Ernesto “Che” Guevara: A Retrospective on the 20th Century Great Leader.

Figure 1. Portrait of Che Guevara taken by Alberto Korda, 5 March 1960, at a funeral remembering the victims of the La Coubre explosion, in which a French freighter carrying munitions exploded in Havana, Cuba. Also known as the Guerrillero Heroico (‘Heroic Guerrilla Fighter’).

“What are our primary goals? Our greatest goals? The great lines we must follow? From the political point of view, the first thing we want is to be masters of our own destiny, a country free from foreign interference, a country that seeks out its own system of development.”

As quoted in Venceremos! The Speeches and Writings of Ernesto Che Guevara (1968) by John Gerassi, p. 98


History has brought forth many leaders into the storm of global affairs, from tyrants to heroes alike, that have shaped our present as we know it. Only a select few, however, truly rise above the rest and leave a lasting legacy for future generations. We believe that the late Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (1928-1967, see fig. 1) is a shining example of these so-called great leaders and truly deserves the 5th Greatest Leader award, and here is our evidence why.

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Many great leaders follow a set of five main criteria. All great leaders are seen as iconic or notable in their time, have made advances and great achievements in their field, have a degree of recognition across the world, have had a profound impact on society in their time and have left a legacy that still has effects today. A prominent Marxist in his time, Che Guevara was notable in their time as a Cuban wartime leader under Fidel Castro’s term as prime minister. He was held in high regard by his country and his followers, met with world leaders to voice his political opinions and became known as a determined leader that would go as far as kill for his cause. In terms of achievements in his field, he has spearheaded several successful military campaigns in his lifelong pursuit of rebelling against capitalist exploitation. One such example is the Cuban Revolution from 1953 to 1959 (see fig. 2 and 3), in which a corrupt government under US-backed Cuban president Fulgencio Batista was ousted to pave the way for a nationalization and economic reform of Cuba. 

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Figure 2. Che Guevara and a revolutionary fighter of the 26th of July Movement in Santa Clara during the Cuban Revolution.

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Figure 3. Map of Cuba depicting the movements of revolutionary fighters over the course of the Cuban Revolution.

Guevara also has a degree of recognition globally, particularly through a famous photograph of his face being used as a symbol of rebellion and revolution worldwide (see fig. 4, 5), as well as several books written by him on the tenets of guerilla warfare and Marxism. He has been recognized by other influential figures, including but not limited to Nelson Mandela, associates of Malcolm X and many celebrated poets. His presence in politics radically changed Cuban society by helping to introduce authoritarian and socialist concepts into Cuba’s government. Finally, he has left a lasting impression through his actions, having been immortalized in film, artwork and even in religion as a saint in Bolivia for his resemblances in appearance and life story to popular depictions of Jesus Christ. His image is still depicted in fashion across the world and has been occasionally worn by celebrities. That being said, Che Guevara has proven to be a controversial figure in recent times as he has also promoted total authoritarianism and violence against political adversaries.

Figure 4. American rapper Shawn Corey Carter, better known as Jay-Z, wearing a shirt with a stylized depiction of the Guerrillo Heroico, originally created in 1967 by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick without a copyright so it could be reproduced. The image has since been reproduced for use in artwork, accessories and clothing.

Figure 5. American former professional boxer Michael Gerard Tyson, better known as Mike Tyson, with a Guerrillo Heroico tattoo.


Now that you know about Che Guevara’s influential life and legacy, we hope that you, too, will recognize his place as the 5th Greatest Leader of the past 122 years.


Various authors. “Che Guevara.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 April 2002,

Various authors. “Cuban Revolution.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 July 2003,

Andrew Annandale Sinclair. “Che Guevara | Biography, Facts, Fidel Castro, & Death.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 27 Sept. 2018,

Encyclopædia Britannica editors. “Cuban Revolution | Summary, Facts, Causes, & Effects.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 19 July 2018,

‌ Editors. “Che Guevara.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, LLC, 21 Aug. 2018,