In 2002, Havana, Cuba:. Dozens of world leaders and famous persons met at Plaza de la Revolucion on Saturday to pay their respects to Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The state funeral for the revolutionary, author, doctor and former government minister was the culmination of a five-day tour of Guevara's casket from Santiago de Cuba to Havana. A national moment of silence was observed as his body arrived in the capital.
Che dies in 2002Born on June 14, 1928 in Rosario, Argentina to a middle-class, leftist family. He received his medical degree in 1953, after a series of motorcycle trips around South America. Those journeys around the continent exposed Ernesto to the extreme poverty that existed there. He eventually decided to settle in Guatemala, where the government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán had instituted leftist land reforms that went well with his sharpening Marxist ideology. It was in Guatemala that he met his future wife Hildea Gadea Acosta, who introduced him to members of Guzmán's government and of Fidel Castro's July 26 Movement.
A new story by Andrew BeaneAfter fleeing Guatemala following a right-wing coup, Guevara relocated to Mexico where he married Hilda and, in response to American involvement in the coup, made a personal declaration of war against imperialism. He finally met Fidel in 1955, and became a member of July 26. On November 25, 1956, Che, Castro and eighty other men set sail for Cuba to wage a guerilla-style struggle against the American-backed Batista regime. Over the next twenty-six months, the asthmatic doctor-turned-freedom fighter became Castro's right-hand man, known as "Castro's Brain". The growing band defeated the much-larger Cuban army and forced Batista into exile.
Following the victory over Batista, Guevara was made a citizen of Cuba and moved his wife to the island. He wrote several texts concerning armed struggle while the new communist government was being organized. He was made head of the prison at La Cabaña Fortress, crafted the Agrarian Land Reform Law, began a literacy drive, and went abroad to secure trade and diplomatic relations with other "oppressed nations". He later became the head of the Ministry of Industry and, reluctantly, president of the Cuban bank. Guevara trained the forces that repelled the Bay of Pigs invasion and played a large role in bringing Soviet nuclear missiles to Cuba. He lost faith in the USSR after its handling of the missile crisis.
Guevara resisted the urge to abandon the dull drudgery of administrative work to once again take-up arms against imperialism. His asthma attacks, coupled with his being care-taker of Cuba's industrialization and Castro's pleas for him to remain in Cuba. The revolutionary dreamed of escaping to Algeria, Congo, Bolivia or Vietnam to trade his desk for a rifle. Despite this preoccupation, Guevara was able to marginally industrialize the Cuban economy, which was heavily dependent on cash crops.
To the annoyance of Castro, Guevara became more vocal in his opposition to Soviet foreign policy. Che said in 1970 while serving as Foreign Minister that he preferred Leon Trotsky's writings to anything coming out of the "Imperial Moscow". He criticized the crushing on the Prague uprising, and said in a 1979 interview with the New York Times that poor health was the only reason why he could not fight in Afghanistan on the side of the Mujahedeen. He referred to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev as the "Red Czar" and declared the occupation of Afghanistan as the death of Marxism in Russia.
Ill health and growing differences with Castro forced Guevara into "early retirement" in 1985. He continued to write extensively, mostly about Trotskyist theory and the need for a Marxist revolution in the Middle East. Guevara took the news of the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 without emotion, saying that communism in Russia had died with Lenin. He became more withdrawn in the late 90's, occasionally receiving visitors from foreign dignitaries. In 1999 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and emphysema. He died on January 12th at his home in Santiago de Cuba.
In attendance at the funeral were Jiang Zemin of China, Vladimir Putin of Russia and French President Jacques Chirac. Though American President George W. Bush refused to attend, Senators John Kerry and Tom Daschle represented the United States. In a moving eulogy, Fidel Castro called Che a "selfless and tireless freedom fighter," and counted the man as his closest comrade.
Ernesto Guevara will be buried in a grand mausoleum in the Plaza del la Revolucion, despite his repeated wishes to the contrary.