On the anniversary of Ernesto "Che" Guevara's death, we offer a guest post by Paulo Drinot, editor of Che's Travels: The Making of a Revolutionary in 1950s Latin America.
On 9 October 1967 Che Guevara was shot dead in Bolivia, thus ending his attempt to ignite a continental revolution. Many attribute Guevara’s death to his lack of understanding of the country he chose to initiate a hemispheric version of the struggle that had resulted in the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. But Bolivia was not completely unfamiliar territory for Guevara. He had visited the country shortly after the triumph of that country’s own revolution, in 1952. In fact, Guevara had travelled through much of Latin America in his youth. As the contributors to Che’s Travels: The Making of a Revolutionary in 1950s Latin America show, these travels played a key, but little recognised, role in shaping Guevara’s understanding of the region as well as his revolutionary praxis and vision.
Half a century after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the broader revolutionary project Che inspired–-certainly in its armed variant–appears moribund. But Guevara, and in particular the famous Korda photograph of the “heroic guerrilla”, remains ubiquitous. Recent films, by Walter Salles and Steven Soderbergh, have done much to revive interest in Che. Yet despite the obvious importance of Guevara to twentieth-century Latin American and indeed world history, there is surprisingly little serious scholarship on him. The bulk of what is published on Guevara tends to be either hagiographical or demonizing. In recent years, much of the serious scholarship on Che has focused less on the man, his life and his ideas, than on his iconography.
Che’s Travels shows that Guevara’s journeys across Latin America in the early 1950s represent a uniquely useful conduit to understand both the man and the region in a pivotal and yet poorly researched decade. The contributors draw on Guevara’s own accounts of his two journeys, from his native Argentina through Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, and then from Argentina through Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico, and other sources in order to shed new light on Che’s formative years. In so doing they also provide new insight into Che’s subsequent revolutionary trajectory and the failure of his guerrilla in Bolivia in 1967 and why, despite his death forty-three years ago, he remains, for many Latin Americans, as relevant today as he ever was.