“Shoot, coward! You are only going to kill a man!”
Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928 – 1967) was an Argentinean Marxist who rose to prominence during the Cuban Revolution, and gained international fame thereafter as a guerrilla warfare innovator, author, and diplomat. His image became a romantic icon of anti-imperialism, and after his death, he was regarded as a martyr by leftists worldwide.
Born in Argentina in 1928, Guevara was raised in a mainstream leftist environment. An asthmatic who nonetheless excelled in athletics, he studied medicine, and as a young man spent his holidays motorcycling through South America in the early 1950s. In his travels, he encountered conditions of dire poverty, inequality, and injustice, that radicalized and set him on the path to Marxism.
As he immersed himself in Marxism, he decided to abandon medicine, concluding that only revolution could alleviate the suffering of the masses. He moved to Guatemala in 1953, whose government under the progressive Jacobo Arbenz was attempting land reform and redistribution. The Arbenz government was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup in 1954, which deepened Che Guevara’s radicalism, added anti-imperialism to his agenda, and laid the foundations for a theory he would later proselytize about achieving socialism via worldwide revolution.
By 1955, he had relocated to Mexico, where he met and befriended the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, who was planning to overthrow the Cuban regime. Guevara accompanied Castro and a small force to Cuba in 1956 to launch a revolution. He became one of Castro’s main advisors, and commanded the revolutionary forces in guerrilla warfare, leading them to final victory and the seizure of the island in 1959.
Castro appointed Guevara to a variety of security, economic, and diplomatic posts in the new revolutionary government, and Guevara played a significant role in Cuba’s transformation into a communist state. He was instrumental in defeating the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, was a key player during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, traveled the world as a diplomat to establish relations with other countries, and gave a notable speech before the UN in 1964, condemning US foreign policy, and apartheid in South Africa.
However, Guevara’s greatest passion was for revolutionary warfare, and in 1965 he left to fight in revolutions around the world, going first to the Congo, where he trained revolutionaries in guerrilla warfare, then to Bolivia in 1966 with a small rebel force to start a revolution there. Things did not go as well in Bolivia as they had in Cuba, and in 1967 Che Guevara was captured by the Bolivian army.
The Bolivian president that Guevara be executed. When his designated shooter entered the room where the prisoner was being held, Che Guevara noticed that he appeared jittery and nervous, and scornfully uttered what would be his last words: “I know you have come to kill me. Shoot, coward! You are only going to kill a man!”