Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, better known to the world as “Che” Guevara, is executed by Bolivian armed forces on this day in 1967.
Born in Argentina, Guevara was a professional revolutionary who became involved in the Guatemalan revolution of the 1950s. It was during this time that he discovered Marxism and became a fervent convert to the philosophy. Following the overthrow of the Guatemalan government by a U.S.-sponsored coup in 1954, Guevara traveled to Mexico where he joined up with Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro. In 1956, Castro, Guevara, and a small band of supporters landed in Cuba intent on overthrowing its government. When the initial attack did not succeed, Che joined Castro and the survivors in the wilds of Cuba, carrying on a guerilla war. In 1959, the Cuban government fell and Castro seized power. Guevara was put in charge of finance and economic planning for the revolutionary government. In 1960 he published Guerilla Warfare, in which he argued that armed struggle was necessary to free the masses from capitalistic exploitation. By 1965, he faded from public life in Cuba for reasons still not entirely clear. He then reappeared in 1966 in Bolivia where he hoped to bring about a revolution. In October 1967, he was captured and executed by Bolivian troops. This outcome satisfied the U.S. government, under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson, which viewed him as a dangerous agitator and had assisted the Bolivian government in its efforts to end Guevara’s challenge.
Despite Che’s death more than 30 years ago, his face is still familiar to millions around the world, adorning T-shirts, key chains, and posters. He is also a constant presence in Cuba, with his image painted on walls and buildings around the nation. Many compelling films have been made about the life of Che, including the 2004 Oscar-winning film The Motorcycle Diaries.