Later, I would learn more details about our mission; the primary objective of diversifying our trade by placing most of our sugar production in those markets and replacing the majority of our imports with products from those places.
Once in the USSR, an emergency meeting took place in Moscow that included almost all of the foreign ministers of the socialist countries. In the meeting, Commander Guevara explained the serious situation facing the Cuban Revolution given the imperialist aggression, and as the main theme, the need to place four million tons of sugar in those markets, at a price of four cents per pound. This price was higher than the rate on the New York Stock Exchange at the time.
He also said it was necessary for Cuba to buy its essential products from those countries.
You should remember that at the time, Cuba did not yet have a Ministry of Foreign Trade, and we had very little information, and even less experience, in that area. All we had were solid political arguments and a letter signed by our prime minister, Commander Fidel Castro, which had the above mentioned request, and its bearer was Commander Guevara.
What were the agreements reached?
As a result of those
negotiations, the USSR promised
2.7 million tons of sugar; China, one million tons; and the other
socialist countries, 300,000 tons.
In addition, Korea, Vietnam and Mongolia bought symbolic quantities as an expression of support and solidarity with the socialist countries.
In Moscow, a multilateral agreement on payments was also signed.
With the goal of reaching trade agreements that included lists of the products to be bought and sold, payment agreements and credit agreements, the delegation led by Che also visited Czechoslovakia, China, Korea and the Federal Republic of Germany.
During his stay in China, and to save time, Che decided that he would visit the Democratic Republic of Korea, and had me lead a small group to Vietnam and Mongolia, countries with which we also established diplomatic relations at the time.
At the end of his stay in Berlin, Che had to return to Cuba, informing us that he would make a short stop in Budapest and that the delegation I was leading from then on should travel to Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania.
Was there already talk of the need to change Cuba's trade structure?
After arriving in Cuba, Commander Guevara appeared on television on January 6, 1961, to report on the signing of the agreements with the socialist countries:
"It was an extremely difficult task, a difficult task, because we have had to change the structure of our trade in just a few months. From the end of 1959, exactly one year ago, Cuba has passed from being a country with a totally colonial structure, with domestic and foreign trade systems completely dominated by the large import companies dependent on monopoly capital, to being -- in 10 months, as of October, when the cycle definitively ends -- a country where the state holds a complete monopoly over foreign trade, and also a large part of domestic trade."
He also referred to additional difficulties that we were facing, given that in those countries, the decimal metric system was used, while we continued to use the colonial practice of weighing in pounds and measuring in yards, with different systems for measuring pressure or a simple pipe fitting.
Electrical equipment in Cuba uses 60 cycles, while in the socialist countries, it was 50 cycles per second.
In short, we were facing all types of difficulties, but with the determination to overcome them and triumph over them in face of the dilemma created for us by the imperialist aggression.
Interesting anecdotes emerged out of these initial experiences.
For example, in China, when evaluating the list of products to be traded, there was a difference of $3 million favoring the Chinese side.
Before signing the final protocol, the Chinese prime minister at the time, Chou En-lai, told Che that China should not appear to be receiving more in products than what it was exporting to Cuba.
So it was decided to have a line of $3 million in arts and crafts exports, given that at the time, we could not find any other products that met our needs.
It was out of that protocol contingent of Chinese arts and crafts that lots of stories circulated in Havana about the large volume of Chinese walking sticks and umbrellas being sold in our stores.
Actually, the Chinese sent us valuable craftwork that I am sure exceeded the value previously mentioned.
I always believed that neither they nor we really valued those wonderful things.
On the contrary, certain foreigners who were living in Cuba temporarily did take advantage of the situation, enriching themselves through the illegal sale of those art treasures.
Another source of anecdotes and jokes was the snow removers. I think that these actually had a basis in truth, in machines that were the same or similar and were purchased to be tried out in our mining industry.
I will never forget the look of amazement on the face of the Soviet translator who, in reading the list of things we needed, did not know what to say when a typing error led him to read the need for thousands of "monkey lips" (bembas de mono) instead of "hand pumps" (bombas de mano).
We joked amongst ourselves about the decision by Commander Guevara to buy all the canned meat we could, and also all the machine tools that we could.
A few months later, we would realize how correct those decisions were when, mobilized to occupy trenches or as a volunteer in cutting sugar cane, I thought the Russian meat tasted glorious, after having made so many faces when we first tried the samples they had given us.
We had the same internal satisfaction of knowing that the problem created by the blockade of a shortage of spare parts could be solved through the machine tools we had bought, which a comrade on the delegation had commented on by going so far as to say that on the next Day of the Three Kings [January 6 -- TML ed.], we would have to do propaganda among the country's parents so they would give each child the present of a machine tool.
Personally, I have unforgettable memories of those days together with a man as peerless as Che.
I had the opportunity to meet prominent individuals like Mao Zedong and Chou En-lai, Nikita Krushchev, Walter Ulbricht, Pham Van Dong and other outstanding leaders of the socialist camp.
But it is with special affection and admiration that I remember one agreeable and helpful young woman who helped us as a German translator in the Federal Republic of Germany, Tamara Bunke Bider, who years later would go down in history as Tania the guerrilla fighter.
On February 23, 1961, the Ministry of Foreign Trade was created, with Alberto Mora appointed as its minister.
What problems were created by those changes in foreign trade, and what role did Commander Guevara play in resolving them?
Some time after returning from the trip to the socialist countries, I was appointed deputy minister of foreign trade.
During those early years of organizing and readapting our foreign trade, and despite having multiple responsibilities, Commander Guevara played an exceptional role in attending to and developing it.
During those years, Che referred publicly to foreign trade activity, sometimes to refute those who, like the [newspaper] Diario de la Marina, maliciously criticized the first agreements with the Soviet Union. He did that during a talk he gave at the University of Havana on March 2, 1960, and days later, on March 20, 1960, as part of the inaugural lecture of the TV program "The People's University."
He also referred to the main difficulties we were facing at the time in taking on these tasks, such as during the speech he gave at a planning seminar in Algeria on July 13, 1963, where he said:
"Our foreign trade had changed completely in location. From 75% with the United States, it went to 75-80% with the socialist countries. A beneficial change for us in every respect, political and social, but in the economic respect, it required a large amount of organization.
"Hundreds of specialized importers used to make their requests to the United States by telephone, and the next day they would arrive by ferry, direct from Miami to Havana. There were no warehouses or foresight of any kind.
"That whole apparatus, without those technicians, enemies of the government, had to be established in what was first the Foreign Trade Bank of Cuba and later the Ministry of Foreign Trade, and centralize all of these purchases there with inexperienced people, to do them now, not one day away by telephone, but two months away, in long talks. And at the same time, raw materials that had a different name. And even more: if you all go today to a factory in this country and want to know what kind of steel is used for a given spare part, you will find that it has a number in a catalog, the SKF-27, for example. The SKF-27 in that company's sales catalog corresponds to a particular component; how could that be requested in the socialist countries? We had to do analyses of steel, sometimes machine fabricate one or two particular parts. Almost impossible. We had to import the machines here in Cuba, with a shortage of highly-qualified technicians."
Those were Cuba's everyday problems -- and still are.
Was he pleased with the course of those trade relations?
Che foresaw and warned of the difficulties and obstacles that, in our own experience of trade relations with certain socialist countries, led to the latter following capitalist patterns in the conduct of their relations with underdeveloped countries.
So, in a speech he gave in Algiers on February 24, 1965, at the second Afro-Asian Economic Solidarity Seminar, he said:
"Socialism cannot exist unless there is a change in people's consciousness, creating a new, fraternal attitude toward humanity, both individually, within the society in which socialism is being or has been built, and in relation to the world, with respect to all of the nations that suffer imperialist oppression."
1. Jaime Barrios, a Chilean, was killed on September 11, 1973 at La Moneda Palace.
(June 2008. Photo: Centro de Estudios
Che Guevara )
Che's Passion for the Nickel Industry
Comandante Ernesto Guevara took a personal interest in developing the industry, dedicating his keen strategic vision and organizing capacity to the effort.
HOLGUÍN.– Avoiding interviews was a constant in engineer Demetrio Presilla López' life. But in the few that he agreed to regarding his role in the resumption of national nickel production, he never failed to mention that day in December, 1960, when Comandante Ernesto Guevara, then head of the National Institute for Agrarian Reform's (INRA) Industrialization Department, asked him to get into operation a recently built plant in Moa, abandoned by a U.S. company on April 9 of the same year, as part of the economic measures adopted by the U.S. government to stifle the Cuban Revolution.
Che spoke of a gradual process, but was clear on the need to restart the industry, as the Hero of Labor of the Republic of Cuba recalled, who passed away in Moa in March 2006.
The long-ago meeting had been promoted by the guerrilla commander. Presilla noted that during their conversation, he made comments and asked questions about the difficulties that could arise in marketing the final product, to which Che replied that Presilla would be in charge of getting the plant into operation, and that he would be responsible for the supplies needed for production and the sale of nickel.
Such confidence assured those gathered that there would be no backtracking in the task entrusted to them. Che was convinced of the possibility of success, and dedicated his keen strategic vision and the organizing capacity that distinguished him as a guerrilla, to the efforts.
Tireless and Foresighted
Che was also tireless. According to the chronology in which journalist Camilo Velasco describes the relationship between Che and the nickel industry, he also met in mid-December, 1960, in Havana, with a group of 17 engineers and technicians who had participated together with U.S. specialists in the fitting and testing of the inactive Moa plant, taken over by the INRA on August 5 of that year, when it became known as the Comandante Pedro Sotto Alba plant.
In fact, throughout 1960, the INRA was very active in the recovery of nickel production. On August 19, the institute executed the official takeover of the Cayo del Medio mining company, which exploited the Cayo Guan deposits and other mines.
In addition, on October 24, Resolution No. 16 of the Cuban Institute of Mining established the nationalization of the Nicaro nickel industry, which immediately received the name of Comandante René Ramos Latour.
On January 6, 1961, the traditional celebrations for Día de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings' Day) were held. They were accompanied, fittingly perhaps, by an appearance by Che on Cuban television. He reported the signing of agreements with various socialist countries, and the commitment of the Soviet Union to send specialists to assist with the start-up of the nickel plant.
Previously, in December 1960, a delegation from the Soviet Union had visited Moa to learn about the plant's technology.
Completely immersed in this mission, at the end of April, 1961, in a conference at the Popular University, Comandante Ernesto Guevara, then Minister of Industries (he had been appointed to the position on February 2 that year) detailed that the basic products of Cuban mining were iron, nickel, and copper. He also noted that there were cobalt and chromite deposits. He noted that some of the greatest potential resources were laterite deposits located in the north of the eastern region of the island, in the areas of Nicaro, Moa, and Baracoa.
As for the Comandante Pedro Sotto Alba plant, on stating that it would probably be up and running in a short period, Che asserted that this should be regarded an accomplishment of the Revolutionary Government, as it had previously been inoperative.
As one reviews what was done in 1961, the admiration for Che's efforts inevitably grows. In May, in Havana, he received a delegation headed by the Vice Minister of Economy of the USSR, who explored the negotiation of future agreements for the purchase of Cuban nickel. In August, during the first national production meeting of the sector that he led, Che stated that the René Ramos Latour plant, in Nicaro, had produced 7,620 tons, which represented a slight increase compared to the same period the previous year.
In October, Che made public the decision to build a future steelworks in Oriente province that would use iron and nickel from the Moa and Nicaro areas as its raw materials.
Later stages were equally dynamic and creative. It is logical to suppose that Che's views were taken into account regarding other essential steps undertaken by the Revolutionary Government, including the creation, in July 1963, of the Coordinating Center for the Northern Oriente Development Plan (Plan Norte), whose fundamental objective was to boost the nickel industry.
Physical Presence of Che in Nickel Production Facilities
Following the habit of leaders of the Revolution to personally visit areas undergoing transformations, to verify the developments themselves, Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara toured the areas and facilities related to nickel production and made detailed analyzes of the sector.
Like Camilo Velasco, journalist and historian María Julia Guerra notes in her chronology of Che's visits to the province of Holguín, that he visited the locality of Nicaro for the first time on January 20, 1961. At that time, he toured the nickel plant and spoke with workers.
He likewise toured the local community, and in the central park he spoke to residents regarding the need to work to create the country's wealth.
A little more than a year later, Che repeated this tour of the industry, to which he would return several times during 1963. During one of these visits, he participated in an extraordinary management board meeting of the Consolidated Nickel Company.
Regarding Che's first exchange with the René Ramos Latour plant workers, Manuel Galbán Sopeña, one of those deeply involved in the recovery of domestic nickel production, reported that the Comandante arrived without any prior warning, aboard a jeep. "He observed the classes on processes and metallurgical balance that I taught to a group of compañeros, asked several questions and then said goodbye, recommending we continue like that."
Che's initial visit to the Moa region occurred on May 26, 1961. He was accompanied by Comandante Raúl Castro Ruz, Aleida March, and Vilma Espín. They visited the Pedro Sotto Alba plant and the Cayo Guan mine. On noting the way in which the workers of the chromite mine lived, Che expressed the need to improve their living conditions by building decent housing.
In January, 1963, as well as visiting Nicaro, Che toured Moa. He held meetings with leaders of revolutionary organizations from both localities and administrative and union cadre in the René Ramos Latour and Pedro Sotto Alba plants. He also toured Punta Gorda and the Cayo Guan mine again.
Che returned to Moa in September, 1964, to converse with chromite miners and verify the operations of the Comandante Pedro Sotto Alba plant. There he assured Juan Rodríguez Guerrero, general secretary of the union bureau, that on his next trip he would meet with the workers.
He fulfilled that promise at the end of November 1964. It was his last visit to the region. He was accompanied by José Cardona Hoyos, leader of the Communist Party of Colombia, among others. In the Ciro Redondo cinema, Che presided over the workers assembly of the Comandante Pedro Sotto Alba company. During his speech, he admitted that this industry was one of his most beloved.
A Right Recognized by the People
On January 11, 1984, to the north of the mineral deposit of Punta Gorda, in Moa, the Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara plant was put into operation. Designed to produce nickel and cobalt, which is internationally recognized, the plant was named to honor the efforts and talent demonstrated by the heroic guerrilla in leading the recovery process of the national nickel industry. His audacity was decisive to the materialization of the Development Plan of the northern Oriente coast.
Fidel and the highest authorities of the Party and the government had promised that the first great installation of this type to be built by the Revolution with the help of the socialist camp, especially the USSR, could only be named as such. And the Cuban people agreed.
(Granma International, August 23, 2017. Photo: A. Korda)
Alongside Che During the October Crisis
In his command headquarters, Comandante Ernesto Guevara analyzed with various officers the composition of the enemy force threatening to attack the country.
Lieutenant Luis González Pardo, head of the information section, read data on the 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army, which would reportedly be responsible for the attacks.
After mentioning the enormous amount of aircraft, Luis commented: "Comandante, they are going to cover our sky."
Che, however, was not fazed. Following the abrupt defeat of the dictatorship and the mercenary attack on Playa Girón, he had no doubts about the courage of the Cuban people, thus he assertively responded to his intelligence officer: "Even better, kid, we'll fight in the shadows."
Recounting the anecdote is Oscar Valdés Buergo, then adjunct sergeant to the military chief of Pinar del Río, and therefore a man close to the Heroic Guerrilla on the occasions when he assumed command of the province, during the invasion of Playa Girón and the October Crisis (Cuban Missile Crisis).
Supported by a folder full of notes, newspaper clippings, sketches and photographs, the veteran combatant of the clandestine struggle in Vueltabajo speaks with nostalgia of those "whirlwind days" in which he had the opportunity to work alongside Che.
Now aged 80, Valdés remembers him clearly -- in his fatigues, a pistol at his waist, and his black beret with a star.
"During Girón, the shot that escaped him and injured his face made his presence very brief, but during the October Crisis he stayed with us for several weeks, leading the province," Oscar recalls.
"At that time, Che established his command in Cueva de los Portales (a cave in the municipality of La Palma). He would leave at dawn almost every day to tour the territory and return at night."
Among the anecdotes that speak for the legendary guerrilla's personality, Oscar notes that since they never knew what time Che would return, it was proposed that they place a wood stove inside the cave, to keep food warm for all of those who worked late into the night, as the unit's main kitchen was located at some distance.
"Che at first did not agree, because he thought they were doing it with the intention of preparing a better meal for him than the rest of the troop, and although he finally agreed, when he walked around he always checked with the soldiers that everyone had been served the same."
Regarding those tense days, in which the world was on the verge of a nuclear conflict, Oscar recalls that on one occasion Che arrived very annoyed, as a group of militia and soldiers who were digging trenches had asked him how long the exercise would last.
"That same day he ordered the principal leaders to go and update them, man to man, regarding the situation of great danger in the country.
"On October 26, after hearing the Comandante en Jefe say that any aircraft that violated our airspace would be shot down, he ordered the air defense to be reinforced.
"In addition, he gave the order to disassemble a 12.7 millimeter machine gun, and with ropes and the help of a group of campesinos from the area, they carried it up piece by piece to the top of the hill and positioned it there."
A radio antenna was also placed up there, in order to tune into foreign stations, and several compañeros who spoke other languages listened to them constantly, so that they could keep him informed.
"Once, in a meeting, he asked the unit heads, who listened to foreign radio stations. There was total silence, and only First Lieutenant Narciso Ceballos, head of the Guane division, raised his hand and said, 'I do, Comandante, because they told me you did it.'
"People thought that Che would reprimand him, but he congratulated him, and he told the others that they had to be informed and know the enemy."
Although Che was a very strict man, Oscar says he spoke very softly and very politely. "During the time he was the chief political and military leader of Pinar del Río, he toured the entire province, including the Guanahacabibes peninsula, but above all the north coast, near the capital of the country.
"In the cave, leaders of units and the principal entities of the province went to see him and to check in. The hustle and bustle was tremendous," he recalls.
However, Oscar explains that there was also free time during the evening, in which Che would go out and talk to people, read, play a game of chess or stop to watch others do so, and he would comment aloud when there was a bad move, to irritate them.
"One night I was reading a book about Latinos' lives in New York City, and he stopped by my side and said, 'Lend it to me when you're done.'
"A little later he came back and said, 'I've come to get the request.' He took the book and I never saw it again."
The outcome of the October Crisis is known. Oscar states that after returning from a meeting in Havana, Che met with the political and military authorities of the province, and explained that behind Cuba's back, the Soviet Union had reached an agreement with the United States to withdraw the nuclear missiles from the country, and he had very strong words to say regarding this solution.
Today, 55 years later, Oscar notes that having had the opportunity to be close to the Heroic Guerrilla at a crucial moment in the history of the Revolution, was one of the most extraordinary experiences of his life.
"I am honored by the confidence he had in me for this important mission," he says.
"Che was a man who always led by example, and he did not order us to do anything that he was not willing and able to do himself.
"People liked talking to him. We admired him a lot. It
very big thing for all of us."
(Granma, September 18, 2017. Photos:
R.S. Rivas, Granma)
Che As I Knew Him (Extract)
We stayed and talked for hours and hours. I naturally conveyed to the Cuban leaders the impression I had received from my conversation with President Kennedy. At the end of an impassioned discussion, around tables which we had pushed together end-to-end, we realized that we had practically exhausted the questions on the agenda. There was no point in a further meeting at party headquarters, and by mutual consent we moved straight on to the program of visits prepared for us across the country.
This anecdote gives an idea of the total lack of formality that, from the very beginning, was the norm for the relations uniting the Cuban and Algerian revolutions and of my personal relations with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
The solidarity between us was spectacularly confirmed in October 1963, when the Tindouf campaign presented the first serious threat to the Algerian revolution. Our young army, fresh from a war of liberation, had no air cover (since we didn't have a single plane) or armoured transport. It was attacked by the Moroccan armed forces on the terrain that was most unfavourable to it, where it was unable to use the only tactics it knew and had tried and tested in the liberation struggle, namely guerrilla warfare.
The vast barren expanses of desert were far from the mountains of Aures, Djurdjura, the Collo peninsula or Tlemcen, which had been its natural milieu and whose every resource and secret were familiar to it. Our enemies had decided that the momentum of Algerian revolution had to be broken before it grew too strong and carried everything in its wake.
The Egyptian president, Abdel Nasser, quickly provided us with the air cover we lacked, and Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raúl Castro, and the other Cuban leaders sent us a battalion of 22 tanks and several hundred troops. They were deployed at Bedeau, south of Sidi Bel Abbes, where I inspected them, and were ready to enter into combat if the desert war continued. The tanks were fitted with infrared equipment that allowed them to be used at night. They had been delivered to Cuba by the Soviet Union on the express condition that they were not to be made available to third countries, even communist countries such as Bulgaria, in any circumstances. Despite these restrictions from Moscow, the Cubans defied all the taboos and sent their tanks to the assistance of the endangered Algerian revolution without a moment's hesitation.
The United States was clearly behind the Tindouf campaign. We knew that the helicopters transporting the Moroccan troops were piloted by Americans. The same considerations of international solidarity subsequently led the Cubans to intervene on the other side of the Atlantic, in Angola, and elsewhere.
The circumstances surrounding the arrival of the tank battalion are worth recalling since they illustrate better than any commentary the nature of our special relations with Cuba.
When I visited Cuba in 1962, Fidel Castro made a point of honouring his country's pledge to give us two billion old French francs worth of aid. Because of Cuba's economic situation, the aid was to be provided in sugar rather than in currency. I objected, arguing that Cuba needed her sugar at that time more than we did, he would not take no for an answer.
About a year after our discussion, a ship flying the Cuban flag docked in the port of Oran. Along with the promised cargo of sugar, we were surprised to discover two dozen tanks and hundreds of Cuban soldiers sent to help us. A brief note from Raúl Castro, scribbled on a page torn out of an exercise book, announced this act of solidarity.
Che Guevara was acutely aware of the countless restrictions that hinder and weaken genuine revolutionary action -- and indeed of the limits on any experiment, however revolutionary -- as soon as it confronts directly or indirectly the implacable rules of the market and the huckster mentality. He denounced them publicly at the Afro-Asian Conference held in Algiers in February 1965. Moreover, the painful terms on which the affair of the missiles installed in Cuba had been concluded, and the agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States, had left a bitter taste. I myself exchanged very tough words on the matter with the Soviet ambassador in Algiers. All of this, together with the situation prevailing in Africa, which seemed to have enormous revolutionary potential, led Che to the conclusion that Africa was imperialism's weak link. It was to Africa that he now decided to devote his efforts.
I tried to point out that perhaps this was not the best way to help advance the revolutionary maturity that was developing on our continent. An armed revolution can and must find foreign support, but it first has to create the internal resources on which to base its struggle. But Che Guevara insisted that his own commitment must be total and required his physical presence. He made several trips to Cabinda (Angola) and Congo-Brazzaville.
He refused my offer of a private plane to help disguise his movements, so I instructed Algerian ambassadors throughout the region to provide him with every assistance. Whenever he returned from sub-Saharan Africa, we spent long hours exchanging ideas. Each time he came back impressed by the fabulous cultural riches of the African continent but dissatisfied with his relations with the Marxist parties of the countries he had visited and irritated by their approach. His experience in Cabinda and subsequent contacts with the guerrilla struggle around Stanleyville were particularly disappointing.
Meanwhile, parallel to Che's activity, we were pursuing another course of action to save the armed revolution in western Zaire. In agreement with Nyerere, Nasser, Modibo Keita, N'Krumah, Kenyata and Sekou Touré, Algeria contributed by airlifting arms via Egypt, while Uganda and Mali supplied military cadres. The rescue plan had been conceived at a meeting in Cairo convened on my initiative. We were beginning to implement it when we received a desperate cry for help from the leaders of the armed struggle. Despite our efforts, we were too late and the revolution was drowned in blood by the assassins of Patrice Lumumba.
During one of his visits to Algiers, Che Guevara informed me of a request from Fidel. Since Cuba was under close surveillance, there was no real chance of organizing the supply of arms and military cadres trained in Cuba to other Latin American countries. Could Algeria take over? Distance was no great handicap. On the contrary, it could work in favor of the secrecy vital for the success of such a large-scale operation.
I agreed, of course, without hesitation. We immediately began to establish organizational structures, placed under the direct control of Che Guevara, to host Latin American revolutionary movements. Soon representatives of all these movements moved to Algiers, where I met them many times together with Che.
Their combined headquarters were set up in the hills overlooking Algiers in a large villa surrounded by gardens, which we had assigned to them because of its symbolic importance. The name of the Villa Susini has gone down in history. During the national liberation struggle it was used as a torture center where many men and women of the resistance met their death.
One day Che Guevara said to me, "Ahmed, we've just been struck a serious blow. A group of men trained at the Villa Susini have been arrested at the border between such and such countries (I can't remember the names) and I'm afraid they may talk under torture." He was very worried that the secret site of the preparations for armed action would become known and that our enemies would discover the true nature of the import-export companies we had set up in South America.
Che Guevara had left Algiers by the time of the military coup on June 19, 1965. He had warned me to be on my guard. His departure from Algeria, his death in Bolivia, and my own disappearance for 15 years need to be studied in the historical context of the ebb that followed the period of victorious liberation struggles. After the assassination of Lumumba, it spelled the end of the progressive regimes of the third world, including those of N'Krumah, Modibo, Keita, Sukarno and Nasser, etc.
The date October 9, 1967, is written in fire in our memory. For me, a solitary prisoner, it was a day of immeasurable sadness. The radio announced the death of my brother, and the enemies we had fought together celebrated their sinister victory. But as time passes, and the circumstances of the guerrilla struggle that ended that day in the Ñancahuazú fade from memory, Che, more than ever, is present in the thoughts of all those who struggle and hope. He is part of the fabric of their daily lives. Something of him remains attached to their heart and soul, buried like a treasure in the deepest, most secret, and richest part of their being, rekindling their courage and renewing their strength.
One day in May 1972, the opaque silence of my prison, jealously guarded by hundreds of soldiers, was broken by a tremendous din. I learned that Fidel was visiting a model farm only a few hundred yards away, no doubt unaware of my presence in the secluded Moorish house on the hill whose roof he could glimpse above the treetops. It is certainly for the same reasons of discretion that this very house was, not so long ago, chosen as a torture centre by the colonial army. At this moment, the memories flooded back. A kaleidoscope of faces passed before my eyes like an old, faded newsreel. Never since we parted had Che Guevara been so vivid in my memory.
In reality, my wife and I have never forgotten him. A large photograph of Che was always pinned to the wall of our prison and his gaze witnessed our day-to-day life, our joys and our sorrows. But another smaller photo, cut out of a magazine, which I had stuck onto a piece of card and covered with plastic, accompanied us on all our wanderings and is the one that is closest to our hearts. It is now in my late parents' house in Maghnia, the village where I was born, where we deposited our most precious souvenirs before going into exile. It is the photograph of Ernesto "Che" Guevara stretched out on the ground, naked to the waist, blazing with light. So much light and so much hope.
1. On Oct. 22, 1962, President Kennedy initiated the "Cuban missile crisis," or October Crisis as it is known in Cuba. The U.S. president ordered a total blockade of Cuba, threatened an invasion of the island, and placed U.S. forces around the world on nuclear alert. Washington demanded the removal of Soviet nuclear missiles, which had been installed in Cuba by mutual agreement of the two sovereign powers. Cuban workers and farmers responded by mobilizing massively in defense of the revolution. Faced with the determination of the Cuban people, and the knowledge that an assault on Cuba would result in massive U.S. casualties, Kennedy negotiated with Soviet Premiere Nikita Khruschev, who decided to remove the missiles without consulting the Cuban government.
2. Fellah is the Arabic for peasant. Harkis were counterrevolutionary auxiliary troops organized by the French colonial army in North Africa.
3. In 1963 Moroccan forces, backed by Washington, invaded Algeria, which had won its independence from France the previous year after an eight-year revolutionary war. At Algeria's request, the Cuban government sent a column of troops under the command of Efigenio Ameijeiras, a veteran of the Cuban revolutionary war, to help stop the attack. The mere presence of Cuban troops forced the Moroccan government to back down and withdraw its forces.
4. Approximately $3.3 million at current exchange rates.
5. This speech appears in Che Guevara Speaks, published by Pathfinder Press.
6. Stanleyville was the former name of Kisangani, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). Between April and December 1965, Guevara led a contingent of more than 100 Cuban volunteers assisting revolutionary forces that were fighting the regime in Congo, which was backed by Belgian, South African, and other imperialist forces. In January 1961 Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the fight for independence from Belgium and first prime minister of the Congo, was murdered by pro-imperialist forces backed by Washington, after being disarmed by a U.S.-led United Nations "peacekeeping" intervention.
7. The presidents of Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Egypt, Mali, Ghana, Kenya, and Guinea respectively.
8. Sukarno was the president of
Indonesia until 1967.
Ahmed Ben Bella was the central leader of the Algerian National Liberation Front which led the struggle for independence from France. He was the president of the revolutionary workers and farmers government that came to power following the victory over France in 1962. He was overthrown in a counterrevolutionary coup led by Col. Houari Boumediene in June 1965.
(Originally published in the October
1997 issue of Le Monde diplomatique on the 30th Anniversary of the
Death of Che Guevara. English translation and end notes by The
Militant, Vol. 62, no. 4, 2 February 1998)
Che Guevara was often tasked with representing the nascent Cuban Revolution in relations with other countries and in international fora. In the years since his assassination, Organization of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America has commemorated Che and his internationalist spirit with a series of posters. Click to enlarge.
(Photos and videos: www.fidelcastro.cu,
OSPAAAL, The Che Handbook, Cuban Office of Historical Affairs, Cien
Imagenes de la Revolucion Cubana, Centro de Estudios Che Guevara,
Ecured, Granma, A. Korda, R.A. Torres, O. Salas, L. Noval, J. Nilsson,
Prensa Latina, Kaldari, M.S. Johnson)
Website: www.cpcml.ca Email: email@example.com