It is exactly 85 years ago that Ernesto Guevara, better known as Che Guevara or simply as el Che, was born, on 14 May 1928, in the Argentinian city of Rosario. The Marxist doctor, writer and guerrilla leader, who was killed in Bolivia in 1967 fighting for a united Latin America, continues to stir passions among the continent’s youth.
by Pilar Porral
“For us el Che is a key figure, especially for young people. He guides us in whatever we do, whether it’s our political activities or our student movement,” says Luigi Pierobon, Mendoza’s regional head of Movimiento Sur (South Movement).
Guevara’s ideals of a ‘great fatherland’, Latin American integration and social justice are among Movimiento Sur’s guiding principles. “It’s a legacy we have inherited and which we are committed to bring about, not just in Argentina but in all of Latin America”, Pierobon says.
For the student organisation, Che Guevara embodies the struggle for social change. Pierobon admits, however, that “times have changed. We no longer are in the midst of the revolutionary process in which el Che played such an important role.”
Current circumstances, the youth leader argues, require new forms of struggle, such as democratic elections, new social spaces and a new social consensus in order to achieve transformation.
“Our approach is different than the socialist struggle of the past. Little by little, though, we will create a richer country. And that, I think, is the essence of Che Guevara’s thought”.
Interview with Luigi Pierobon, Mendoza’s regional head of Movimiento Sur
Social movements are continuing Che Guevara’s work
“Young people born since the mid-1980s are continuing Che Guevara’s project”, says Marjorie Cuello, a history major and member of Chile’s National Student Union (UNE).
This new generation, Cuello explains, is different in that it didn’t experience dictatorship. “We are less likely to be fearful than our parents or grandparents. So we are better placed to take up the struggle and change reality.”
The student union took to the streets in 2011 to demand free public education. The mass student protests eventually turned into a major social movement throughout Chile.
“Changing only education, however, won’t help us confront Chile's other inequalities.” That is why the student union, Cuello argues, has joined “the struggle of workers and other social groups”. Pierobon, too, says that like many other Latin American movements, Movimiento Sur considers it essential that “today’s youth join wider social processes”. Social movements, he says, should remember what Che Guevara said: “a young person who doesn’t create something really isn’t normal”.
Young people shouldn’t , therefore, resign themselves to “simply reproduce the ideas” spread by political organisations. “They should, instead, advance their own new, innovative views.” Among Latin America’s student movements, Pierobon says, there is widespread agreement that “if we want to achieve real changes, we must push much harder.”
“Over the past decade”, Pierobon explains, “leaders such as Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chávez and Bolivian President Evo Morales have taken up Che Guevara’s call for Latin American integration and a ‘Great Fatherland’. As a result, Che Guevara has lost much of his mythical aura as guerrilla leader, while his political plans have acquired greater urgency. That calls for more Latin American integration enjoy such wide support, he adds, is because “people realise it is essential for their country’s development”.
Cuello, UNE’s former secretary general in the Chilean city of Valparaíso, also stresses that the continent’s youth “have a key role to play in Latin America’s integration.” People should come to realise, she says, that borders are largely imaginary, and boundaries based on discrimination and xenophobia have to be eliminated.” Differences between countries, she argues, are the result of dictatorships, wars or views imposed by politicians. It is up to young people, she stresses, to “break down such barriers”.
“We firmly believe that Che Guevara’s ideal of a ‘Great Fatherland’ can be achieved. I’m hoping to see it realised in the next 20 years.”