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Cuba:. Dozens of world leaders and famous persons met at Plaza de la
Revolucion on Saturday to pay their respects to Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The
state funeral for the revolutionary, author, doctor and former government
minister was the culmination of a five-day tour of Guevara's casket from
Santiago de Cuba to Havana. A national moment of silence was observed as
his body arrived in the capital.
Born on June 14, 1928 in Rosario, Argentina to a middle-class, leftist
family. He received his medical degree in 1953, after a series of
motorcycle trips around South America. Those journeys around the continent
exposed Ernesto to the extreme poverty that existed there. He eventually
decided to settle in Guatemala, where the government of Jacobo Arbenz
Guzmán had instituted leftist land reforms that went well with his
sharpening Marxist ideology. It was in Guatemala that he met his future
wife Hildea Gadea Acosta, who introduced him to members of Guzmán's
government and of Fidel Castro's July 26 Movement.
"If he started playing footsie with Trotskyism, I
think he'd have died earlier. "What a shame---guess he couldn't hold his
arsenic!" - reader's comments
After fleeing Guatemala following a
right-wing coup, Guevara relocated to Mexico where he married Hilda and,
in response to American involvement in the coup, made a personal
declaration of war against imperialism. He finally met Fidel in 1955, and
became a member of July 26. On November 25, 1956, Che, Castro and eighty
other men set sail for Cuba to wage a guerilla-style struggle against the
American-backed Batista regime. Over the next twenty-six months, the
asthmatic doctor-turned-freedom fighter became Castro's right-hand man,
known as "Castro's Brain". The growing band defeated the much-larger Cuban
army and forced Batista into exile.
Following the victory over Batista, Guevara was made a citizen of Cuba and
moved his wife to the island. He wrote several texts concerning armed
struggle while the new communist government was being organized. He was
made head of the prison at La Cabańa Fortress, crafted the Agrarian Land
Reform Law, began a literacy drive, and went abroad to secure trade and
diplomatic relations with other "oppressed nations". He later became the
head of the Ministry of Industry and, reluctantly, president of the Cuban
bank. Guevara trained the forces that repelled the Bay of Pigs invasion
and played a large role in bringing Soviet nuclear missiles to Cuba. He
lost faith in the USSR after its handling of the missile crisis.
Guevara resisted the urge to abandon the dull drudgery of administrative
work to once again take-up arms against imperialism. His asthma attacks,
coupled with his being care-taker of Cuba's industrialization and Castro's
pleas for him to remain in Cuba. The revolutionary dreamed of escaping to
Algeria, Congo, Bolivia or Vietnam to trade his desk for a rifle. Despite
this preoccupation, Guevara was able to marginally industrialize the Cuban
economy, which was heavily dependent on cash crops.
"In OTL the Castro Brothers found Che increasingly
difficult to control and in large measure pushed him out. What changes
here?" - reader's comments
To the annoyance of Castro, Guevara
became more vocal in his opposition to Soviet foreign policy. Che said in
1970 while serving as Foreign Minister that he preferred Leon Trotsky's
writings to anything coming out of the "Imperial Moscow". He criticized
the crushing on the Prague uprising, and said in a 1979 interview with the
New York Times that poor health was the only reason why he could not fight
in Afghanistan on the side of the Mujahedeen. He referred to Soviet leader
Leonid Brezhnev as the "Red Czar" and declared the occupation of
Afghanistan as the death of Marxism in Russia.
Ill health and growing differences with Castro forced Guevara into "early
retirement" in 1985. He continued to write extensively, mostly about
Trotskyist theory and the need for a Marxist revolution in the Middle
East. Guevara took the news of the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 without
emotion, saying that communism in Russia had died with Lenin. He became
more withdrawn in the late 90's, occasionally receiving visitors from
foreign dignitaries. In 1999 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and
emphysema. He died on January 12th at his home in Santiago de Cuba.
In attendance at the funeral were Jiang Zemin of China, Vladimir Putin of
Russia and French President Jacques Chirac. Though American President
George W. Bush refused to attend, Senators John Kerry and Tom Daschle
represented the United States. In a moving eulogy, Fidel Castro called Che
a "selfless and tireless freedom fighter," and counted the man as his
Ernesto Guevara will be buried in a grand mausoleum in the Plaza del la
Revolucion, despite his repeated wishes to the contrary.