by Richard M. Ruiz
man as I knew him. I am 65 years old, and yes I knew El Che. El Che that I
knew was a man of conscience, a crusader against injustice, oppression and
misery. Ernesto was a man concerned for the poor, not a demagogue. He was a
symbol of rebellion against hypocrisy, injustice, human suffering and a
society without soul.
In the midst of the confusion about El Che and Latin American, some quiet
reflection on the matter seems to be in order. There two sides to every
coin, and the truth about the man I knew is probably to be found somewhere
between two extremes. But here in the United States people are seldom able
to evaluate both sides of the man without divorcing themselves from the
prejudice that rules their minds.
At the time when some of us were active in promoting changes, Latin America
was the classic continent of military dictatorship and pronunciamientos of
coup di' etat in which one military tyrant was replaced by another, and
often with the blessings of the American government, whose only interest
was in the Americas natural resources. That's where Ernesto Che Guevara
came into the picture.
Guevara grew up in a regimented society. He saw the unfairness of the
American's evaluation of the oppression inflicted by the military tyrants
in Latin America and declared a personal war against it. Born Ernesto
Guevara de la Serna on June 14, 1928, in Rosario Argentina to Ernesto
Guevara Lynch, a Civil Engineer of Irish descent, and Celia de la Serna of
Spanish descent. Ernesto was the eldest of five children of the
middle-class family with strong liberal tendencies. During his childhood,
Ernesto developed bronchial asthma; a choking sensation that would always
accompany him. As one stood next to him, one could hear a wheezing sound
coming from his lungs whenever he got too uptight about anything that
didn't go his way.
Although he was called cold and inhuman by his enemies, Ernesto was warm
and compassionate toward those people deprived of fundamental social and
economic privileges. The latter was a dominant part of his life; the part
that made him the world's most known insurrectionist. He was a man that
trembled with indignation at the sight of any injustice committed against
In 1952, El Che disengaged himself from his school work to tour South
America with Alberto Granados, a pharmacist and a biochemist. The journey
started on a motorcycle and ended-up in hitchhiking. They visited Chile,
Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. It was in Peru where for the first time
Ernesto "Che" Guevara came in close contact with South America's Indian
masses. He saw how the Indians of the Peruvian high plateau, whose
ancestors were the great Incas, were being exploited and brutalized by
foreign investors. Later on he cried when he saw the brutal inhumanity of
the lepers in San Pablo Leprosarium, located along the Amazon River. After
spending a few weeks around the Leprosarium, Ernesto returned to Argentina
where he resumed his studies at the Medical School in Buenos Aires.
Granados stayed behind as an employee of the Leprosarium.
However, After his graduation from Medical School, El Che once again set
out to visit Granados and tour other countries of Latin America. In
Guayaquil, Ecuador, he met Ricardo Rojo, Argentinean attorney who had been
expelled from his Country by dictator Juan Domingo Peron. Rojo convinced
Ernesto to go to Guatemala where a real social revolution was taking place.
That's where I met Ernesto "Che" Guevarra. I was in Guatemala City with a
group of students trying to convince the people of Guatemala to fight for
their democratic elected government, under the presidency of Jacobo Arbenz.
Arbenz was elected by promising land to the landless Indians who were dying
of starvation. As a result he expropriated 225,000 of uncultivated acres of
arable land from the American Fruit Company who was monopolizing
Guatemala's agriculture. The move became too much to bear by the American
Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, also a stockholder and an attorney
for the American Fruit Company. Therefore, in March 1954, Dulles accused
the Arbenz government of being a communist regime and succeeded in forcing
the AOSmembers to prepare a mercenary invasion force in neighboring
Honduras. Cherecognized the necessity of the land reform, and supported
Jacobo Arbenz actions against the American Fruit Company and tried to
organize a fighting force to resist the CIA sponsored invasion of
Guatemala. Howeverhis efforts availed him nothing. The people and the
Guatemalan Army, whose high echelons sold out to the CIA, refused to fight.
The Arbenz government collapsed ahead of the invasion. For El Che, it was a
personal failurethat nearly cost him his life. Luckily, he was given asylum
in the Argentine Embassy in Guatemala City. Later arrangement was made to
securehim a guarantee of safe conduct so he could travel to Mexico City.
While in Mexico City, El Che married Hilda Gadea Acosta, a girl he first
met in Guatemala while she was working for the Arbenz government. A female
childwas born out of the marriage and all went smoothly until Ernesto met
Raul Castro, Fidel's brother.
However, immediately after Che met Fidel Castro, who at the time was
preparing the plans for the Cuban invasion out of the Hotel Imperial in
Mexico City, Guevarra managed to talk himself into the plan as the troop
physician. The sixty-two men invasion force left Mexico in a 43-foot yacht
named Gramma on November 25, 1956, from the port of Tuxpan. After landing
in Cuba Ernesto "Che" Guevara rose to the rank of major.
Less publicized than his legendary epoch as a guerrilla, Che Guevara's work
as one of the builders of the new society represented a very fruitful
period in his life. Che's talents in that context were already apparent
during the battles of the Sierra Maestra, where he organized workshop of
weaponry, tailoring and shoemaking and the production of bread, beef jerky,
cigarettes and cigars as logistical support for the guerrilla campaign.
Then in late 1958, He led one of the forces that invadedcentral Cuba,
capturing Santa Clara. That was the decisive victory of the war against the
forces of Fulgencio Batista. After the revolution, El Che held various
positions in government from where he reoriented Cuba industry towards
socialism, establishing concepts that ranged from the infrastructure to the
smallest production unit. He was the driving force behind socialist
planning, creatively applying to this system the principles, criteria and
objectives identified with Fidel Castro, although he was not interested in
power. Then, in April, 1965, Che wrote the following letter to Fidel
"I formally renounce my position in the national leadership of the party,
my post as minister, my rank as major, and my Cuban Citizenship... other
nations of the world call for my modest efforts."
In mid-1965, Che wrote his parents: "Once again I feel between my heels the
ribs of Rosinante; once more I must hit the road with my shield upon my
arm...I believe in armed struggle as the only solution for those peoples
who fight to free themselves, and I am consistent with my belief. Many will
call me an adventurer, and I am, only, one of a different sort; one of
those who risks his skin to prove his platitudes. It is possible this may
be the finish. I don't seek it, but it's within the realm of
In his last letter to his children, he said: "Grow up as good
revolutionaries. Study hard so that you will have command of the techniques
that permit the domination of nature. Above all, always remain capable of
feeling deeply whatever injustice is committed against anyone in any part
of the world. This is the finest quality of a revolutionary."
In October 8, 1967, in his struggle against injustice he was captured near
Vallegrande, Bolivia, by a unit of the Bolivian Army, under the direction
of the American CIA. Next day, while he laid wounded and deprived of
medical treatment, he was killed in cold blood by the cowards who have
captured him. The order came from Lyndon B. Johnson, president of the
United States of America.