Things That Matter

Che Guevara’s Firing Squads Killed Over 30,000 Cubans. Here Are 26 Facts You Might Not Know About Him.

Among the political personalities that shaped 20th-century history, Ernesto “Che” Guevara is perhaps one of the most controversial. The Argentine revolutionary traveled the continent and idealistically fought against what he saw as unforgivable injustices. Following a Marxist worldview, he led guerrilla warfare efforts in countries as diverse as Cuba, Congo, and Bolivia.

He was considered by some to be a hero, the stuff myths are made of. Others, like almost every Castro regime-fleeing Cuban-American you’ve ever met, consider him to be a cruel tyrant who used violence to impose his ideas. While his image has become a symbol for political rebellion, you might want to share this article with that friend who thinks they’re in Latino solidarity by wearing that $48 Urban Outfitter’s t-shirt with his face on it.

Here are 21 facts about Ernesto’s life, from his early years in Argentina to his last days in Bolivia.

Ernest “Che” Guevara was a ruthless, systematic assassin for his political ideology.

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous.

Too often, Che supporters like to focus on his ideology and ignore the generations of Cuban-Americans who were gunned down by his extremist, violent means to a political end. Jon Lee Anderson’s biography, which cited Guevara’s own diaries, quotes a diary entry of how he resolved deserters to the cause:

“The situation was uncomfortable for the people and for Eutimio so I ended the problem giving him a shot with a .32 pistol in the right side of the brain, with exit orifice in the right temporal [lobe].”

When he visited the UN, two Cuban exiles tried to kill him.

Credit: Che: Part One. Wild Bunch.

Exiles in the U.S. thought Guevara was far from being a hero and two attempts were made. At the time, he continued to be a source of fear for anyone who didn’t support Castro’s regime.

Castro put Guevara in charge of the firing squads, which eventually assassinated 30,000 Cubans.

@CdVinEnglish / Twitter

There was no due process for the individuals who were placed against a wall, and waited for the order to leave Guevara’s lips that would cause their ultimate, brutal death by firing squad. In a letter to Luis Paredes López, Guevara casually writes, “The executions by firing squads are not only a necessity for the people of Cuba, but also an imposition of the people.”

His legacy includes a generation of Cubans whose own parents and loved ones died at his hands.

@ExposeTheMedia / Twitter

Don’t try talking about his revolutionary ideology to the thousands of Cubans whose families have been violently torn apart by his extremist methods. About 1.5 million Cubans fled their home country to the U.S. out of pure fear of ending up at that wretched bloody wall.

This face incites fear in a generation of Cuban-Americans whose lives were completely uprooted out of well-founded fear of this man.

It says something twisted about our limited historical lens that allowed this photograph to become a fashion symbol.

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous

Unless you have been living under a rock all your life, chances are that you have seen this image. It was actually shot by Cuban photographer Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, better known as Alberto Korda or simply Korda. Its title: “Guerrillero Heroico” or “Heroic Guerrilla Fighter.” Certainly one of the most recognizable images in the history of photography.

Che-inspired consumerism is ironically known as “Che Chic”.

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous.

Oh, the irony! During his lifetime Guevara constantly fought against and criticized capitalist policies and the commodification of basically everything in life. However, his image has generated millions of dollars in sales of various products, most famously t-shirts.

Cuban exiles are vehemently in protest of this strange wave of fashion that romanticizes the mans ideology while ignoring the bloodshed of his actions.

Andy Warhol even created Che pop art.

Credit: che-guevara. Digital image. Wikiart.

Andy Warhol was obsessed with celebrity and this 1968 painting simply titled “Che Guevara” is a testament of the guerrilla fighter’s position as a polarizing pop culture icon. It’s no wonder that many Latinos have differing views of the revolutionary war icon.

Castro emblazoned his iconic photo on the $3 Cuban peso coin under “Patria o Muerte.”

Credit: Download. Digital image. Yanniel.com

On the one hand, his fanfare makes sense given that an entire Cuban government has given him the best PR an assassin could hope for. Cubans see Che’s face on a daily basis on graffiti, posters and most commonly these coins. Above Che’s head: “Country or death”.

Sounds like a good way to continually threaten your people.

So what’s his appeal? What’s his story? Nos vemos.

@DailyDream360 / Twitter

Besides the obvious reasons why he’s so often commemorated (Castro regime censoring any negative image of his right hand man in order to perpetuate a glorified image of his dictatorship), many people admire his efforts to overthrow capitalism and erase poverty lines. So that’s something. Pero, to be muy claro, it’s not enough.

While Che is best known for his role in the Cuban Revolution, he was born in Argentina to Spanish-Irish parents.

Credit: x001. Digital image. Marxists Internet Archive.

Like many Argentinians, Guevara had a mostly European heritage. His ancestors came from the Basque country (a region famous for its separatist efforts), Cantabria and Ireland via his paternal family tree.

He grew up comfortably in middle-class Argentina.

Credit: Pinterest. Yuliana Prisnawati Siboe

Guevara, known as “Ernestito” at home, didn’t come from a poor background. Rather, his middle-class family was quite comfortable in Rosario, Argentina. His parents were left-leaning when it came to politics and they supported veterans from the Spanish Civil War. Young Guevara soon showed an affinity with social issues.

Che suffered from asthma.

Credit: Giphy. Gifsoup.

Guevara had a lifelong medical condition: asthma. This limited some of his activities like rugby, a sport he was passionate about in his early years in Argentina. Wonder what would have happened to Cuba as we know it if Dios just let him breathe his way into a career of rugby. Que pena.

He graduated from the University of Buenos Aires as a medical doctor.

Credit: download.png. Digital image. United Way of Northwest Mississippi

His first wife wrote a memoir, “My Life with Che,” and describes Guevara’s obsession with creating medical equity for the working and impoverished class of Argentina. Specifically, he viewed an elderly washerwoman that he was treating as “representative of the most forgotten and exploited class.”

He travelled the continent on a motorcycle…

Credit: The Motorcycle Diaries. Miramax.

As seen in the Gael-starred movie “The Motorcycle Diaries, Guevara traveled through Latin America as a young man, an experience that put him in touch with social injustice and sparked a revolutionary drive in him.

Which led him to spend a few weeks treating a leper colony in Peru.

Credit: alberto-granado-che (1). Digital image. Vanguardia.

Leprosy is a debilitating disease, no question. It’s caused by a bacteria that is thought to be spread by armadillos and reduces the ability to feel pain, which can lead to untreated wounds, causing amputations.

Guevara was especially interested in the community that the disease creates. In “The Motorcycle Diaries,” he writes, “The highest forms of human solidarity and loyalty arise among such lonely and desperate people.”

He loved reading existentialist philosophers.

Credit: Giphy. @mcplee

Guevara was an avid reader, and among his favorite authors the French philosophers Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre had a privileged place. These two novelists and philosophers presented life as a senseless affair, with no answers and no way out. Existence is futile, they say. 

He met Fidel Castro in Mexico City.

Credit: che-jail. Digital image. Latinamericanstudies.org

Guevara worked as a doctor in the Mexican capital, where he met the Cuban brothers Raul and Fidel Castro. They quick found common interests and their dislike for the way in which US corporations mistreated workers and installed puppet governments. 

Castro named him his right and was the Cuban Finance Minister after the revolution.

Credit: Che: Part One. Wild Bunch.

One of the main critiques to the Cuban Revolutionary government is the fact that the newly formed government had little or no experience in public administration. Guevara went from the battlefield to a desk… he didn’t last long and single handedly destroyed the economy.

In 1964 he spoke against South African apartheid at the United Nations.

Credit: Che: Part One. Wild Bunch.

Yes, Guevara travelled to New York and gave a famous speech even if he was a sworn enemy of the US government. The hour long speech is captured by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh in his two volume epic “Che.”

He wanted to free Africa from imperialism.

Credit: CheInCongo1965. Digital image. Wikipedia.

After he grew apart from the Castro regime, Che set his sights on Africa. He trained guerrilla fighters in Congo, a former Belgian colony. He thought that a Pan-African dream was possible and the continent could be united.

But he also loved his Rolex GMT Master watch.

Credit: Che-Rolex. Digital image. Rolex Magazine.

Quite a contradiction. The revolutionary leader wore an expensive piece that was often photographed.

The CIA said he was “fairly intellectual for a Latino.”

Credit: download. Digital image. Brizreit University.

Yes, you read that right. A true WTF. Those racist words described Guevara in a government report which sums-up the framing of Latinos in the mid 20th century. As if.

It’s pretty widely believed that the CIA orchestrated his assassination.

@JMichaelWaller / Twitter

On the left is CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, with Che Guevara and his Bolivian captors. The United States openly denounced his anti-capitalist views and saw him as a threat to democracy. Many believe he was killed by the CIA for his disruptive tendencies, rather than his murderous role in the Cuban Revolution.

Every martyr for a cause is soil for iconography.

His hands were cut off after he was killed.


Credit: che-soldiers. Digital image. Latinamericanstudies.org

Right after he was executed in Bolivia his hands were amputated and sent to Buenos Aires. The reason: his fingerprints needed to be properly identified and that somehow seemed to be the most logical way of doing it. 

But what does “Che” actually mean?

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous.

His moniker is not very glamorous. “Che” translates simply as “dude”, “bro”, “ese”, “carnal” in Argentina. Because he spent most of his life abroad, “Che” was a simple way of remembering his origins.

There are no two sides to Che. There’s only the full picture.

@Ramagemilang / Twitter

My mami always said, “actions speak louder than words.” While his words and political beliefs were moving, and well-intentioned, there is no ‘means justify the end’ when it comes to murdering thousands of people without fair trial.

Feel free to educate your friends so they stop pissing off Cuban abuelos.

READ: 11 People Who Changed The Course Of History In Latin America Through Violence And Military Coups

Want To Learn About The Indigenous History Of Your Neighborhood? This New App Will Help You

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Want To Learn About The Indigenous History Of Your Neighborhood? This New App Will Help You

Native Lands

For all the (let’s be absolutely honest here!) banal uses of social media out there, sometimes developers use the geolocative capabilities of smartphones to make the world a more inclusive place. This app looks at the history of a place and reveals how it was originally organized by the traditional owners of the land before processes of colonization and dispossession reshaped the maps of what is now known as the Americas. Digital media allows us to visualize things that are already there, so next time you step on indigenous land you can quietly acknowledge it. 

Through location, the Native Land app lets you unearth the indigenous heritage of a place.

Credit: Native Land

The app was developed in Canada, a country which was a complex network of indigenous groups before French and British colonial powers redrew the map. The app can be accessed both through mobile devices (it works on iOS and Android) and through a browser based map. It includes key information such as a group’s language, name and whether the land was ceded (most likely by force or through a deceptive deal) through a treaty. It is a work in progress, so bear with the developers please!

They state before you even start looking for the indigenous past of a territory based on your postcode: “This map does not represent or intend to represent official or legal boundaries of any Indigenous nations. To learn about definitive boundaries, contact the nations in question. Also, this map is not perfect — it is a work in progress with tons of contributions from the community. Please send us fixes if you find errors”. So if you have information that the developers could use to make the app more precise, they are more than open to new findings that could make this collaborative tool a more accurate representation of the indigenous imprint on a place. Ready to find out more about the place that you call home? Click here

Remember: maps are only political and not set on stone, so the map you know was drawn by colonial powers.

Credit: Native Land

Contrary to what we might believe, maps are hardly set on stone. In fact, how a territory is named and where boundaries sit is evidence of historical processes through which lands are taken. Just look at this map of North America and think about all the blood that has been shed by the original owners of the land just so we can identify just three countries today. There were hundreds of discreet ethnic groups in Canada, Mexico and the United States before the European superpowers of Britain, France and Spain landed and created havoc. 

But the past is past, right? So why should we care? Well, we should care, a lot, particularly in today’s political climate. Let’s take this map of the California area as an example.

Credit: Native Land

So why is becoming familiar with the indigenous past of place important? Because it tells us that the borders that exist today are practically a human invention rather than something set on stone, and that unless you have indigenous heritage we are all guests. California, for example, was populated by a wide variety of peoples who were conquered by the Spanish or assimilated into mestizo culture through religion and language. So when white supremacists get all “America for the Americans” on Brown folk, they should be reminded that the land is and has always been indigenous. 

And this map of Australia is just nuts! Can you believe that colonial settlers have tried to make this country fully white and monolingual in the past?

Credit: Native Land

Australia is a young country that nevertheless has faced racism due to the aires de grandeza of some colonial settlers. Even though there has been a formal apology from the government towards aboriginal Australians, and there are constant acknowledgements to the fact that the land was never ceded, there remain great challenges to make the country truly inclusive for those who owned and thrived in the land in the first place. Just looking at this map makes you think of the wide variety of languages and traditions that existed in the island before the Dutch and English arrived

The ‘Sahuaraura’ Manuscript, An Ancient Peruvian Document That Was Thought Lost—Was Found Just Last Week, Over 100 Years Later

Things That Matter

The ‘Sahuaraura’ Manuscript, An Ancient Peruvian Document That Was Thought Lost—Was Found Just Last Week, Over 100 Years Later

BBC / Twitter

The Sahuaraura manuscript is considered a fundamental part of Peruvian history and culture. This piece Peruvian history, written by hand, was lost for a century and a half. Placed under the care of the then Public Library of Lima, the document disappeared in 1883 inexplicably—and now, over a hundred years later, it’s been found.

A part of the history of Peru, written by hand, was lost for a century and a half.

Peru National Library

During the Pacific War from (between 1879 and 1883), a manuscript of great value, was lost. Placed under the safekeeping of the then Public Library of Lima, the document was mysteriously lost.

“Recuerdos de la monarquía peruana, ó bosquejo de la historia de los incas”

Twitter @dossieroficial

The document titled “Recuerdos de la monarquía peruana,ó bosquejo de la historia de los incas” was a historical treaties written by hand by the priest, scholar and national hero, ‘Justo Sahuaraura Inca’, whom, it was believed, was a descendant of the sovereign, Huayna Capac, third Sapan Inka of the Inca Empire, born in Tumipampa and the second to last ruler over the Tahuantinsuyo empire.

The document disappeared for nearly 150 years.

twitter @bibliotecaperu

It wasn’t until 2015, when, by chance, the Sahuaraura manuscript was found thousands of kilometers away. The document was lost for nearly 150 years, nowhere to be found.

It was discovered in Brazil

instagram @shane.lassen.russlyonsedona

As it turned out, a family in Sao Paulo, had had it in their possession for over four decades —and hoped to sell it in the U.S. during a high profile auction by the renowned auction house, Sotheby’s.

Peruvian authorities are organizing an exhibition to show the document publicly in celebration of its return to Peru.

twitter @laurasolete123

After four years of formalities and paperwork, the Sahuaraura manuscript is finally back where it disappeared from, the now National Library of Perú. And to celebrate its return, authorities have organized an exhibition to show the document publicly for the first time. The return of the document took place just last week, and it was amongst 800 other historical and archaeological pieces including Incan ceramics, textiles and bibliographic materials that were all stolen decades ago —and that the Peruvian government finally located and retrieved from 6 different countries.

Of all the objects rescued, the manuscript holds a place of special importance for Peruvian history.

Peru National Library

The Sahuaraura text is considered a fundamental part of Peruvian historiography and the cultural value of the manuscript is ‘incalculable’. “Only this copy exists,” explained the Ministry of Peruvian Culture, Francesco Petrozzi, “and it tells us, very clearly, about a period in our history that we must all know about and study closely.”

It took, Sahuaraura, a member and descendant of the Incan noble family, years of research, consulting archives and documents —now lost— to be able to construct his primal history of Peru with data cited, very rarely, on other works about the arrival of Spanish conquistadors into this region of the continent.

The Sahuaraura manuscript includes an illustrated genealogy study.

twitter @peruturismo

The book also goes into great detail about the genealogy of the rulers of the vast pre-columbian territories that conformed the Incan empire with its capital in Cusco, which provides a huge insight into the history of the region to modern researchers.

The manuscript details Peruvian history, from the foundations of the empire, until the largest indigenous rebellion against Spanish rule in the region.

twitter @bibliotecaperu

The text starts from Manco Cápac, who was thought to be the first ruler and founder of the Incan culture, and follows history all the way up to Túpac Amaru, the indigenous leader who fronted the largest anti-colonial rebellion in Latin America in the XVIII century.

What is known of Sahuaraura, the scholar himself?

Museo Histórico Regional de Cusco

The priest and scholar is an icon of Peruvian culture and history. He was born towards the end of the XVIII century and he was the son of a leader of one of the regions of Cusco, which is why some chroniclers believe he belonged to the highest lines of Incan nobility.  He became a priest and joined the Catholic church, which named him synodal examiner of the bishopric and general liaison with six provinces of Cusco.

It is said that he received Simon Bolivar himself —a Venezuelan military and political leader who led the independence of what are currently the states of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama from the Spanish Empire —in his own house, and that the libertador gave him a medal for his services toward the freedom of Peru.

Sahuaraura also documented important literary works of the Incan empire in his works.

instagram @manu_elera

Among the many other manuscripts that the scholar worked on, and that also compile different aspects of Incan history, there is a literary anthology of the empire. This document includes the codex of Ollantay drama, considered by some, the most ancient expression of Quechua literature.

Sahuaraura himself went missing.

instagram @purochucho

Nothing is known about the death of this scholar. Sahuaraura himself went missing from Peruvian history at a time unknown. All that is known is that he retired somewhere in Cusco, and no one ever knew anything about him after. There is no information on the place or date of his death.