By 1965, Che Guevara had faded from public life. His disappearance created all kinds of speculation about Che’s relationship with Fidel and Raúl Castro. After all, some close to Castro in 1959 had been killed in accidents, like Camilo Cienfuegos, or stuck in political prisons, like Huber Matos. Cienfuegos’s plane was never found, and Matos was eventually released in some prisoner exchange. Matos spent the rest of his life in exile.
Che reappeared in 1966 in Bolivia, where he hoped to bring about a revolution. How did he get there? Who paid his bills? Why did he suddenly leave Cuba? Many believe that Fidel and Raúl wanted him out, and starting a revolution in Bolivia was the exit. I think it’s fair to say that Che had worn out his welcome with the Castro brothers, specially after they saw how popular he was with the international left. As we learned, there is only one “popular” person in Cuba, and that’s Fidel.
Fifty-five years ago this week, Che was captured and executed by Bolivian troops operating with the CIA. It happened very fast. As we learned in his diary, Che and his men lacked food and medicine and were barely surviving in the jungle. It’s possible that Che would have died of bad health and no medical care. He was battling asthma attacks constantly. Also, they were not getting a lot of help from Cuba, either by design or because the supplies could not reach them. My guess is that Che was happy to get captured and hoped for some prison time and then a return to Cuba. He did not get his wish.
Che subsequently became “the image” on all those t-shirts. He became the ultimate anti-U.S. symbol, the image that every left-wing group goes to when its members have a gripe against the U.S.
Ironically, he was captured because the campaign in Bolivia failed miserably. It failed for two reasons, as Humberto Fontova explained in Exposing the Real Che. Read the book for more details, but it went down like this:
1) Bolivia was not Cuba.
2) The natives in Bolivia never bought into the idea that a band led by a guy from Argentina and Cubans was there to save them. In the end, it was the villagers he was trying to “liberate” who turned him in. Again, the Bolivian campaign was a total failure. The locals never read the memo about Cuban health care, I guess.
Che was a murderer and a man who said awful things about blacks, for example. This is from Guillermina Sutter Schneider:
In his diary, he referred to black people as “those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing.” He also thought white Europeans were superior to people of African descent, and described Mexicans as “a band of illiterate Indians.”
Today, we would call him a racist and a homophobe! We’d cancel him from universities. Twitter would delete his account.
So I still remember my father saying in Spanish that they got him. Indeed they did, and many champagne bottles popped in the Cuban exile community this week in 1967.