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Despite the legendary reputation and unshakeable will of the revolutionary leader Che Guevara, his meager, isolated guerrilla units were no match for a professional army deploying ground and air forces with solid U.S. military and intelligence backing. The insurgents made their own miscalculations as well. They selected the lowland region around Ñancahuazú, expecting to have more time to prepare themselves without being detected and not considering carefully the real conditions of the local rural population. Under permanent assault by the military, the population did not provide the enthusiastic support expressed by workers in the remote highland mines or students and intellectuals in the distant cities.

Guevara’s celebrated diary provides a gripping, day-to-day account of his fateful Bolivian expedition. After a devastating ambush, his 26 September entry begins with the single-word sentence: “Defeat.” These stoic final notes, which follow, portray Che’s clarity and composure in the midst of growing adversity. He was seized on 8 October and executed the next day, though his example would inspire a new wave of armed struggle in the Southern Cone. With his personal sacrifice, Che became one of the greatest revolutionary icons of the twentieth century.

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