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Che Guevara is the haunting face of ‘Guerrillero Heroico’ that you see on T-shirts and stencilled onto subway walls the world over; the romantic symbol of revolution and counter culture among youth "sticking it to the man". The Guerrillero photo is one of the most recognized icons on earth. But what few people know, is that before Che ever held a gun, he had held a stethoscope. He is probably the most famous doctor of all doctors, that no one realizes was a doctor.  

Che was born in Argentina in 1928. In 1948 he was accepted to medical school at the University of Buenos Aires. During a break from his training, he took a motorcycle trip up the central vein of South America that changed his life. He wrote an account of it which became a bestseller entitled “The Motorcycle Diaries”.


On his travels he met the suffering majority: agricultural and mining workers exploited to “shivering bones” by fat oligarchs. He was deeply wounded by the poverty and exploitation of the 'proletariat' that he saw.


When Che returned to Argentina those sights of hunger and horror continued to haunt him. He began to see health for all as broader than just absence of disease. Medicine needed to encompass social and financial justice. Che did what few doctors have done: he put down his stethoscope, and picked up a gun.  

You could say that socialism courses through my blood. Back in 1983 I was a kid living in Barbados and I can remember when the sounds of Calypso faded and for several weeks the sounds of my home became alien and unfamiliar. I could hear fighter jets streaking across the island, and the thumping of assault helicopters overhead, while out at sea I remember seeing an aircraft carrier so large that it blocked out the sunset.


This disruption was due to an invasion/liberation of the nearby island of Grenada, code named ‘Operation Urgent Fury’. My mother one day took me aside and whispered to me that one of the chief perpetrators resulting in the invasion was none other than a distant cousin, and that like Voldemort of the Harry Potter series, his name should never be spoken. I promised her not to and never have until now. 


Communism was a romantic idea that appealed to anyone who wished equality in our world. But it was packaged with a fatal flaw. Karl Marx’s dream was to create a classless society with common ownership of the assets of a state. Everyone was to be equal and no one exploited. A beautiful idea, but exposed by a beautiful mind a century later to be hopelessly idealistic. I make reference to the schizophrenic mathematician John Nash who received a nobel prize for his seminal contributions to Game Theory. If Karl and John were in the same room, I think John could have pointed out the flaw within a few minutes of reading Karl’s Communist Manifesto: the fatal flaw was not factoring in human self-interest; people think as individuals, not as a hive. Hence the communist ‘everyone is equal’ party line was subverted to ‘but some are more equal than others’. Common ownership was perverted into dictators running whole countries as their personal plantations and banking accounts.

Che lived before the communist experiment was proven flawed. He believed with religious fervor in equality for all. After he was able to arrest power with Fidel Castro from Batista in Cuba, he insisted that his wife and children use public transportation like anyone else. He went on to disseminate unrest in the Congo and then Bolivia. It was in Bolivia that he was apprehended and executed. But before he died his executioner hesitated. Che ordered him: “Shoot coward! You are only going to kill a man!” I think Che’s last words sum up his egalitarian life. Even at the end he didn’t see himself as worthy of a better death than anyone else.  

“The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall”.
- Dr Che Guevara

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