Despite being one of Argentina’s most famous sons, Ernesto “Che” Guevara is little celebrated in his homeland, with nothing like the number of monuments and museums you might expect for such an international icon. This is no doubt at least in part due to Che fighting his battles elsewhere – primarily, of course, in Cuba, where he is idolized, but also in places like the Congo and Bolivia. It is hard to know whether Argentine authorities ignore his legacy because he was, well, anti-authoritarian, or whether they feel offended that he had the cheek to go and instigate revolution outside of la gran Argentina. Whatever his claims to supra-nationality may be, though, Che was certainly Argentine – a fact reflected even in his nickname (“che” being a common interjection, more or less meaning “hey”, and very characteristic of the River Plate region).
Che was born to a middle-class family in Rosario in 1928, and moved to Alta Gracia with his family at the age of 5, going to Deán Funes college in Córdoba before moving on to the Universidad de Buenos Aires to study medicine. Three years later, he set off on his famous motorbike trip around South America, during which he was exposed to the continent’s poverty and inequalities, as well as the cultural similarities that led him to believe in the need to foster a sense of regional rather than national identity. He did return to Buenos Aires to finish his studies, but a month after graduating he was back on the road, this time heading to Guatemala and a meeting with local radicals which eventually led him to Fidel Castro, Cuba and his status as one of the great revolutionary figures of the twentieth century.
Che, however, saw the Cuban revolution as just the first step in a continent-wide revolt against US control, and in 1965 he formally resigned his Cuban citizenship, ministerial position and rank of comandante, and left the country. After an unsuccessful spell leading a Cuban guerrilla contingent supporting rebels in the Congo, Che set off with a small band of supporters for Bolivia in 1966 with the aim of fomenting a revolution that would spread throughout the neighbouring states, including Argentina. Bolivia, however, proved to be an exceptionally poor choice; it was the only South American country to have carried out radical land reform, and as such the revolutionary potential of its peasants was fairly low.
Che’s group attracted little local support, and soon found itself on the run. On October 8, following a series of gun battles, he was captured by US-trained Bolivian soldiers, and the following day executed in the remote hamlet of La Higuera. According to legend, Che’s last words were: “Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.”