The Motorcycle Diaries shows the journey across South America of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. The two set out from Buenos Aires on an old motorcycle in search of adventure and a leper colony in Peru. It is interesting to note that Che was a medical student, very close to graduation. As Eduardo Elena stated, the fact that he left on this journey before completing his medical schooling was one of the earliest signs of his anti-conformist character. Guevara’s character evolves throughout the film, climaxing with his swim across the river to stay the night amongst the lepers, instead of with the doctors on the nicer side of the river. This shows his dedication to the common citizen. Elena goes on to say that traveling was no mere hobby for Che, but an empirical study of the South American population. The article compares Che with a conquistador, but his voyages led to “liberation rather than subjugation.”
It is paramount to take into account the governmental situation at the time of Guevara’s travels and upbringing. The Juan and Eva Peron government of the late 1940s and early 1950s was very nationalistic. While Eva was loved by much of the lower classes, labor unions, and women in general, the government had obvious drawbacks, including heavy censorship and harsh penalties to dissenters, according to Elena. The Peron government was wildly popular, and thus Che’s opposition was not outright. He also knew that if his plans for becoming a physician were to be successful he would most likely have to pledge support for the Peron government. This would have been quite a problem for Guevara, who was a very principled individual, as shown by his long-kept promise he made to Chichina.
The governments controlling Argentina’s neighboring countries were of interest to Guevara as well. According to Ann Zulawski, Guevara recognized that the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario, the ruling party in Bolivia from 1952-1964, was unlikely to enact real reform throughout the nation. A primary reason for this assumption was that they trusted the armed forces more than the working and lower classes.
The ruling regime in Peru during Guevara’s travels was a dictatorship led by Manuel Odria. The political ideology of one man controlling the whole nation must have been horrifying to Guevara, who was a populist, a man of the people, and fighter for the lower classes. According to Paulo Drinot, Odria introduced social reforms for the lower and working classes, including pensions, to keep national morale unified behind his regime. This was important in holding power during this revolutionary period in South American history. If Guevara had been raised in a different political climate, he may have not been inspired to lead revolutions across the continent.