The History Makers: Che Guevara |

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The History Makers: Che Guevara

The Cuban from Argentina, the righteous revolutionary who backed nuclear war, the anti-capitalist whose face was co-opted after death to create a lucrative, iconic brand: Che Guevara was one of the most complex and divisive figures of the 20th century. Jonny Wilkes introduces the man behind the myth


Deep in the countryside of northern Argentina, a solitary young man was making his way to the nearest town when he was forced to stop and inflate one of the tyres on his beat-up, unpredictable motorised bicycle.

CULTURAL REVOLUTIONARY Alberto Korda’s 1960 portrait of the 31-yearold Che Guevara has become an iconic symbol of counterculture

The year was 1950 and the man was Ernesto Guevara, exploring his home country and meeting its people during a break from his medical studies at the University of Buenos Aires. As he fixed his tyre, he saw a tramp sheltering under a bridge near the side of the road, and struck up a conversation.

Guevara learned that the weary, weathered stranger had been earning some money picking cotton and was now heading to a grape harvest in search of further work. When the tramp heard that the younger man was also travelling – but purely for the joy of it rather than to find employment – he clasped his hands to his head and cried: “Mamma mia! You’re putting all this effort into nothing?!”

Guevara and a comrade in early 1956 before the expedition to Cuba

Guevara had no retort and, after saying his goodbyes, carried on his way. But his meeting with the tramp lingered in his mind, as did many other encounters he experienced while traversing Argentina. The poverty he witnessed on that trip – and during a longer journey across South America a year later – had an irrevocable impact on Guevara. It convinced him that, as the tramp implied, he must direct his efforts towards something important – driving him to become the revolutionary we now know as Che.

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The August 2015 issue of History Revealed