A Journey to Political and Social Activism in Ernesto Che Guevara's 'Motorcycle Diaries'

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Emily Gjos November 12th, 2012

A journey to Political and Social Activism In Ernesto Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries

Global Development Studies Holler

Book Review

Emily Gjos November 12th, 2012

Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara is an autobiographical account that outlines the journey of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, then a 23-year-old medical student. Che and his friend Alberto leave their hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in January 1952 on the back of an asthmatic and sputtering motorbike. Guevara inadvertently goes on this journey of self discovery where he witnesses the social injustices of exploited mine workers, persecuted communists, ostracized lepers, and the tattered descendants of a once-great Incan civilization. The journey lasts a symbolic nine months spanning 8,000 kilometres through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and to Miami. 1 Che and Alberto decide to take a year off of their studies to travel across South America and experience life in their own backyard. They set out from Buenos Aires and make it fairly easily to Myanmar and later to the Chilean border. Part way through, the rickety motorbike breaks down beyond repair and they must hitchhike across the countryside. They rely on the kindness of the people along the road and they swindle their way into the kitchens and barns of the more generous of the inhabitants. The stunning landscapes give way to incredibly diverse people and less diverse conditions of poverty and oppression. The leper colony becomes a turning point for them as they discover within themselves the need for change. The experience has a stirring affect on them as they anticipate the political and social journey that they will take later in their lives and start to become the men they want to be. Ernesto Guevara was born in June 1928 in Rosario, Argentina into a middle-class family.2 He was studying to become a doctor at the time that the novel was written. He was living in a position of privilege which made him able to take this trip. Whether it was a boyhood need for adventure or a spiritual yearning for life experience, the widespread poverty and oppression that he witnessed sparked an already developed interest in Marxism. As a young man, Che was convinced that armed revolution was the 1 2

Guevara, Ernesto. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey. Melbourne: Ocean, 2003. Print. "Che Guevara Biography." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2012.

only solution to South and Central Americas’ problems.3 Soon after his journey around South America, Che moved to Mexico where he joined Fidel Castro’s regime of revolution for Cuba. He became a military advisor to Castro and played an important role in the success of the guerrilla war against Fulgencio Batista.4 Later, he became president of the National Bank and worked to shift international trade from the United States to the Soviet Union.5 He left his post as minister of industry in 1965 in order to travel the world and spread his ideas of revolution to other oppressed parts of the world. He was executed in 1966 in Bolivia but he lives on as a symbol of revolution, rebellion and socialism and is considered a hero for his courage and unfaltering loyalty to his views. The 1960’s in Latin America was a period of great political and social struggle, like much of the rest of the world. There was intense cultural and political mobilization as conflict spread throughout the developing world. The Cuban revolution, the spread of guerrilla movements, the emergence of student, women and indigenous social movements and the region’s growing visibility in world politics, changed and shaped the face of development in Latin America, with hopes of projects for social change and a reform of society. The era was characterized by military repression and US intervention, social conflict and great violence as people fought for revolution. Governments were...
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