Che Guevara and the revolutionary struggle in Bolivia

Image: Malcom Drummond


Commentary on the new edition of the book by Luiz Bernardo Pericás

Che Guevara's brief and remarkable life, segmented between the multiple and distinct tasks he assumed, produced immeasurable practical and theoretical contributions to the struggle for socialist revolution in the second half of the XNUMXth century, especially in underdeveloped societies, victimized by the influence of neocolonialism and of imperialism. In this sense, Luiz Bernardo Pericás dedicates Che Guevara and the revolutionary struggle in Bolivia to the final journey of the “heroic guerrilla” in the Bolivian East.

Although Che Guevara's trajectory in that country culminated in his death, his actions contributed to the consolidation of the myth surrounding his name, as well as symbolizing the continuity of the praxis contained in his fighting repertoire (and even his intellectual production). ). To understand Che's final moments, Luiz Bernardo Pericás, with evident methodological rigor, carried out a detailed documentary and bibliographic survey about Guevara's presence in Bolivian lands (as well as the resonance of his actions, which lasts until contemporary times) from extensive field research, carried out at the location of the narrated events, based on interviews with central characters and the compilation of historical documents (some of which have never been published in Brazil), such as letters, diaries, communications, speeches, photographs and maps.

Che Guevara and the revolutionary struggle in Bolivia, in its third edition, results from the update of the book originally published in 1997 and consists of seven chapters divided into two parts, in addition to the conclusion and the highlighted collection of historical documents in the annexes. The structure of the work takes the reader to the paths that led Che Guevara to the guerrilla movement in Bolivia – with emphasis on the activities carried out with the National Liberation Army (ELN) – until the concentration of efforts contained in the military operation that culminated in his capture and subsequent execution.

Despite the focus of the second part of the work on analyzing the political ties established by the guerrilla fighter and the impacts of this period of around a year on the creation of the myth surrounding his name – especially for the groups involved in this fight –, the reader is not will register an abrupt rupture between these blocks, since Pericás composes the first two chapters with different characters and concepts that are taken up and deepened in the second part (chapters three to seven).

The first part of the work, however, is not limited to an account or biographical record of Che Guevara's last movements; on the contrary, it presents the facts contained since the early years of the 1960s, permeated by the conflicting situation in South America faced with the escalation of repressive forces in opposition to the growth of guerrillas in the region. In the topics of the first chapter, Luiz Bernardo Pericás demonstrates the importance that Guevara gave to Bolivia to achieve the expansion of the armed struggle, which, according to the commander, would be a necessity, in view of the blockade promoted by the United States (the book also discusses the activities undertaken by the guerrilla on the African continent).

Although the fight in Bolivia combined other elements favorable to Che's presence in the country, such as the strategic geographical location and the hypothetical ease of the language - despite the languages ​​of the original peoples, such as Quechua, Aymara and Guarani, which the guerrillas studied in a rudimentary way or even knew about –, their initial intention was to carry on the fight in Argentina or Peru, which was not possible.

Che's actions with the local people (whether workers, members of indigenous communities or political movements) showed the attention and respect dedicated to the specificities of that society. Therefore, the contribution of the work also lies in the creation of an alternative vision regarding the success accumulated by Che Guevara in Bolivian lands, since, although the tragic ending receives the greatest prominence in most narratives and the triumph of the socialist revolution does not occurred, the long-lasting transformations promoted by Che's presence in each of the groups involved in the Bolivian revolutionary struggle are highlighted in the second part of the work.

Che Guevara fought, as Luiz Bernardo Pericás points out, in a region classified as “one of the most conservative and politically backward in Bolivia” (p. 181), but he aroused reactions in the different left-wing movements and parties in that country, even though they presented varied trends, with different levels of approach to armed struggle (especially at that time). The different views on the path that would lead Bolivian society to revolution contributed directly to the fragmentation of support for the guerrillas. Even though, predominantly, the official position of the different groups was supportive, membership was dispersed, compromising the revolutionary unity to combat imperialism, desired by Che. Guevara's diagnosis, however, could not be more accurate, since, when fighting in Bolivia, a direct confrontation with American interests was established.

The analysis of the political situation and the detailing of the contribution of left-wing parties to the guerrilla are in dialogue with the academic history of Luiz Bernardo Pericás, which brings together important studies and publications on revolutionary movements in Latin American countries, as well as on theories and trends formed around the left-wing ideologies that emerge in this region, as in his well-known work Paths of the Brazilian Revolution (Boitempo).

Che Guevara – who, by the way, already collected incredible achievements –, due to his experience in Bolivia, took on different forms for Bolivians: from the figure of an agitator and promoter of class consciousness for workers (when facing the challenges of the backwardness of local society) to that of a trophy for oppressive forces serving external interests. The permanence of elements that refer to Guevara highlights this broad influence.

The work – together with Che Guevara and the economic debate in Cuba, also published by Boitempo –, places Luiz Bernardo Pericás among the main experts on the Argentine guerrilla turned global citizen. The author, after all, fills a gap left by Che Guevara's biographers, demonstrating that the ELN guerrilla directly contributed to the mythification of Guevara, especially in Bolivian society. Furthermore, the initiative to shed light on other themes stands out, with arguments that elucidate motivations and paths, in addition to the character's revolutionary impetus, and that help to understand his endeavor in the Bolivian jungles.

*Matheus Ataliba da Silva He is studying for a master's degree in economic history at USP.


Luiz Bernardo Pericas. Che Guevara and the revolutionary struggle in Bolivia. 3rd. Edition. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2023, 416 pages. []

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