Thursday, April 22, 2010

Che Guevara's African Connection

Che Guevara’s African connection

From Reason Wafawarova in SYDNEY, Australia
Zimbabwe Herald

ON October 8, 1967, this writer was exactly 151 days old and a global revolutionary hero was seriously wounded and captured as a member of 17 Bolivian guerrilla remnants of a larger group that had been trapped by CIA-backed Bolivian troops from September 28 the same year.

On October 9, Che Guevara, the captured global hero of all the oppressed masses of this world, was summarily murdered together with two other captured guerrillas following instructions from the Bolivian government and Washington.

Today, 42 years later, Cuba each year observes October 8 as the Day of the Heroic Guerrilla in memory of Cde Che Guevara and another important commemoration in relation to this heroic revolutionary is April 24, the date Guevara entered Congo, now DRC in 1965, having vowed to avenge the ruthless assassination of Patrice Lumumba in January 1961, and to help the Laurent Kabila-led rebels to fight the puppet government of Joseph Mobutu, the man installed by the imperial forces that cut out Lumumba.

Che Guevara’s contact with the African continent began on July 3 when he visited newly independent Algeria, under the leadership of Ahmed Ben Bella.

He was later to revisit Algeria the following year in mid-December on a three-month state visit that saw him also visiting Mali, Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea, Ghana, Tanzania and Egypt.

On April 1, 1965, he left Cuba disguised facially and under the name of Ramon Benitez. He landed in Dar es Salaam Tanzania, and sailed across Lake Tanganyika into the Congolese territory of Kibamba.

Che Guevara hoped to join what he thought was a fired up group of fighters that he would help to topple Joseph Mobutu, and possibly avenge the death of Patrice Lumumba. He was smitten by a deadly fever on arrival and on recovery, he came face to face with a rude awakening to the reality he was going to be part of.

He realised that Laurent Kabila’s rebel fighters had near appalling organisational structures and Che was both surprised and annoyed at some of the observations he made. He, however, helped the leadership of the Cuban troop contingent that was already in Congo and he began fighting under the name Tatu.

The Congolese rebel fighters proved prone to drunkenness, dissipation, and laziness and there was just no disposition to fight or resist, let alone to overthrow Joseph Mobutu’s puppet regime.

This group of fighters was not as organised as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo — the victorious group that captured Kinshasa and overthrew Mobutu on May 17, 1997, still under Laurent Kabila.

The comforting news for the Che Guevara legacy is that the ADFLC atoned for what the 1965 Laurent Kabila-led group failed to do, and Mobutu faced an exit that somewhat brought justice to his crimes against Lumumba and against the people of Congo.

So disorganised were the Congolese rebels that the 1965 Bendera attack was a historical disaster, exposing for the first time the involvement of Cuban troops. Che Guevara held a meeting with Laurent Kabila after this and he insisted on being given a greater role in structuring the rebel fighters and things improved a bit after this meeting.

However, the Cuban troops were too disgruntled to keep backing a group that seemed to be disintegrating. In September of the same year, Che’s presence in the Congo was confirmed by the CIA and by apartheid South Africa, causing a diplomatic embarrassment for Cuba. But Che was an internationalist revolutionary and not a diplomat.

On the diplomatic front, Fidel Castro announced the pending withdrawal of the Cuban troops but Che was adamant that he would remain to help see the fight through.

After seeing clear signs that the Congolese fighters were going to disintegrate anyway, and after some persuasion from Fidel Castro, Che Guevara finally left Congo on November 22, 1965.

He went back to Cuba before he left to join the guerrillas fighting for freedom in Bolivia, his last assignment before his illustrious military and revolutionary career was terminated on that fateful day of September 9, 1967.

But who was this Che Guevara? Central America, Soviet Union, China, Africa, Asia and the rest of Eastern Europe were all immensely influenced by Che’s revolutionary exploits, and indeed today the whole world is inspired by Che Guevara’s quest for justice and equality. Che inspires young rebels across the world whenever they put up a fight against the establishment.

Che was a revolutionary, a communist revolutionary, and a true communist; he had boundless faith in moral values. He had boundless faith in the consciousness of human beings and he saw with absolute clarity the moral impulse as the fundamental lever in the construction of communism and social justice in human society.

He was a man of action, a man of great thought, a great person of untarnished moral virtues, a person of unexcelled human sensitivity and a man of spotless conduct.

Born Ernesto Guevara on June 14, 1928 in Rosario, Argentina, to parents Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Celia de la Serna, Che was the oldest of five children.

He enrolled at a medical school in Buenos Aires in 1947, graduating as a medical doctor in 1953. After graduating, Guevara started travelling throughout Latin America and he visited Bolivia, where he observed the impact of the 1952 revolution.

In December 1953, Guevara had first contact with a group of Cuban survivors of the July 26, 1953 Moncada attack. These survivors were now in San Jose, Costa Rica and their leader Fidel Castro had been captured and imprisoned back in Cuba.

Guevara then arrived in Guatemala on the Christmas Eve of 1953, and then under the elected government of Jacob Arbenz and on January 4, 1954 he met Nico Lopez, a veteran of the Moncada attack, who was now in Guatemala City.

It is in Guatemala where Guevara started reading Marxism and became heavily involved in political activities, meeting exiled Cuban revolutionaries.

The United States took great exception to Guatemala’s support for Cuban rebels who were fighting Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorial regime.

On June 17, 1954 mercenary forces backed and armed by the CIA invaded Guatemala and Guevara volunteered to fight. However, Jacob Arbenz resigned 10 days later and by August the mercenary forces were on full throttle massacring supporters of the Arbenz regime.

Guevara fled Guatemala and arrived in Mexico on September 21, 1954, subsequently getting a job as a doctor at the Mexico City Central Hospital.

Guevara met Nico Lopez again in Mexico in June 1955, and a meeting was arranged for him to meet Raul Castro. Fidel Castro was to later join the exiles in July after being released from prison. As soon as Fidel arrived, a meeting was arranged between him and Guevara, and Guevara immediately enrolled as the third confirmed member of the future guerrilla expedition.

Subsequently, Guevara became involved in training combatants and the Cubans nicknamed him "Che" which is an Argentinean term of greeting.

On June 24, 1956 Guevara was arrested as part of a roundup of 28 expeditionaries by Mexican police; and also arrested was Fidel Castro, and Guevara was detained for 57 days.

When an 82-member group of fighters led by Castro left Mexico for Cuba on November 25, 1956, Guevara was the team doctor and they reached Cuba’s Las Coloradas beach in Oriente Province on December 2.

Three days later, the rebel combatants were surprised by Batista’s troops at Alegria de Pio and they were dispersed as the majority of them were either murdered or captured. Guevara was wounded but he escaped.

He reunited with Fidel Castro on December 21 and it was established that time that the Rebel Army had only 15 combatants left. The fighters did not despair, overrunning an army outpost in the battle of La Plata on January 17, 1957 and ambushing a government column at Arroyo del Infierno five days later.

Guevara was promoted to Army Commander in July 1957 and in August he led an invasion column from the Sierra Maestra towards Las Villas Province in Central Cuba.

In October 1958, the Rebel Army column led by Guevara arrived in the Escambray Mountains.

Guevara’s column, the March 13 Revolutionary Directorate and Camilo Cienfugoes’ column combined forces in December 1958, and they captured a number of towns in Las Villas Province, effectively cutting the island in half.

Guevara’s column then went on the offensive on December 28, targeting Santa Clara, the capital of Las Villas. Four days later, Batista fled Cuba, and a military junta took over power. Fidel Castro opposed the military takeover and called for a successful national strike in protest. Guevara’s column continued the attack on Santa Clara, capturing it on the same New Year’s Day in 1959.

Che Guevara was declared a Cuban citizen on February 9, 1959 in recognition of his contribution to Cuba’s liberation. He was variously designated posts of head of the Department of Industry of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, president of the National Bank of Cuba and also first Minister of the Ministry of Industry.

Che visited Algeria in July 1963, and this was his first visit to Africa, and it marked the beginning of the strong link between the Guevara legacy and the continent of Africa.

Back in Cuba in March 1964, Guevara met with Tamara Bunke (Tania) and discussed her mission to move back to Bolivia in anticipation of a future guerrilla expedition.

On December 17, 1964 Guevera left for Africa for the second time, visiting Algeria, Mali, Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea, Ghana, Tanzania and Egypt up to March 1965.

On April 1, Che Guevara delivered a farewell letter to Fidel Castro and as earlier stated he subsequently left for an internationalist mission to fight the puppet regime of Joseph Mobutu in Congo, now DRC.

Asked about Che’s whereabouts, Castro told foreign reporters that Guevara "will always be where he is most useful to the revolution". That is what we know of Che Guevara today. His name is always most important and useful in inspiring young revolutionaries all over the world. Che would have supported Zimbabwe’s agrarian reforms and its economic empowerment policies if he was alive today.

So Che preferred Africa to Bolivia, a country in his own home continent. He chose to come to Congo leaving Tamara Bunke to go it alone for a while in organising the Bolivian guerrilla warfare. That is how relevant Africa is to the immortal legacy of Che Guevara.

After leaving Congo in November 1965, Guevara went to join and help organise the guerrillas in Bolivia, of course posting victories like the occupation of the town of Sumaipata on July 6, 1967.

This piece has been written in memory of a great revolutionary for independent nationalism and the fight against imperial authority, a man who declared once that "anyone who trembles with indignation at the sight of injustice is my comrade".

It is also written in solidarity with the people of Cuba as they prepare to commemorate April 24, the day Che Guevara arrived in Congo to take part in military action against the forces of imperialism right on African soil.

Che was cut down at the age of 39, and the imperialists boast of their triumph at having killed this guerrilla fighter in action.

They take delight in a triumphant stroke of luck that led to the elimination of such a formidable man of action. Little do they know that the man of action was only one of the many facets of the personality of that combatant we call Enersto Che Guevara.

We are always delighted by the seed that Che Guevara left for posterity and for generations across the planet. The seed of resistance to imperial tyranny will forever blossom and in this internationalist expedition of resistance, Che lives on as an immortal source of inspiration to the attainment of independent nationalism.

Cuba we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death! Victory is certain.

Reason Wafawarova is a political writer and can be contacted on or reason@ or visit

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