama, achieve a historic victory following their year-long boycott of the city’s segregated buses, tens of thousands of South African women take to the streets of Pretoria to denounce apartheid, independence for the Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco and the Gold Coast (Ghana), and a popular uprising against Stalinist rule in Hungary.

Sixty years on, however, Castro’s death serves as a coda to a year in which the forces of history appear to be marching to a very different beat.

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Che Guevara's Role in Cuban Revolution

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Che Guevara was a key figure in the Cuban Revolution, a political and social revolution that took place in Cuba from 1953 to 1959. The revolution was led by Fidel Castro and his 26th of July Movement, and it resulted in the overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Guevara first met Fidel Castro and his brother Raul in Mexico in 1955. The three men quickly formed a close bond and Guevara joined the 26th of July Movement. He played a key role in the planning and execution of the revolution, serving as both a military commander and a political advisor to Castro.

In 1956, Guevara and a small group of rebels, including Castro and Raul, set sail for Cuba aboard the yacht Granma. The group landed in eastern Cuba and set up a base in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Over the next two years, Guevara and his comrades fought a guerrilla war against Batista's forces, slowly building support among the Cuban people and weakening the dictatorship.

Guevara's military tactics were crucial to the success of the revolution. He was a skilled guerrilla fighter and was able to outmaneuver Batista's soldiers in the rugged mountains. He also helped to organize and train a peasant army, which was instrumental in the defeat of Batista's regular army.

In addition to his military role, Guevara was also heavily involved in the political and social aspects of the revolution. He believed that the revolution should not only overthrow Batista, but also fundamentally change the social and economic structure of Cuba. He advocated for land reform, the nationalization of industry, and the creation of a communist state.

After the revolution's success, Guevara played a key role in the new government. He served as the President of the National Bank of Cuba and as the Minister of Industries. He also played a leading role in the implementation of the revolution's social and economic policies, such as the Literacy Program, which aimed to eliminate illiteracy in Cuba, and the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, which aimed to redistribute land to the peasantry.

Guevara's role in the Cuban Revolution was not without controversy. He was known for his ruthless tactics, including the execution of prisoners, and for his strong-arm tactics in dealing with political opponents. He also played a leading role in the persecution of homosexuals, and in the repression of dissenting voices.

Despite these controversies, Guevara remains a highly respected figure in Cuba and is celebrated as one of the heroes of the revolution. His legacy continues to inspire people around the world who are fighting for social and economic justice.

In 1965, Guevara left Cuba to spread the revolution in other countries. He went first to Africa and then to Bolivia, where he was captured and executed in 1967.

In summary, Che Guevara played a key role in the Cuban Revolution, serving as both a military commander and a political advisor to Fidel Castro. His military tactics were crucial to the success of the revolution, and he played a leading role in the implementation of the revolution's social and economic policies. Despite the controversies surrounding his tactics and beliefs, Guevara remains a highly respected figure in Cuba and continues to inspire people around the world fighting for social and economic justice.

Biography of Ernesto Che Guevara, Revolutionary Leader

The Idealist of the Cuban Revolution

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Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (June 14, 1928–October 9, 1967) was an Argentine physician and revolutionary who played a key role in the Cuban Revolution . He also served in the government of Cuba after the communist takeover before leaving Cuba to try to stir up rebellions in Africa and South America. He was captured and executed by Bolivian security forces in 1967. Today, he is considered by many to be a symbol of rebellion and idealism, while others see him as a murderer.

Fast Facts: Ernesto Guevara de la Serna

  • Known For : Key figure in the Cuban Revolution
  • Also Known As : Che
  • Born : June 14, 1928 in Rosario, Santa Fe province, Argentina
  • Parents : Ernesto Guevara Lynch, Celia de la Serna y Llosa
  • Died : October 9, 1967 in La Higuera, Vallegrande, Bolivia
  • Education : University of Buenos Aires
  • Published Works : The Motorcycle Diaries, Guerrilla Warfare, The African Dream, The Bolivian Diary
  • Awards and Honors : Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Southern Cross
  • Spouse(s) : Hilda Gadea, Aleida March 
  • Children : Hilda, Aleida, Camilo, Celia, Ernesto
  • Notable Quote : "If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine."

Ernesto was born into a middle-class family in Rosario, Argentina . His family was somewhat aristocratic and could trace their lineage to the early days of Argentine settlement. The family moved around a great deal while Ernesto was young. He developed severe asthma early in life; the attacks were so bad that witnesses were occasionally scared for his life. He was determined to overcome his ailment, however, and was very active in his youth, playing rugby, swimming, and doing other physical activities. He also received an excellent education.

In 1947, Ernesto moved to Buenos Aires to care for his elderly grandmother. She died shortly thereafter and he began medical school. Some believe he was driven to study medicine because of his inability to save his grandmother. He was a believer in the idea that a patient's state of mind is as important as the medicine he or she is given. He remained very close to his mother and stayed fit through exercise, although his asthma continued to plague him. He decided to take a vacation and put his studies on hold.

The Motorcycle Diaries

At the end of 1951, Ernesto set off with his good friend Alberto Granado on a trip north through South America. For the first part of the trip, they had a Norton motorcycle, but it was in poor repair and had to be abandoned in Santiago. They traveled through Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, where they parted ways. Ernesto continued to Miami and returned to Argentina from there. Ernesto kept notes during his trip, which he subsequently made into a book, "The Motorcycle Diaries," which was made into an award-winning movie in 2004. The trip showed him the poverty and misery all throughout Latin America and he wanted to do something about it, even if he did not know what.

Ernesto returned to Argentina in 1953 and finished medical school. He left again almost immediately, however, heading up the western Andes and traveling through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia before reaching Central America . He eventually settled for a while in Guatemala, at the time experimenting with significant land reform under President Jacobo Arbenz. It was about this time that he acquired his nickname "Che," an Argentine expression meaning (more or less) "hey there." When the CIA overthrew Arbenz, Che tried to join a brigade and fight, but it was over too quickly. Che took refuge in the Argentine Embassy before securing safe passage to Mexico.

Mexico and Fidel

In Mexico, Che met and befriended Raúl Castro , one of the leaders in the assault on the Moncada Barracks in Cuba in 1953. Raúl soon introduced his new friend to his brother Fidel , leader of the 26th of July movement which sought to remove Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista from power. Che had been looking for a way to strike a blow against the imperialism of the United States that he had seen firsthand in Guatemala and elsewhere in Latin America; he eagerly signed on for the revolution, and Fidel was delighted to have a doctor. At this time, Che also became close friends with fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos .

Transition to Cuba

Che was one of 82 men who piled onto the yacht Granma in November 1956. The Granma, designed for only 12 passengers and loaded with supplies, gas, and weapons, barely made it to Cuba, arriving on December 2. Che and the others made for the mountains but were tracked down and attacked by security forces. Fewer than 20 of the original Granma soldiers made it into the mountains; the two Castros, Che, and Camilo were among them. Che had been wounded, shot during the skirmish. In the mountains, they settled in for a long guerrilla war, attacking government posts, releasing propaganda, and attracting new recruits.

Che in the Revolution

Che was an important player in the Cuban Revolution, perhaps second only to Fidel Castro himself. Che was clever, dedicated, determined, and tough, though his asthma was a constant torture for him. He was promoted to  comandante  and given his own command. He saw to their training himself and indoctrinated his soldiers with communist beliefs. He was organized and demanded discipline and hard work from his men. He occasionally allowed foreign journalists to visit his camps and write about the revolution. Che's column was very active, participating in several engagements with the Cuban army in 1957 and 1958.

Batista's Offensive

In the summer of 1958, Batista sent large forces of soldiers into the mountains, seeking to round up and destroy the rebels once and for all. This strategy was a huge mistake and backfired badly. The rebels knew the mountains well and ran circles around the army. Many of the soldiers, demoralized, deserted or even switched sides. At the end of 1958, Castro decided it was time for the knockout punch. He sent three columns, one of which was Che's, into the heart of the country.

Santa Clara

Che was assigned to capture the strategic city of Santa Clara. On paper, it looked like suicide. There were some 2,500 federal troops there, with tanks and fortifications. Che himself only had roughly 300 ragged men, poorly armed and hungry. Morale was low among the Cuban soldiers, however, and the populace of Santa Clara mostly supported the rebels. Che arrived on December 28 and the fighting began. By December 31, the rebels controlled the police headquarters and the city but not the fortified barracks. The soldiers inside refused to fight or come out, and when Batista heard of Che's victory he decided the time had come to leave. Santa Clara was the largest single battle of the Cuban Revolution and the last straw for Batista.

After the Revolution

Che and the other rebels rode into Havana in triumph and began setting up a new government. Che, who had ordered the execution of several traitors during his days in the mountains, was assigned (along with Raúl) to round up, bring to trial, and execute former Batista officials. Che organized hundreds of trials of Batista cronies, most of them in the army or police forces. Most of these trials ended in a conviction and execution. The international community was outraged, but Che didn't care: he was a true believer in the Revolution and in communism. He felt that an example needed to be made of those who had supported tyranny.

Government Posts

As one of the few men truly trusted by  Fidel Castro , Che was kept very busy in post-Revolution Cuba. He was made the head of the Ministry of Industry and head of the Cuban Bank. Che was restless, however, and he took long trips abroad as a sort of ambassador of the revolution to improve Cuba's international standing. During Che's time in governmental office, he oversaw the conversion of much of Cuba's economy to communism. He was instrumental in cultivating the relationship between the  Soviet Union  and Cuba and had played a part in trying to bring Soviet missiles to Cuba. This, of course, was a major factor in the  Cuban Missile Crisis .

Ché the Revolutionary

In 1965, Che decided he was not meant to be a government worker, even one in a high post. His calling was revolution, and he would go and spread it around the world. He disappeared from public life (leading to incorrect rumors about a strained relationship with Fidel) and began plans for bringing about revolutions in other nations. The communists believed that Africa was the weak link in the western capitalist/imperialist stranglehold on the world, so Che decided to head to the Congo to support a revolution there led by Laurent Désiré Kabila.

When Che had left, Fidel read a letter to all of Cuba in which Che declared his intention to spread revolution, fighting imperialism wherever he could find it. Despite Che's revolutionary credentials and idealism, the Congo venture was a total fiasco. Kabila proved unreliable, Che and the other Cubans failed to duplicate the conditions of the Cuban Revolution, and a massive mercenary force led by South African "Mad" Mike Hoare was sent to root them out. Che wanted to remain and die fighting as a martyr, but his Cuban companions convinced him to escape. All in all, Che was in Congo for about nine months and he considered it one of his greatest failures.

Back in Cuba, Che wanted to try again for another communist revolution, this time in Argentina. Fidel and the others convinced him that he was more likely to succeed in Bolivia. Che went to Bolivia in 1966. From the start, this effort was also a fiasco. Che and the 50 or so Cubans who accompanied him were supposed to get support from clandestine communists in Bolivia, but they proved unreliable and possibly were the ones who betrayed him. He was also up against the CIA, which was in Bolivia training Bolivian officers in counterinsurgency techniques. It wasn't long before the CIA knew Che was in the country and began monitoring his communications.

Che and his ragged band scored some early victories against the Bolivian army in mid-1967. In August, his men were caught by surprise and one-third of his force was wiped out in a firefight; by October, he was down to only about 20 men and had little in the way of food or supplies. By now, the Bolivian government had posted a $4,000 reward for information leading to Che. That was a lot of money in those days in rural Bolivia. By the first week of October, Bolivian security forces were closing in on Che and his rebels.

On October 7, Che and his men stopped to rest in the Yuro ravine. Local peasants alerted the army, who moved in. A firefight broke out, killing some rebels, and Che himself was injured in the leg. On October 8, he was captured alive, allegedly shouting out to his captors "I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead." The army and CIA officers interrogated him that night, but he did not have much information to give out. With his capture, the rebel movement he headed was essentially over. On October 9, the order was given, and Che was executed, shot by Sergeant Mario Terán of the Bolivian Army.

Che Guevara had a huge impact on his world, not only as a major player in the Cuban Revolution but also afterward, when he tried to export the revolution to other nations. He achieved the martyrdom that he so desired, and in doing so he became a larger-than-life figure.

Che is one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century. Many revere him, especially in Cuba, where his face is on the 3-peso note and every day schoolchildren vow to "be like Che" as part of a daily chant. Around the world, people wear t-shirts with his image on them, usually portraying a famous photo taken of Che in Cuba by photographer Alberto Korda (more than one person has noted the irony of hundreds of capitalists making money selling a famous image of a communist). His fans believe that he stood for freedom from imperialism, idealism, and a love for the common man and that he died for his beliefs.

Many despise Che, however. They see him as a murderer for his time presiding over the execution of Batista supporters, criticize him as the representative of a failed communist ideology and deplore his handling of the Cuban economy.

Around the world, people love or hate Che Guevara. Either way, they will not soon forget him.

  • Castañeda, Jorge C. Compañero: the Life and Death of Che Guevara. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.
  • Coltman, Leycester.  The Real Fidel Castro.  New Haven and London: the Yale University Press, 2003.
  • Sabsay, Fernando.  Protagonistas de América Latina, Vol. 2.  Buenos Aires: Editorial El Ateneo, 2006.
  • Key Players in the Cuban Revolution
  • Biography of Camilo Cienfuegos, Cuban Revolutionary
  • Biography of Raul Castro
  • A Brief History of the Cuban Revolution
  • Biography of Fulgencio Batista, Cuban President and Dictator
  • The Voyage of the Granma and the Cuban Revolution
  • Cuban Revolution: Assault on the Moncada Barracks
  • Biography of Fidel Castro, President of Cuba for 50 Years
  • Cuba: The Bay of Pigs Invasion
  • History of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua
  • Most Impressive Facial Hair in the History of Latin America
  • US and Cuba Have History of Complex Relations
  • Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban Boy Who Became a Political Pawn
  • Biography of Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian Writer, Nobel Prize Winner
  • Biography of José Martí, Cuban Poet, Patriot, Revolutionary
  • Buena Vista Social Club: Cuban Music Recaptures the World's Attention

Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training

The Hunt for Che Guevara

While living in Mexico City, he met Raul and Fidel Castro and sailed to Cuba aboard the yacht,  Granma, to fight Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Guevara soon rose to prominence and was promoted to second-in-command, playing a pivotal role in the victorious two-year guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime. Following the Cuban Revolution, Guevara performed a number of key roles in the new government, including major changes in the agricultural sector and reviewing the appeals and firing squads for those convicted as war criminals during the revolutionary tribunals.

He was also considered the chief architect behind enhanced ties with the USSR; however, he later grew angry with Khrushchev when he withdrew the nuclear missiles from Cuba and later said the cause of socialist liberation against global “imperialist aggression” would ultimately have been worth the possibility of “millions of atomic war victims.” His increasing radicalization towards Maoist-style communism led to tensions with the Castros and their relations with Moscow. Guevara then tried to foment international revolution in Algeria and the Congo before heading for Bolivia.

This is the story of how  the famed revolutionary met his end on October 9, 1967 at age 39. Ambassador Henderson served in Bolivia from 1963-1968; he was interviewed beginning in April 1988 by Richard Nethercut.

Rumors of Guevara’s Presence in Southern Bolivia

I think it’s important to notice that this Guevara episode was one that was carefully planned. It was not a hit-or-miss operation, although it may have on the surface appeared to be.

In the first place, the selection of Bolivia, and the selection of the site in Bolivia, must raise questions. If Guevara had chosen the Amazon rain forest river system, no one would have been particularly surprised. That river system had been a communication channel for communist couriers going between Cuba, Brazil, Peru and other countries for a number of years. When I was stationed in Peru we knew that some of the Peruvian guerrilla operations were being sustained this way. But he didn’t choose that. We also found out later that, for example, the Frenchman Régis Debray had surveyed the Bolivian scene earlier, possibly as early as 1965.

I would have to say that I think Guevara’s ultimate objective was to establish a revolutionary base in Bolivia from which he could move into northern Argentina, he being himself an Argentinean.

This is the significance because otherwise the area itself would not be a convenient base to start a revolution in Bolivia. The way to do that would have been to go into the mines. It wouldn’t have been hard to start up all kinds of difficulties in the mines. If you had wanted to just facilitate communist operations in surrounding countries, an Amazon River base would have been a dandy place to be; very easy place to move around, in and out.

The other part of it that seems to indicate that this was a well thought out, well established operation, was that when Guevara failed there were a group of Cubans who were with him, about six I believe, who had been surrounded in the same area. They escaped from the Bolivian army and disappeared, and resurfaced about four months later crossing the high Bolivian plateau in a very remote, desolate area fronting on Chile, a place called Uyuni. They escaped across the Chilean frontier, and the Chileans shipped them back to Cuba. But my point is rather that they were able to sustain themselves in Bolivia as hideaways for months. They could only have done that with some sort of a support group.…

Blown Cover

Q: Mao’s dictum is that the guerrilla should swim in the sea of the people, and it did seem that this was very foreign territory for Guevara. They’re a Quechua-speaking population, are they not? Did he have support in the area?  

HENDERSON: The first tip-off to his actual presence was that two Bolivians, completely fed up with the discipline of his camp, left the camp, fled to Camiri with some arms — I don’t know just what they were —and tried to sell their arms there in Camiri. They were promptly picked up by the local military commander and interrogated. The problem apparently in that camp was that the Bolivian recruits were treated with contempt by the Cuban hardcore, and were more or less the gofers.

Q: Did he get any significant support from the population?  

HENDERSON: There is no significant population in the area. This is, as I say, dry jungle, very little in the way of local population there at all; very scattered subsistence farms, nothing in the way of population concentrations.…

Guevara intended to harden his core group [of about 40 people] through training before he made any move. He was off on a training march when the two Bolivians broke away and went down to Camiri, and the whole thing was blown. Before Guevara got back, the local Bolivian commander decided that he was going to be a hero and sent I guess maybe a squad, maybe a little bit more, of his soldiers into the area where the Bolivians had told him the camp was located. But they were very clumsy and fell into an ambush….I guess a couple of them were killed, the rest of them were captured, brought into camp, interrogated, and I guess their shoes were taken because shoes were a very valuable commodity in this terrain, and then they were sent back. When Guevara came back, in this time sequence, he realized that his cover was blown, and decided he had to break camp and move out….

By this time it must have been March of ’67. Now, there were two things going on in parallel so I’m going to follow one and then I’ll follow the other.…

Guevara broke camp, decided that neither Debray nor the Argentinean could handle forced marches in that terrain. He moved his group south for about a half a day’s march to where he could shake those two out and drop them off, and then he turned back north. So Régis Debray and the Argentinean were captured almost that same afternoon and tried to give a story that they were just newspaper reporters; the Argentine was a journalist, but also a member of the Argentine Communist Party.

René Barrientos [President of Bolivia, 1964-1969] called me the night that Debray had been captured. He didn’t know who Debray was, but said that they grabbed this guy, part of this guerrilla uprising. And I said, “Your Excellency, what are you going to do?” He said, “Execute him.” I said, “Really, I think that’s not quite on. I’m not here to tell you what to do, but I can tell you what the consequences are of an action like that.” And for several days my military personnel were telling me that the man was dead.…

But the Bolivians kept Debray alive, and they kept the Argentine alive. But they got all kinds of bad publicity out of imprisoning this French intellectual. Mrs. Debray came to Bolivia and almost became a public relations problem for the French embassy, as much as anything. But, in any case, Debray is alive….As a matter of fact he [was] one of François Mitterand’s [President of France 1981-1995] advisers….

Caught by Surprise

As I say, there was another ambush and later on, probably about the middle of August [1967]. A Bolivian military group which were not part of the rangers, but which were operating in the general area, stumbled on Guevara’s bivouac at night and caught them by surprise. There was a kind of Chinese fire drill, everybody scrambling, nobody knowing what was going on. The Cuban group melted into the jungle. The Bolivians grabbed everything in sight, and it turned out that they’d picked up Guevara’s diary, his code books, his passport, his forged passport, the whole bit.…

We sent the documents back to Washington, but Washington said, “Oh, we don’t want to touch that stuff. Turn it over to the Bolivian government, and let the Bolivian embassy bring it in and they can present it to the OAS [Organization of the American States] and not as U.S. documentation at all,” which was done.…

This did establish that it was indeed Guevara. Now it’s interesting to go back just a second. In May of that year I was in Washington on consultation and I went over to talk with Fitzgerald in CIA, who was fairly high up, and he said, “Look, this can’t be Che Guevara. We think that Che Guevara was killed in the Dominican problem and is buried in an unmarked grave. But we could think of nothing better than if Che Guevara were to be in command of this operation because he is the worst guerrilla operative that we could be up against.”…

There’s one small episode which doesn’t really mean anything. Guevara in late July surfaced in a small town between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz because he needed some medications — having asthma he needed medication. He went into this town, got whatever he needed, and left, but we now had him pretty well located, and the Bolivians now had their ranger battalion trained, and we had furnished them materiel.

But, because of my intervention to keep Debray alive, and the subsequent bad publicity which the Bolivians had gotten out of the whole operation, the Bolivian military were not very forthcoming in giving us any information.

So on a Sunday morning in September…the Bolivian ranger battalion surrounded Guevara and his group. The Bolivians had the high ground. They were firing down into this ravine. They wounded Guevara and his bodyguard [Simeón Cuba Sarabia], and isolated them from the rest of the Guevara operation.

“Execute your Prisoners”

They took them prisoner, and took them into a place called La Higuera, meaning The Fig Tree, where the ranger battalion had their field headquarters. They radioed to the chief of staff through their headquarters in Santa Cruz back up to La Paz to the chief of staff, “We have Guevara, what should we do?”

And now I do not have the texts of these things, but I know what happened. The Bolivian high command sent an order to the general in Santa Cruz who relayed the order to the commander in La Higuera, “You are to execute your prisoners.”

The Bolivians saw it as an opportunity to have some luster added to the Bolivian reputation. They felt that they had struck a blow against communism, and communist infiltration, and that we should be grateful. But after Guevara lost his base camp — even though the Bolivian army did get a bloody nose in the second ambush. After that they felt pretty confident that they were going to be able to handle it. They were particularly confident because of the training that the ranger battalion got. …

Final Thoughts

HENDERSON: There is one other thing that I’ve never really understood….One: Guevara’s diary. The Bolivians tried to put it up for auction, couldn’t get the money for it that they thought they ought to get, it suddenly went underground and reappeared in Fidel Castro’s hands. It’s just an interesting little episode but who in Bolivia was negotiating with Fidel Castro for the diary, and so on. That is one of those peculiar threads, just like how those six Cubans managed to escape from Bolivia.

And the other thing is, that a number of prominent Bolivian army officers have been assassinated. One of them was the general in command of the area who transmitted the order to execute Guevara and he was gunned down in Paris.

Apparently, according to whatever sources, however reliable they are, when Guevara was taken prisoner (he was wounded, he had a wound in his leg), he apparently said, “Don’t shoot me, I’m Che Guevara. I’m worth more to you alive than dead.” Now this may be apocryphal, I don’t know, but that is what is reported to have been said. The fact is he would have been worth more alive than dead, but I think there the Debray syndrome kicked in and the Bolivians were just not having any more of that.

2 Replies to “The Hunt for Che Guevara”

My question Is why is this thug, murderer, sadist considered a hero? Even Castro excommunicated him from Cuba. He did not approve of the Che way. His goal was revolutionary. There was nothing but ideology in his head with no real purpose to anything period. Young people have a delusionary portrait of this pond scum. He was a monster. Nothing holy about his concept on life. Holding this chimp up to the world as a hero is a disservice to the facts.

Che Guevara did not die from the gun shots, he was still alive and the soldiers were told to have him stabbed in the neck, with a ballonet.

Comments are closed.

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Che Guevara

By: History.com Editors

Published: April 25, 2023

Argentinian-born Marxist revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara (1928 - 1967), Cuban Minister of Industry, dressed in military fatigues, smokes a cigar and appears on the CBS current affairs program 'Face the Nation,' New York, New York, December 14, 1964. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna, the controversial Marxist revolutionary and guerrilla leader, was a central figure in the Cuban Revolution , serving as second in command to Fidel Castro . 

Influenced by his travels as a young man across Latin America where he witnessed poverty and injustices, Guevara developed a political ideology rooted in communism , anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. He believed armed revolution was the answer to overthrowing repressive regimes, and, following his execution in 1967, became a 20th-century icon seen by some as a revolutionary rebel and by others as a ruthless tyrant.

Early Life and Motorcycle Diaries

Guevara was born in Rosario, Argentina on June 14, 1928. The oldest of five children in a genteel, middle-class family, his liberal parents—especially his mother, Celia—were political activists. Guevara’s asthma led the family to relocate near Cordoba when he was a boy, where the drier climate lessened his attacks. And while he participated in sports, he also became a voracious reader. As a teen, he began to cultivate a political ideology and joined detractors of Argentine dictator Juan Perón. 

Did you know? Che Guevara has been the subject of a number of films, including “The Motorcycle Diaries,” which was based in part on Che's own account of his nine-month journey across South America in 1951–52, an experience that shaped his leftist beliefs.

In 1948, Guevara entered the University of Buenos Aires to study medicine but left to embark on what would be known as his “motorcycle diaries” journeys. First, traveling solo across northern Argentina in 1950 on a makeshift motorcycle that consisted of a small engine attached to a bicycle, and, in 1951-1952, on an 8,000-mile, eight-month trip across much of South America and north to Miami. With friend Alberto Granado along for the ride, Guevara witnessed extreme poverty and injustices. The trip fueled his growing interest in communism—and a hatred for capitalism, and he grew to believe a solution could only be achieved by violent revolution. His Motorcycle Diaries , penned during the trip, would be published in 1993.

"I will be on the side of the people,” he wrote in his diaries . “… I will take to the barricades and the trenches, screaming as one possessed, will stain my weapons with blood, and, mad with rage, will cut the throat of any vanquished foe I encounter."

Guevara returned to school and graduated with a medical degree in 1953. He soon traveled again around Latin America and eventually to Guatemala, where he joined an unsuccessful armed effort to defend the CIA-backed overthrowing of the presidency of leftist reformist Jacobo Arbenz. That experience cemented his commitment to Marxism, as well as his disdain for the United States.

Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro

Following the conflict, Guevara fled to Mexico City where he married Hilda Gaeda, and, in 1955, met rebel leaders Fidel and Raul Castro, who were planning their own armed revolution to overthrow the government of Cuba’s dictator Fulgencio Batista. 

Guevara said his first discussion with Castro centered on world politics, according to Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara , by Jorge G. Castandeda . “After a few hours—by dawn—I had already embarked on the future expedition,” Guevara said. “Actually, after the experience I had had walking through all Latin America and the finishing touch in Guatemala, it wasn't hard to talk me into joining any revolution against a tyrant, but Fidel impressed me as an extraordinary man. … I shared in his optimism. There was a lot to do, to fight for, to plan. We had to stop crying and start fighting."

The dynamic between Castro and Guevara was intense. 

“One was impulsive, the other thoughtful; one emotional and optimistic, the other cold and skeptical,” Castandeda writes. “One was attached only to Cuba; the other, linked to a framework of social and economic concepts. Without Ernesto Guevara, Fidel Castro might never have become a Communist. Without Fidel Castro, Ernesto Guevara might never have been more than a Marxist theoretician, an idealistic intellectual.” 

Guevara, as part of Castro’s 26th July Movement, was one of a small group, which included the Castro brothers, who survived a first failed 1956 attack upon Batista’s army, and his bravery and leadership led Castro to make him his comandante. On January 1, 1959, the rebels overthrew the government and seized control of Cuba.

Guevara became a Cuban citizen, divorced his first wife and married Aleida March, a Cuban. And with Castro in command, Guevara served as executioner at the La Cabana prison, overseeing the death orders of 500 men considered spies or deserters by some estimates.

He was also named president of the National Bank of Cuba, and later head of the Ministry of Industry, which included global travel as an ambassador for Cuba. However, his push for Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union (which was broken following the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962) led to trade sanctions from the United States, a faltering economy and conflict with his fellow leaders. 

By 1965, Castro announced that Guevara had written the leader a farewell letter, ceding his citizenship and leaving Cuba to fight imperialism in other developing nations. 

Training Forces in Africa and Bolivia

Guevara headed for the African Congo in 1965, to support and train Laurent Désiré Kabila-led Congo rebels. The liberation attempt failed miserably, and Guevara soon returned in secret to Cuba, before being advised by Castro to travel to Bolivia, where he joined guerrilla rebels in an effort to overthrow René Barrientos. A lack of local support, the arrival of the CIA and a manhunt led by American-trained Bolivian Rangers, would bring a swift end to the mission. 

Execution and Legacy

On October 8, 1967, the Bolivian Rangers captured Guevara, and, on October 9, he was executed in La Higuera on the order of the military’s high command. According to The New York Times , a CIA officer was present for Che’s execution, although the operative later said the CIA wanted him alive. 

Photos of Guevara’s slain body were made public and his hands were severed and delivered to Cuba to prove his death. However, the site of Guevara’s burial was kept secret until 1997, when his remains were identified and returned to Cuba. He was reburied in a mausoleum in Santa Clara. 

Guerrillo Heroico by Alerto Korda, Che Guevara

Guevara serves as one of the 20th century’s most controversial icons. Romanticized as a martyr and hero by many, his face continues to appear on Cuban currency, and his life has been the subject of movies, books and documentaries (his own work, Guerrilla Warfare , was published in 1960; while his The Motorcycle Diaries , The African Dream and The Bolivian Diary , were published after his death). A now-famous image of Guevara wearing a starred beret has become an iconic symbol of rebellion, plastered on T-shirts, posters and more. But others consider him a communist-promoting, ruthless tyrant guilty of human rights violations who rightfully earned the nickname “the butcher of La Caban.”

Fifty years after Guevara's death, Castandeda wrote in The New York Times that, paradoxically, the rebel had become "a symbol of historical changes that he did not identify with, that he did not fight for and that only came of age after his death. He is remembered far more for the momentous events that took place less than a year after he perished, when in 1968 hundreds of thousands of young people took to the streets in dozens of capitals and universities across the globe and changed the way they, their children and today their grandchildren live.”

"Che Guevara’s Fiery Life and Bloody Death," The New York Times "Che Guevara (1928 - 1967)," BBC “The Death of Che Guevara: Declassified,” The National Security Archive, The George Washington University Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara , by Jorge G. Castandeda

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Remembering che and the guevaras.

My grandfather, before he died, told me his own repertoire of stories about the Che Guevara he knew, when Che was even younger than the twenty-something traveler portrayed in the film "The Motorcycle Diaries."

Many of my grandfather's stories had to do with Che's eccentric parents. Even people with sketchy knowledge of Che's biography know he came from Argentina's upper classes. That bit of biography accounts for one of the clichés that have begun to cling to Che's popular image. When young people the world over plaster Che's posters on university walls or wear his face on their T-shirts, they are often paying homage to an idol who purged the baggage of his privileged upbringing to become a "pure revolutionary."

But as New Yorker staff writer Jon Lee Anderson's biography has documented, this notion, however convenient to the manufacture of the Che myth, doesn't exactly fit. According to my grandfather's stories, it may be that the revolutionary in Che owes as much to his parents as it does to forging fires of history or experience.

My grandfather, the law professor Ángel B. Chávarri, was a contemporary of Che's and their families became acquainted in the 1930s and 1940s in Alta Gracia, a small resort town in Argentina's central sierras. My great-grandfather had tuberculosis and was prescribed the healthy air there. The Guevara family lived there to assuage Che's asthma. My grandfather remembered Che as a "rambunctious rapscallion," a grade-schooler who, despite his asthma, was notorious for his mischief.

Che's parents—who eloped and married against the wishes of their families, with Che's mother already pregnant—were eccentrics, almost misfits, and had a much more hardscrabble, idiosyncratic lifestyle than your typical Buenos Aires aristocrats.

Che's mother for one, used a long cigarette holder, slicked her hair back so that it stuck to her skull, wore un-ladylike trouser suits and drove the family's dilapidated convertible herself through the town's streets. For the time and place, her behavior was thoroughly unconventional.

Che's father, who had a temper, was a cerebral dreamer who tried and failed at various business schemes, including yacht-building. His hobbies included graphology, the science of studying handwriting to determine an individual's character.

Che's father applied his temper in an episode that is still part of oral tradition around Alta Gracia. During World War II, a group of Argentina's many Nazi sympathizers gathered regularly at a hotel to hear broadcasts from Europe. Che's father was an ardent aliadófilo , as partisans of the allies were known, and with friends carried out a raid on the hotel. They scaled to the hotel's roof to disable the radio antenna and then, for good measure, they slashed the tires of the cars parked outside.

Despite his bravura, Che's father, like many dabblers, never found real success, and the Guevaras weren't wealthy, whatever their pedigree. In Alta Gracia, the man who delivered wood fuel for heating and cooking refused to unload orders at the Guevara's place unless they paid him in cash.

Che happened to be born in Rosario, upriver from Buenos Aires, because his parents stopped there hurrying back to the capital from a yerba mate (a native plant taken as tea in South America) plantation they tried unsuccessfully to run in Argentina's still wild northern frontier. In his pursuit of the frontier lifestyle, Che's father—Ernesto Guevara Lynch—was following in the footsteps of his own adventurous grandparents, who lived in Gold Rush-era California.

Coincidentally, Che spent his first days of life in the same Parisian-style apartment building where my mother was later born in downtown Rosario. A few years ago, a handful of Cuban military officials were there on a pilgrimage and rewarded my uncle—who still lives in the building—with a box of Cuban cigars after he let them in and showed them his own apartment.

"The Motorcycle Diaries" will not be the last rendering of Che designed to appeal to romantic ideas of revolution; "Che," a film still in the works and rumored to be starring Benicio del Toro, will likely pick up where Brazilian director Walter Salles leaves off. "The Motorcycle Diaries" was conceived by Salles as a kind of portrait of the revolutionary as a young man.

But the "real" Che wasn't just the steely-eyed leftist icon in beret and olive uniform. Che's parents, down-on-their-luck aristocrats who refused to bow to convention, in their own subtler ways, were revolutionaries of a kind. Closely examined, Che's background reveals an even deeper lesson for activists who wield his image: sometimes models for rebellion are closer at hand than one may imagine.

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The man who gave Che to the world

HIS remarkable photograph of Che Guevara became an icon for revolutionaries everywhere. When Alberto Korda pointed his Leica camera at the bearded Latin American freedom fighter, he unwittingly created an image that became a legend of the twentieth century.

Now, following the death of Korda in Paris on Friday at the age of 72, a battle has begun to protect the extraordinary picture from commercial exploitation, and to ensure that the photographer's legacy to the world is not besmirched by a battle to cash in.

For more than 30 years, Korda turned a blind eye to its use on T-shirts and posters by students and radicals all over the world. But he firmly resisted a string of lucrative offers to hand over the rights to the image he saw as sacred.

Last year he successfully sued Lowe Lintas, a British advertising agency, and picture agency Rex Features for using the picture in a Smirnoff vodka campaign.

The British-based Cuba Solidarity Campaign helped Korda to fight the action, in which he won undisclosed damages.

'If Che was still alive, he would have done the same,' Korda said after the settlement was reached. 'To use the image of Che Guevara to sell vodka is a slur on his name and his memory. He never drank. He was not a drunk, and drink should not be associated with his immortal memory.'

Now the campaign has launched a new battle to defend the 'heroic guerrilla' amid fears it will be used by firms eager to cash in on its popularity.

Dr Stephen Wilkinson, the group's national co-ordinator, told The Observer : 'The family [Korda] have asked us to continue policing the picture and all inquiries about its use should be addressed to us. Our most abiding memory of him was in November last year when we took him a large sum of money from the sale of the photograph and he immediately had us hand it over to the Cuban Health Ministry to purchase much needed antibiotics for children.'

The picture was taken on 5 March 1960 at a memorial service for more than 100 crew members of a Belgian arms cargo ship, killed in an attack for which Cuba blamed counter-revolutionary forces aided by the US. Korda was assigned by the magazine Revolución to cover the ceremony, whose guests included Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

'Che was standing on the row behind Fidel [Castro] on the platform,' said Korda. 'You couldn't see him. Then suddenly he stepped forward to the edge of the platform. I was standing below. I saw him step forward with this absolute look of steely defiance as Fidel spoke. It was only a brief moment that I had. I managed to shoot two frames and then he was gone.'

Korda's newspaper was more interested in his pictures of Castro, but the photographer liked the image of Guevara and hung it on the wall in his Havana studio.

Seven years later, yellowed by tobacco smoke, the picture was still on the wall when an Italian publisher, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, called, brandishing a letter of introduction from a senior official in the Cuban administration and asked Korda for a copy. Korda handed the visitor two prints, for no charge. Guevara was killed a few months later and was immediately hailed as a martyr to the revolution.

There are conflicting stories of how the photograph came to gain such currency, but it became a rallying image in the student revolts in Paris in 1968, and Feltrinelli was quick to capitalise on its value. Of the millions of posters featuring the image that appeared around the world, some, Korda has said, even bore the notice 'copyright Feltrinelli'.

Yet Korda did not bear a grudge against the enterprising publisher. 'I still forgive him, because by doing what he did he made it famous.'

'It is one of the great icons of the twentieth century,' said the artist Peter Blake, who designed the cover of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album. 'You can compare its visual impact with Warhol's Marilyn or with Roy Lichtenstein's comic book pictures.'

So powerful is the legacy of Guevara that this year, together with the publication of new editions of the revolutionary's personal diaries, Mick Jagger and Robert Redford are producing rival films about his life.

Jagger, whose student bedroom at the London School of Economics was one of those decorated by a Che poster, is hoping that Antonio Banderas will star, while Redford has Benicio Del Torro signed up.

Argentine-born Guevara became a popular hero in Cuba after helping to lead Fidel Castro's rebel army to victory against Fulgencio Batista's dictatorship in 1959.

But his mythic status - and the enduring power of Korda's photograph - was sealed when he was killed in October 1967 during an abortive attempt to foment a Cuban-style socialist uprising in Bolivia.

For many years Korda claimed to have made no money from the picture. This was chiefly because Cuba was not a signatory to the Berne Convention on intellectual property until the early 1990s and so Korda could not take legal action to establish official copyright.

He wore a reproduction in a medallion strung around his neck: 'It will stay with me until I die,' he said.

Korda, whose real name was Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, was born on 14 September 1928 in Havana. He got his first taste of photography when he took his father's Kodak 35 and began taking pictures of his girlfriend. During the Fifties he worked as a fashion photographer.

But his career changed direction after Castro came to power in Cuba.

After the revolution, he took pictures of demonstrations, sugar cane harvests and factory scenes. For 10 years he served as the Cuban leader's official photographer, accompanying Castro on trips and in meetings with foreign personalities.

Other less-known images by Korda include shots of Castro staring warily at a tiger in a New York zoo, playing golf and fishing with Guevara, skiing and hunting in Russia, and with Ernest Hemingway.

Korda's work also includes remarkable pictures of Castro's rebels riding into Havana after their triumph, and one known as 'The Quixote of the Lamp Post' showing a Cuban wearing a straw hat and sitting on a lamp post against a sea of people during a rally.

'[Korda's death] is a great loss for Cuban culture. He was one of the top chroniclers of the revolution,' said Liborio Noval, a photographer for Cuba's official Communist Party newspaper Granma who was also one of Alberto Korda's contemporaries. Korda was visiting Paris last week attending an exhibition of his works when he died.

'We had expected him to come home tomorrow,' said his daughter, Norka Korda, one of his five children, on Friday.

His body is expected to be returned to Havana.

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The Introduction to Rostov

Rostov the great.

View on Rostov churches - photo by Ksenia Smirnova / flickr.com/photos/ksenia-sm/15670452466/

The guide proposes that every tourist will pay five rubles to get in. The keeper says he'll open it. You may feel like following the group to have a look on Rostov from high.

Around the white Kremlin walls, the whole town is made out of old stones. The streets are large, the walls imposing, and the ruins of ancient trading arcades let imagine how great and powerful was once Rostov Veliky.

Kremlin of Rostov the Great - photo by Alexxx Malev / flickr.com/photos/alexxx-malev/8128338472/

When you get out of the Kremlin, if you walk along it to the back, you'll find paths through pretty gardens to the calm lake. On the grassy beach a little guy may propose you to rent a barge. For a couple of hours it can be nice to row to another more hidden beach, as the water is so inviting, or to the fairy tale monastery, on the shore to the right. There's also a seducing house, just on the shore where an artist and his mother made a little enamel museum upstairs and arranged half of the basement in a cozy apartment for people.

After eating a nice bliny (pancakes), seeping a sweet home-made medovukha (honey alcohol), you might feel like the people you meet: smiley and relaxed. Here they seem to have nothing to fight against, they have nature very close, and they can easily get out of their village, with any direct train to Moscow. So Rostov is a nice green town made out of old white stones very close to a deep blue lake.

History of Rostov

Sunset in Rostov - photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg / flickr.com/photos/argenberg/120283831

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