Early Life

Early Life

Ernesto Guevara was born in Rosario, Argentina in 1928. His father was of Welsh descent and his mother was of Spanish Basque descent. In his youth he excelled in sport even though he suffered from asthma.  He was particularly skilled in rugby. His father and mother encouraged him in his intellectual pursuits. A large library in the home provided material to engage his active mind. A voracious reader, the young Ernesto consumed the works of modern European and Latin American poets and novelists. As well, he studied political writings including those of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. The communist ideologies of these writers were discussed often in the Guevara household during the many visits by republican refugees of the Spanish Civil War.


A young Che Guevara with the parents and siblings.

At 20 years of age, Ernesto Guevara enrolled in medical school at the University of Buenos Aires. After two years at university he took a break from his studies in 1950 and travelled around northern Argentina on a motorized bicycle. Two years later he took a much longer trip on a motorcycle with a doctor friend, Alberto Granado. Their goal was to work at a leper colony in Peru. On their 8,000-kilometer expedition which took them to Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela and Panama they met with the dispossessed of the region. This had a profound effect on Ernesto who was particularly moved by the appalling working and living conditions of the copper miners at Chuquicamata in Chile. In Peru he was strongly affected by the extreme poverty of rural farmers who toiled on small patches of land rented from wealthy landlords.


A 22 year old Ernesto Guevara setting out out on a solo motorbike trip through the northern rural provinces of Argentina.

Guevara and Granado’s trip on their 1939 Norton 500 cc motorcycle, which they called La Poderosa or the Mighty One, was recorded by Guevara in his Motorcycle Diaries and by Alberto Granado in his book Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary. These accounts were adapted for the script of a 2004 biopic which follows the two along the road as they were transformed from carefree young travellers to committed agents for social change. The journey convinced Ernesto that the social ills he observed required a continent-wide liberation strategy. He returned to Buenos Aires and graduated with a degree in medicine in June 1953.


Ernesto Guevara (at left) holding the handlebars of his 500cc single cylinder Norton motorcycle which he used at the start of his 1952 Motorcycle Diaries journey through South America.

Now convinced that changes in social well-being depended less on medical solutions and more on political activism he set out on a journey that would take him through Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, to Central America. He observed the effects that the American United Fruit Company was having on Guatemala and Nicaragua and damned it for its Capitalist suppression of poor and landless peasants.

Ernesto Guevara settled in Guatemala City and joined with supporters of President Jacopo Arbenz who was redistributing land confiscated from the United Fruit Company. Guevara at the time came into contact with left-leaning supporters of Arbenz and with a band of Cuban exiles. The Cubans had participated in Fidel Castro’s failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953.

It was at this time that Guevara was given the nickname Che by his leftist friends. Among them was Hilda Gadea Acosta, a Peruvian economist, and member of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance. Arbenz was overthrown in a coup sponsored by the United States. Che was marked for assassination under the new dictatorship so he fled with Hilda Gadea to Mexico in 1954.


Che Guevara with his wife, Hilda.

Hilda and Ernesto were married in 1955 in Mexico City. They were photographed on their honeymoon visit to the Yucatán in Mexico. Che, while working in the General Hospital in Mexico City, refined his Marxist ideology as he became convinced that the enemy of the people, the cause of all the suffering among the under-classes in Latin America, was American capitalism. This radical transformation was recorded by Hilda Gadea in her book My Life with Che.


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