A Revolutionary in the 1960s

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, photographed by Alberto Korda in 1961

Fidel Castro died a few days ago at age 90. In the 1960s, we were very familiar with news about Castro and Cuba and communism. And another name, perhaps even more familiar as a symbol of youthful rebellion, is “Che.” Remember all of those T-shirts with his image?

Just to be clear, the Castro neighborhood and Castro Street in San Francisco was named for Jose Castro, a Californio (pre state of California) leader of the Mexican opposition to United States rule in the 19th century. So he was a bit of a rebel, like Fidel Castro, but there is no connection.

Our Jose Castro was named “Alcalde,” recognized as a Mayor, of Alta California from 1835 to 1836. He died in 1860, 10 years after California became a state.

Young people were in love with the idea of this rebel named Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He was seen as fighting for “the people” and against American imperialism in Central and South America. He was Castro’s right-hand-man for many years. Some say it was Guevara’s influence that turned Castro into a communist.

Here is Guevara giving a speech to the United Nations in 1964. There are English subtitles.

Following his UN appearance, he was interviewed on the CBS news program, “Face the Nation.”

Guevara was born in Argentina to a middle-class family. Fidel Castro was trained as a lawyer and Guevara went through medical school and graduated before both men ended up living in the jungle of Cuba to fight their war. Castro and Guevara had a complicated friendship and partnership in developing the government for Cuba. Guevara had great influence but was more outspoken and caused problems for Castro by criticizing Castro’s relationship with the Soviet Union.

Guevara moved to the Congo in Africa, to teach a group of rebels how to fight against their Colonial leaders. He wrote a letter to Castro, which Castro read aloud over the radio to all of Cuba. In the letter, Guevara said he was finished with his duties for the revolution in Cuba. And he renounced his Cuban citizenship.

After time in Europe, he moved to Bolivia to start a revolution there. He was caught and on orders from the Bolivian president, he was executed on October 9, 1967. He was 39 years old. He was buried at a secret location. In 1995, Guevara’s biographer found his grave and in 1997, Guevara’s remains, along with six of his Cuban rebels, were laid to rest with military honors in a mausoleum in the Cuban city of Santa Clara.

There is a documentary of Guevara’s life, that includes lot of clips of Castro, based on the research of Guevara’s biographer Jon Lee Anderson. It is one and a half hours long and provides a unique perspective on the history we think we know. Here is the link:

Best wishes,

Carol