By Yeniela Cedeño
Cubanow.- The easygoing and slovenly aspect of Che Guevara during his adolescence in the city of Córdova, Argentina, was the reason why people called him Chancho Guevara. However, that boy who enjoyed playing chess and reading poems like Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil or those written by Pablo Neruda as well as the works of existentialist philosophers Sartre and Camus when the asthma he would fight during his entire life forced him to stay in bed, gladly accepted it. With regard to this asthma he wrote in the diary he kept in Bolivia: Asthma has treated me too hard and I am running out of those miserable medicines.
But there were others nicknames: Ernestito, for instance, was used to differentiate him from his father Ernesto Rafael Guevara Lynch; Teté was the one used by Carmen Arias, the nanny of the family and Loco is how some called him for his actions –considered extravagant by some people-. Sometime later, when he met Antonio Ñico López during the previous months to the coup d’état in Guatemala (1954), he began to be called Che by him for Ernesto Guevara’s constant use of that word from the River Plate to refer to him.
By that time, Che had already gotten his BA in Medicine at the School of Medicine of the University of Buenos Aires and made two trips around Latin America –the first with his friend Alberto Granado in 1952 as seen in movie The Motorcycle Diaries shot by director Walter Salles and, the second one, in 1953 with Carlos “Calica” Ferrer, a childhood friend too who published De Ernesto al Che. El Segundo y ultimo viaje de Guevara por Latinoamérica (From Ernesto to Che)-. Thanks to these trips he became aware of the terrible situation and living conditions of the native population and the working class in the American continent. In addition, working at the San Pablo leper colony on the banks of Amazon River had a profound influence on his awareness with regard to the urgent social revolution needed all over America.
When he returned to Argentina, he wrote in one of his trip diaries: Wandering around our America with a capital A has changed me more than I thought. By then, José Carlos Mariátegui’s works as well as Karl Marx’s were already part of his cultural and ideological background.
After the military coup in Guatemala he went to Mexico. There he met the group of Cuban young exiles, those who attacked the Moncada barracks, and participated in their meetings. He met Raúl Castro too who was waiting for his brother’s arrival to Mexico. Invited by Fidel Castro to join the 26th of July Movement as the physician of the expeditionary force to fight against Batista’s dictatorship, Ernesto Guevara joined the group of Cubans who in February 1956 made a military training. Despite the serious respiratory problems he managed not to show, he distinguished himself. He embarked on Granma yacht and thus began his life as a guerrilla because (…) to be a revolutionary doctor or to be a revolutionary at all there must be first a revolution.
In the Sierra Maestra Mountains, Che’s personality began to be imposing. A physician and combatant, strict with the discipline of the troop, unforgiving with the acts of treason, his medical attention to the inhabitants of the zone, his just and equalitarian behavior, his lessons to those who wished to read and write as well as those about political literature, earned him the respect of the guerrilla. Under the pen name of francotirador (sniper), he signed the articles he wrote for El Cubano Libre newspaper, founded in Sierra Maestra Mountains.
With the triumph of the Revolution, Che was actively involved in every revolutionary measure: the drafting and implementation of the Agrarian Reform, the nationalization of industries and companies of key economic sectors, the centralized planning of the economy, the development of the heavy industry and of voluntary works.
Che’s internationalist ideas led him to organize and stimulate the guerrilla experience not only in Latin America but in Congo, Africa, for the armed struggle would pave the way for social revolutions.
We socialists are freer because we are more complete; we are more complete because we are freer, he wrote in the letter he sent to Uruguayan journalist Carlos Quijano and known as Socialism and man in Cuba. His anti-imperialist thinking, his conception of the individual in the building of a just society with no discrimination or alienations endangering people’s freedom, in a single word: socialist, are quite evident in the above mentioned title. His personality is a symbol of integrity, self-discipline, austerity, ethical sense for the human being that suffers and wants a better future.
Today, in the 80th anniversary of his birth, in an America that is already working on a different future, Che is present. Therefore, we pay tribute to the man that in 1953 defined himself as the man of an iron constitution, an empty stomach and a great faith in the socialist future.
*The author is a historian.
*Translated by Olga Rosa González.