Che Guevara,
The Legend

Che - Hero or Tyrant?

By Nima Elbagir

The legacy of Che Guevara 40 years on - is this the voice of liberation or tyranny?

He's one of Cuba's leading heroes of the revolution - and a global icon of rebellion whose image is paraded on T-shirts, posters and walls across the world. This week marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara - who fought alongside Fidel Castro during the Cuban revolution. On the eve of commemorations Nima Elbagir asks whether his hold on the left is still as strong as it was four decades ago.

The formative years of a revolutionary guerrilla

Che was born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna to a middle class family in Roasario, Argentina, on 14 June 1928.

He studied Medicine at Buenos Aires University. Whilst a student, he travelled extensively through South and Central America - journeys which he writes about in The Motorcycle Diaries which was made into a film directed by Walter Salles.

The poverty and social and economic inequality he witnessed on his travels informed his Marxist political views and his eventual role as one of Cuba's revolutionary leaders.

Revolution with Fidel

It was in Mexico in 1956 that Guevara met Fidel Castro. He joined the future Cuban leader's revolutionary 26th July Movement, which in 1959 overthrew the regime of dictator General Fulgencio Batista in Cuba.

After the revolution Che became president of the National Bank of Cuba, and later the minister of industry. He travelled the world as an ambassador for Cuba and orchestrated land redistribution and the nationalisation of Cuba's industry.

Leaving Cuba

Cuba entered a difficult time as it positioned itself in opposition to the United States and in line with the Soviet Union. Che became distanced from the other Cuban leaders and in 1965 left Cuba to begin socialist revolutions elsewhere.

Che travelled to Africa, spending several months in the Congo training-up rebel forces in guerrilla warfare. His efforts proved unsuccessful and, just a year after leaving Cuba, Che returned - en route to Bolivia.

The end of the man, the beginning of the legend

In Bolivia Che led forces in a rebellion against the René Barrientos Ortuño government. But success would again elude him - and lead to his death.

The Bolivian army was assisted by the US in capturing Che. He was executed without trial on 9 October in 1967 in a village called La Higuera. His burial place was kept secret until 1997, when his remains were discovered, exhumed and returned to Cuba to be reburied.

Since his death, Che has become a revolutionary hero and an icon of Cuba thanks to Alberto Korda's black and white photo of him in beret. The image appears everywhere from Cuba's revolutionary square in Havanna and on Cuba's local currency, to t-shirts the world over worn sometimes as little more than a fashion statement.


--> This article appeared on
Creative Commons License