The father of communist Cuba died Friday — nearly 50 years after his revolutionary right hand-man was executed in Bolivia.
Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Argentine Marxist Che Guevara shared a close friendship rooted in their shared radical ideals as they fought Cuba’s authoritarian government in the 1950s.
After their successful revolution, the Cuban leader let Guevera lead the nation’s most notorious prison and its central bank.
But the bromance may have soured toward the end of Guevara’s life — and Castro’s betrayal may have cost the colorful revolutionary his life.
Guevara’s expertise in guerilla warfare proved to be a significant asset to Castro’s army. With the Argentinian as his top adviser, Castro and his troops won battle after battle against Cuban government forces.
The rebels overthrew President Fulgencio Batista on New Year’s Day in 1959, and replaced his authoritarian government with their own dictatorial regime.
Castro initially put Guevara in charge of Cuba’s La Cabaña Fortress prison, where he oversaw the executions of hundreds of Batista supporters and political prisoners.
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Historians estimate between 150 and 550 people died on Guevara’s watch.
Guevara later served as the president of Cuba’s national bank, where he managed international trade relationships, including the increasingly tense one with the U.S.
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Fidel Castro (far l.) marches with Che Guevara (c.) at a 1959 parade in Havana. (UNIVERSAL HISTORY ARCHIVE/UIG VIA GETTY IMAGES)
He eventually left Castro’s Cuba in 1965 to spread his radical ideas and foment revolution across Latin America.
He ended up in Bolivia with a small, ragtag guerrilla force, confident he could encourage the people to overthrow their own government.
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But without mass support from the people, Guevara was hunted down by the Bolivian army with the help of CIA operatives.
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He was captured deep in the Bolivian jungle in October 1967 and promptly executed.
In the months leading up to his death, Castro and Guevara stopped exchanging communication, pointing to rising tensions between the two, according to historians.
Cuba was said to have a military unit ready to deploy to Bolivia and save Guevara — but Castro never signed off on the mission and ultimately left his old comrade stranded to die.
Fidel Castro(r.) meets with Argentine guerrilla leader Che Guevara.
Fidel Castro(r.) meets with Argentine guerrilla leader Che Guevara. (AFP/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Decades after his death, Guevara remains one of history’s most divisive figures.
Radicals remember Guevara as a visionary and celebrate him as a symbol of revolution. His likeness has been plastered on T-shirts, posters and other merchandise, making him nearly a pop culture icon. But critics claim he was more tyrant than hero, and point to his habit of ordering prisoners executed without trial.
Guevara was a doctor by trade and studied medicine at the University of Buenos Aires. He put his studies on pause in 1952 to travel though South America with a friend on a motorcycle. The poverty and social injustices he witnesses sparked his radical beliefs, and his notes from the odyssey were eventually turned into his memoir, “The Motorcycle Diaries.”
After the trip, he became politically active in his home country of Argentina, before he moved to Guatemala in hopes of leading social reform thought there. But when the Guatemalan revolution abruptly ended through a CIA operation, Guevara fled to Mexico — where he was introduced his revolutionary partner, Castro.