The REAL Che Guevara
By Humberto Fontova
Mike Tyson used to end fights with his arms upraised in triumph. Then he got a Che Guevara tattoo. Now he ends fights on the ground, a bloodied mess, battered and bowed, pounded almost beyond recognition. Lewis didn't just defeat him, he stomped him. It was a hideous thing to watch, even if you loath Mike Tyson.
Tyson was jinxed by that Che tatoo. There's no other explanation. Somebody should have enlightened mighty Mike about the real Che Guevara. Che was hell on smiting his enemies alright-thousands of them--but only when they were bound, gagged and blindfolded. I'm afraid the Boxing Federation doesn't allow that. In anything like a fair fight Che was consistently routed, stomped and humiliated.
Ineptitude in combat defined Che Guevara. In every conflict he was pounded like a gong. When he whimpered to his American-trained captors in Bolivia, "Don't shoot! I'm Che. I'm worth to you more live than dead!" he had a point.
We blew it by not kidnaping him from the Bolivians in time and using him like Luddendorff used Lenin in WWl. Recall that the Germans shipped Lenin through their lines into Russia "like a sealed bacillus" (in Churchill's phrase) to infect the Russian army, to demoralize and incapacitate it, thereby shutting down the Eastern front.
It worked like a charm. The mighty Che, air-dropped into Vietnam's Central Highlands with bundles of his "Lessons in guerilla War" in Oct of 68, would have crippled the VC worse than ten operation Rolling Thunders. We'd had the boys home by Christmas. No Tet. No Cambodian invasion. Upon graduating from Che's Academy of Guerilla War the VC would have become black-Pajamad Beavis and Butt-heads. In a month they'd all be bedraggled and lost, starving and bickering, enraging the peasants, blundering into ambush after ambush.
We'd have cleaned house in two months, maybe even without employing the firepower and cojones of Al "To Hell And Back" Gore.
Actually I dream here. Halfway through the first page of Che's legendary book the VC would have impaled Che on Pungy sticks as a CIA agent-a very stupid one, trying a transparent ruse to get them all killed..
Cuban-American fighters who faced Che at the Bay Of Pigs and later in the Congo still laugh. The Bay Of Pigs invasion plan included a ruse where a little boat packing a huge fireworks show and tape recording of battle sounds landed in extreme Western Cuba as a diversion.
Sure enough. The wily Che immediately recognized this as an Anzio type "second front." He snapped on his holster, cocked his beret at just the right angle, scowled for the camera and rushed over with a few thousand troops. He spent the whole battle there. It was the only thing in the invasion that went according to plan.
Later many of these Cuban-American BOP vets itched to get back into the fight (but with ammo and air-cover this time). The CIA obliged and sent them with ex-marine Rip Robertson to the Congo in 65 . There they linked up with the legendary mercenary "Mad Mike" Hoare, and his "Wild Geese."
Here's Mike Hoare's opinion, after watching them in battle, of the men routinely smeared by the Beltway media as cheap mafiosi, bumblers and cowards, of the outfit the Church Commission and Clinton regime disparaged and emasculated: "These Cuban-CIA men were as tough, dedicated and impetuous a group of soldiers as I've ever had the honor of commanding. Their leader (Rip Robertson) was the most extraordinary and dedicated soldier I've ever met."
Together Mad Mike, Rip and the Cubans made short work of the alternately Chinese and Soviet backed "Simbas" of Laurent Kabila who were murdering, raping and munching (many were cannibals) their way through the defenseless Europeans still left in the recently-abandoned Belgian Colony.
Forget Frank Church and the Clintonites. Ask the hundreds of Europeans rescued from butchery (literally!) by these men. You'll hear a different song , believe me. You can read about their exploits in Hoare's book, "Congo Mercenary." and in Enrique Ros' "Cubanos Combatientes" (sadly, only available in Spanish)
Kabila made Idi Amin look like Gandhi. Castro, itching to be rid of this nuisance, sent Che (code-named "Tatu") and a force of his Rebel army "veterans" to help these cannibals. The Congolese Reds, unfamiliar with the Che's true record, accepted Tatu gratefully.
The masterful "Tatu's" first order of business was plotting an attack on a garrison guarding a hydroelectric plant in a place called Front Bendela on the Kimbi River in Eastern Congo. His masterstroke was to be an elaborate ambush of the garrison.
The wily Tatu was stealthily leading his force into position when they heard shots. Whoops!...Hey?! What THE?! Ambushers became ambushed-and by the same garrison he thought was guarding the plant. Che lost half his men and barely escaped with his life.
His African allies started frowning a little more closely at Tatu's resume', and asking a few questions.(But in Swahili which he didn't understand)
Thing was, any teen- gang member in East L.A. or south Bronx has ten times the battle experience and savvy of any of these strutting Fidelista "Comandantes." Imagine the Germans atop Monte Cassino outnumbering and outgunning the Allies ten to one in early 44. Hell, they'd STILL be there. It was a defenders dream.
Well, the brilliant Tatu and his comandantes had that very set up in a place called Fizi-Baraka in eastern Congo for their second clash with the mad dogs of Imperialism. Mad Mike and his CIA allies sized the place up and attacked. Within one day the mighty Che's entire force was scrambling away in panic, throwing away their arms, running and screaming like old ladies who had a rat run up their leg.
One of the most hilarious and enduring hoaxes of the 20th century was the "war" fought by dauntless Che and the Castro Rebels against Batista. But I hear it was a kick-- a fun way for adolescents to harass adults, loot, rustle a few cows, and play army on week-ends with real guns, maybe even getting off a few shots, usually into the air.
What 17 or 18 year old male could resist? Petty delinquency became not just altruism here, but downright heroism. How many punks get such a window of glory? Normally these stunts land you in reform school. In Cuba in 1958 it might get your picture in the New York Times:
"Comandante Humberto "El Guapo" Fontova shown here relaxing with a bottle of rum and a grateful senorita after smiting the Fascist hordes of the Tyrant Batista in the ferocious Battle of Santa Clara, described by senior correspondent Herbert Matthews as "bloodier than Stalingrad!"
Here's an insider account of one such "battle" from "Comandante" William Morgan as recounted to Paul Bethel after the glorious victory. Bethel was press attache in Cuba's U.S. embassy in 1959. It's in Bethel's superb and meticulously researched book The Losers:
"We had a helluva time Paul! We used a short-wave radio to broadcast the battle. Eloy and I yelled fake battle commands into the mike while a few of the muchachos shot BARs and pistols into the air for the sound effects. We really whooped it up!"
Here's another insider account from Bethel's book about a "famous battle." This one features Che The Lionhearted himself and his invincible "Column." on their Long March through Las Villas province:
"Guevara's column shuffled right into the U.S. agricultural experimental station in Camaguey. Guevara asked manager Joe Mc Guire to have a man take a package to Batista's military commander in the city. The package contained $100,000 with a note. Guevara's men moved through the province almost within site of uninterested Batista troops."
This was part of the famous "Battle of Santa Clara" where Che "Blood n'Guts" Guevara earned his eternal fame. Skip Dave Barry one Sunday and instead read the New York Times version of this historic military engagement. You'll laugh louder. Here's the headline in that "Newspaper of Record" for Jan 4, 1959 (and like Barry, I swear I'm not making this up):
"One Thousand Killed in 5 days of Fierce Street Fighting!.... Commander Che Guevara appealed to Batista troops for a truce to clear the streets of casualties!...Guevara turned the tide in this bloody battle and whipped a Batista force of 3000 men!"
We laugh at Geraldo Rivera's buffooneries in Afghanistan. Hell, next to NYT reporters, Geraldo looks like Ernie Pyle.
To give them credit, most of Castro's comandantes knew their Batista war had been a gaudy clown-show. After the glorious victory they were content to run down and execute the few Batista men motivated enough to shoot back, (most of these were of humble background) settle into the mansions stolen from Batistianos, and enjoy the rest of their booty. Che's pathological power of self delusion wouldn't allow him to do this. And he payed the price.
Statistically speaking, a nocturnal stroll through Central Park offers more peril than Castro's rebels faced from the dreaded army of the beastly Fulgencio Batista. According to Bethel, the U.S. embassy was a little skeptical about all the battlefield bloodshed and heroics and investigated. They ran down every reliable lead and eye-witness account of what the New York Times called a "bloody civil war with thousands dead in single battles!"
They found that in the countryside, in those two years of "ferocious" battles, the total casualties on BOTH sides actually ran to 182. New Orleans has an annual murder rate DOUBLE that.
Alas, the Viet-Cong took their lessons from guerrilla leaders who-get this Che groupies-actually fought in a Guerrilla war. Yes, where people shoot back and everything. Che eventually tried his hand at this novelty and.... well. We saw what happened. He was run out of Africa with his tail between his legs in months. Then in Bolivia he and his merry band of bumblers was betrayed, encircled and decimated in short order.
Real guerrillas had Che's number. Mao refused to see him when he visited China. He had him cool his heels in a reception room for two hours then stood him up. He knew.
Che the Lionhearted's image is still ubiquitous on College campuses. But in the wrong places. He belongs in the marketing, PR, advertising-and especially-- Psychology departments. His lessons and history are fascinating and valuable but only in light of Sigmund Freud or P.T. Barnum. One born every minute, Mr Barnum? If only you'd lived to see the Che phenomenon. Actually, ten are born every second.
Here's a "guerilla hero" who in real life never fought in a guerilla war. When he finally brushed up against one he was routed.
Here's a cold blooded murderer who executed thousands without trial, who claimed that judicial evidence was an "unnecessary bourgeois detail", who stressed that "revolutionaries must become cold-killing machines motivated by pure hate", who stayed up till dawn for months at a time signing death warrants for innocent and honorable men, who's office in La Cabana had a window where he could watch the executions---and today his T-shirts adorn people who oppose capital punishment!
Here's Communist Cuba's first "Minister of Industries" who's main slogan in 1960 was "Accelerated Industrialization!"who's dream was converting Cuba (the Hemisphere actually) into a huge bureaucratic-industrial ant-farm --and he's the poster boy for greens and anarchists who scream and rant against industrialization!
Here's a sniveling little suck-up, teachers-pet, and momma's boy who was the constant pride of joy of his teacher (Alberto Bayo) and parents ( the most obnoxious sort of Limousine Bolsheviks)-and he's idolized by millionaire delinquents like Rage Against The Machine!
Here's a humorless teetotaler, a plodding paper-pusher, a notorious killjoy and all around fuddy duddy-and you see his t-shirt on MTV's Spring Break revelers!
Perhaps competent psychologists (if any exist) will explain this some day.
Che excelled in one thing: mass murder of defenseless men. He was a Stalinist to the core, a plodding bureaucrat and a calm, cold-blooded --but again, never in actual battle-killer. And there was an actual method to this murderous madness.
Recall that in 1940 Stalin's commissars rounded up the Polish officer corps, herded them into the Katyn Forest and slaughtered them to a man. Stalin didn't want any Polish contras messing up his future plans. These officers would have led them. So his men dug a huge mass grave and lined up the Polish officers. The Russian pistol barrels went up against the back of the neck:
POW!... Thump. 15000 shots later the deed was done and the dirt replaced. Any contra problem was nipped in the bud.
Che followed suit in Cuba. As a Communist flunkie in Guatemala he'd seen the Guatemalan officer corps rise up against the communist Arbenz government in 54. (And you pinko professors please stifle the noise about Arbenz as harmless "social democrat" and "nationalist" victimized by the fiendish United Fruit Company, okay? When ousted, Arbenz sought refuge in Czechoslovakia not Sweden.)
Anyway Che didn't want a repeat in Cuba.. Upon entering Havana in January 59 he started rounding up all Army officers. Then-- FUEGO!!-- his firing squads got busy-real busy. By his own count, Che sent 2500 men to "the wall".
The "Cuban Katyn" I call this slaughter. The Reds called these executed men "war criminals" and the Beltway press naturally parroted the charge. Nothing new here. The NY Times'( Pulitzer winning, no less) reporter Walter Duranty had parroted Stalin and Beria's charges against the victims of the 30's show trails too. Later, they, along with Chris Dodd, Ted Kennedy and Tip O'Neill labeled Nicaragua's contra's "war criminals." But today Nicaragua is free because of them.
Che's true legacy is simply one of terror and murder. That dreaded midnight knock. Wives and daughters screaming in rage and panic as Che's goons drag off their dads and husbands-- that's the real Che's legacy.
Desperate crowds of weeping daughters and shrieking mothers clubbed with rifle butts outside La Cabana as Che's firing squads murder their dads and sons inside--that's the real Che's legacy.
Thousands of heroes yelling "Viva Cuba Libre!" and "Viva Christo Rey!" before firing squads of murderous drunks whom they'd have stomped in open battle----that's the real Che's legacy.
Secret graves and crude boxes with the bullet-riddled corpses delivered to ashen-faced loved ones--that's the real Che's legacy.
And let's not forget the craven, "Don't shoot! I'm Che. I'm worth more to you live than dead!" (Then why didn't he save his last bullet for himself?) Perhaps the defiant yells of the men he murdered actually affected Che the Lionhearted? By 1960 he started ordering that his victims' mouths be taped shut. Perhaps there was a trace of human emotion in this icy dolt after all? Genuine bravery and defiance unnerved him.
When the wheels of justice finally turned, Che was revealed as unworthy to carry his victims slop-buckets. He learned nothing from their bravery. He could only beg for his life. So yes, the craven request when cornered in Bolivia is also the real Che's legacy.
So anyway friends, I hope you'll excuse all the champagne corks that popped in Cuban-American households back in Oct 1967 when we got the wonderful news. Yes, our own compatriots serving proudly in the U.S. Special forces had helped track down the murderous, cowardly and epically stupid little weasel named Che Guevara in Bolivia. Then he got a major dose of his own medicine.
Justice has never been better served.
P.S. Word has it that Steven Soderbergh is working on a movie about the gallant Che with Benicio Del Toro in the lead role. Some say Mick Jagger is working on another. Perhaps this column can serve as a small antidote to the blizzard of hype and hogwash that's bound to come.