A necessary historical, biographical, military atlas
Granma | March 22, 2017
THE figure of Ernesto Che Guevara awakens great passions and has become a symbol of universal appeal. One of his portraits, from the lens of Alberto Korda, is one the world’s most reproduced images.
This year, the tragic date of October 9 seems even more piercing: 50 years since his assassination in La Higuera, Bolivia. Despite the dozens of books written about Che, the search for information leads inevitably to the Atlas histórico, biográfico y militar Ernesto Guevara, by authors Reinaldo Espinosa Goitizolo and Guillermo Grau Guardarrama, published in Havana, in 1990, by the Pueblo y Educación house, with the support of the Cuban Institute of Geodesy and Cartography.
It is practically a historic encyclopedia, a first volume in which a synthesis of his life and work can be found, beginning with his birth in Argentina, June 14, 1928, through 1956. The authors have reconstructed his life, without gathering eulogies, and have recovered every episode, every path followed.
It is a chronological story and geographical representation, including, as every atlas does, pages of information on the conventional symbols, scales, and abbreviations used in the maps and city plans it contains.
The authors take care to present brief explanations of the world and especially Argentina in the year 1928 – its government, economy, and population, in addition to curiosities, like those related to the technical revolution between 1900 and 1928, mentioning for example the caterpillar tractor, adrenalin, insulin, penicillin, and military tanks, in an appendix on the historical context of Che’s early life, on pages 13-19.
The second chapter, on Ernesto’s first years, opens on page 20 with maps portraying the Guevara-De la Serna family’s extensive itinerary (at least 12 addresses), the first-born’s birth certificate, family photos, and a map of the city of Rosario, with the house where they lived identified as 428 Entre Ríos street, along with the Central Municipal Hospital where he was born June 14, 1928.
The authors are meticulous – something readers will appreciate – and include a reference to the city of San Isidro, where in 1930 Che suffered his first asthma attack, an ailment which would persist throughout his life and led to his family’s long pilgrimage in search of an environment that would be better for his health.
Pages 26-29 address his childhood and adolescence in Rosario, Córdoba, Altagracia, and Buenos Aires.
Before continuing with young Ernesto’s life, included is a parenthesis about WWII, information about the post-war era through 1956, in particular the significance of these world events for Latin America, with details about health and educational level per country, as well as the arrival of foreign capital.
Ernesto’s first trip across Argentina on a Cucchiolo motorbike began in 1951, and included a visit to see his friend Alberto Granado in Córdoba. He continued northeast to the country’s poorest provinces of Santiago del Estero, Tucumán, Salta, Jujuy, Catamarca, and La Rioja, returning via San Juan, Mendoza, San Luis, and south to Nahuel Huapí. He traveled a total of 4,500 kilometers.
His journey with Granado (pages 46-73) included Chile, Peru (Cuzco, Macchu Pichu and Lima), Bogota and Caracas. The authors offer an aside about his stop in Lima where Ernesto took time to visit the National Library, to see an art exhibit entitled De Miguel Angel a Picasso.
The two finished this first tour of South America July 26, 1952, in Venezuela, and Ernesto returned to Buenos Aires via Miami. A year later, June 12, he graduated from medical school, and on July 7 began a second trip across the continent, on this occasion, with his childhood friend Carlos “Calica” Ferrer. Their goal was to reach Caracas, where Alberto Granado was waiting for them.
The authors entitled the chapter on this period (pages 74-89) “Ernesto al encuentro de Che.” (Ernesto on discovering Che) He returned to Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, and reached Panama and Costa Rica, where he first came into contact with Cuban revolutionaries who had participated in the assault on the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba, July 26, 1953, among them Calixto García, later meeting Antonio Ñico López in Guatemala.
After the coup to remove Jacobo Arbenz from the Presidency in this country, Ernesto traveled to Mexico, arriving September 21, 1954. In Mexico City, events moved rapidly. He married Hilda Gadea, his first daughter Hilda Beatriz was born, and he met the leader of the July 26 Movement, Fidel Castro, in the home of Cuban María Antonia González, at 49 Emparán Street.
The Atlas provides maps of the jail where Fidel, Guevara, and other Cuban revolutionaries were held; the sites where they trained for the guerilla war; and the Granma yacht’s route from the port of Tuxpan, on the Gulf of Mexico, to Cuba.
To conclude, the authors have written a chapter entitled “Ernesto Che Guevara / aspectos personales” (personal aspects) with a graphic summary of his life (1930-1956); a Guevara-De la Serna family tree through 1956; extensive bibliographic notes; references; an index of significant names and sites; and a collection of photos.
The Atlas histórico, biográfico y militar Ernesto Guevara includes, as an obligatory item, the poem “Canto a Fidel,” written by Che in 1956, upon their departure to Cuba. The first and last verses are translated here:
ardent prophet of the dawn,
along remote, unlighted paths
to free the green caiman you love so much…
And if along our way, iron should intervene,
we ask for a shroud of Cuban tears
to cover our guerrillero bones
in the journey of American history. Nothing more.
The visionary Guevara de la Serna. This next stage will have its own space.