Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and the Cuban Revolution
by guest writer, James Leavey
Fidel Castro was born in Cuba in
1928 and became a lawyer, running his own practice until he took
up the revolutionary cause. His first armed uprising with 125
insurgents was launched on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de
Cuba on 26 July 1953. The attack was repelled and several
rebels, including Castro, were imprisoned for 15 years. Two
years later, the Cuban dictator, Batista, granted an amnesty to
Castro chose exile in the USA and
later Mexico, where in mid-1953 he met Ernest Guevara, who
became one of the most influential members of the Cuban rebel
Born in Argentina on June 14,
1928, Guevara was a medical student when he began travelling
around Latin America by motorbike, bus, truck and, occasionally,
as a stowaway on ships. The widespread poverty he saw convinced
him that he had a mission in life more important than medicine.
Guevara joined Castro's invasion
force as a doctor, sailing on the cabin cruiser, Granma, and
landing in Cuba on December 2, 1956, with 82 other
revolutionaries, including Castro's younger brother, Raul, and Camilo Cienfuegos, the most popular commander of that time due
to his directness, great sense of humour, spontaneity and
legendary courage. The revolutionary force was spurred on by the
miserable living conditions of their fellow Cubans, who were
savagely repressed by dictator Batista's corrupt government.
The uprising was swiftly crushed
by Batista's military but 12 men, including Castro and Guevara,
escaped into the mountains from which they organised the '26
July Movement', named after the original 1953 uprising, and
began their guerrilla warfare.
Once in Cuba Guevara showed himself to be a brilliant field
commander and he rose through three years of warfare to lead the
guerrilla army's second column. The Cubans nicknamed him 'Che' for the interjection 'che'
On March 17,1958, Castro called for a
general revolt and his forces, which had grown in popularity and
strength, pushed on towards Havana. Repeatedly wounded, Guevara led from
the front line and was lionized by his fellow revolutionaries, many of
whom followed him for the rest of their lives.
On December 27, 1958, Guevara's badly
outnumbered guerrillas ambushed a troop train at Santa Clara, and their
decisive victory sealed the fate of the Batista regime.
On January 1, 1959, Batista fled Cuba and
a provisional government was established with the initially reluctant
Castro as its first Prime Minister and, later, president, a position he
has since retained.
Guevara was granted Cuban citizenship in
February 1959 and soon assumed a leading role in Cuba's economic reforms
as head of the Industry Department of the National Institute of Agrarian
Reform (in October 1959), president of the National Bank of Cuba
(November 1959), and Minister of Industry (February 1960).
On October 29, 1959, Camilo Cienfuegos
disappeared while returning in his small plane from a tour of inspection
in Camaguey, and was never seen again.
In March 1965, Guevara withdrew from
public life and secretly returned to Africa, where he helped organise
left-wing rebels in the Congo. By December 1965, he was back in Cuba
making preparations for a guerrilla campaign that would convert the
Andes into a new Sierra Maestra. In November 1966, he arrived in
Bolivia. On October 9, 1967, Ernesto Che' Guevara was
'captured by the
Bolivian army, and executed.
"Revolutions rarely, if ever,
emerge fully ripe," said Guevara in 1961," and not all their
details are scientifically foreseen. They are products of
passion, of improvisation by human beings in their struggle for
social change, and are never perfect. Our revolution was no
On March 4, 1960, the French
freighter, La Coubre, exploded in Havana harbour, allegedly due
to CIA sabotage, and almost 100 people were killed. The next
day, Fidel Castro and 'Che' Guevara linked arms at the head of a
funeral cortège as it wound along the Malecon. Later, Fidel
spoke to the angry and upset crowd from a scaffolded platform
erected at the cemetery, flanked by other revolutionary leaders.
It was at that moment 32-year-old
Alexander Korda, a former Cuban fashion photographer, took a
single photograph of 'Che' Guevara, and unwittingly launched an
After Che's death, Korda's
photograph rapidly became a symbol for worldwide student revolt.
The original negative in Korda's apartment in landscape format
- was cropped by an Italian poster publisher to focus on the Argentinian martyr rather than the Cuban compatriots on either
side of him.
It is still one of the most
powerful and famous images of the 20th
The late Raul Corral Varcia (also
known as Corrales) was one of Cuba's finest photographers and
often took pictures of 'Che' Guevara, "...usually with a Havana
in his mouth," he said. "Che would smoke any cigar, as long as
it was Cuban."
All rights reserved. James Leavey 2006