Perhaps no revolutionary is better known than Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Guevara was radicalised by his experiences while touring Latin America on a motorcycle. After qualifying as a doctor in 1953, he moved to Guatemala to back the government of Jacobo Árbenz, whose controversial land reform programme saw his downfall in a military coup a year later.
There, Guevara met Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro. He followed Castro into Cuba in 1956 and played a key role in the guerrilla war that saw president Fulgencio Batista exiled on New Year’s Day 1959. Guevara helped Castro consolidate power, executing his opponents and managing land nationalisation. He arranged for the USSR to position missiles within Cuba, setting off 1962’s Cuban missile crisis. Yet in time, his criticisms of the USSR as insufficiently communist led to a break with Castro.
In 1965, he left Cuba to stoke revolution around the world. After an ill-fated stint in the Congo, he left for Bolivia to fight the military government. The superior training of the Bolivian army, poor relations with local communists, and antipathy from the locals saw his forces suffer a string of defeats. In October 1967, he was surrounded and forced to surrender to the army, and was executed the next day.
His charisma and early death (at 39) saw him become a symbol of revolution. Ironically, an iconic image of Guevara, taken in 1960 by Alberto Korda, working for a Cuban newspaper, has been used to sell everything from T-shirts to typewriters. However, in 2000, Smirnoff vodka had to pay Korda $50,000 (which he donated to the Cuban medical system) when it tried to use the picture in its advertising.
Also on this day
On this day in 1799 the frigate HMS Lutine sank off the Dutch coast. It was en route to Hamburg with a fortune in gold and silver bullion. Read more here.