Che Guevara; A Study in Failure
by Humberto Fontova
Had Ernesto Guevara De La Serna y Lynch not linked up with Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico city that fateful summer of 1955--had he not linked up with a Cuban exile named Nico Lopez in Guatemala the year before who later introduced him to Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico city, that is-- everything points to Ernesto continuing his life of a traveling hobo, mooching off women, staying in flophouses and scribbling unreadable poetry.
Che was a Revolutionary Ringo Starr. By pure chance, he fell in with the right bunch at just the right time and rode their coattails to fame. His very name "Che" was imparted by the Cubans who hob-knobbed with him in Mexico. Argentines use the term "Che" much like Cubans use "chico" or Michael Moore fans use "dude." The Cubans noticed Ernesto Guevara using it so they pasted it to him. And it stuck.
Fidel had brought the recently monikered "Che" on the Granma invasion of Cuba as the rebel group's doctor, based on his bogus credentials. On the harrowing boat ride through turbulent seas from the Yucatan to Cuba's Oriente province in the decrepit old yacht, a rebel found Che lying comatose in the boat's cabin. He rushed to the commander, "Fidel, looks like Che's dead!"
"Well, if he's dead," replied Castro. "Then throw him overboard." In fact Guevara was suffering the combined effects of seasickness and an asthma attack. The point is, Che was not regarded as an invaluable member of the expedition at the time.
But today his famous photo by Alberto Korda ranks as the most reproduced print in the world. Last year Burlington Industries introduced a line of infant wear bearing his famous image. Even the Pope, on his visit to Cuba in 1998, spoke approvingly about Che's "ideals." Che owes all this hype and flummery to the century's top media manipulator (i.e. swindler,) Fidel Castro, who also dispatched him deliberately to his death. As those who know him have always said: "Fidel only praises the dead."
Other than his competence at murdering bound, gagged and blindfolded men, Che Guevara failed spectacularly at everything he attempted in his life. First he failed as Argentine medical student. Though he's widely described as a Medical doctor by his hagiographers (Castaneda, Anderson, Taibo, Kalfon) no record exists of Ernesto Guevara's Medical degree. When Cuban-American researcher Enrique Ros inquired of the Rector of the University of Buenos Aires and the head of its Office of Academic Affairs for copies or proof of said document, Ros was variously told that the records had been misplaced or perhaps stolen.
In 1960 Castro appointed Che as Cuba's "Economics Minister." Within months the Cuban peso, a currency historically equal to the U.S. dollar and fully backed by Cuba's gold reserves, was practically worthless. The following year Castro appointed Che as Cuba's Minister of Industries. Within a year a nation that previously had higher per capita income than Austria and Japan, a huge influx of immigrants and the 3rd highest protein consumption in the hemisphere was rationing food, closing factories, and hemorraghing hundreds of thousands of it's most productive citizens from every sector of its society, all who were grateful to leave with only the clothes on their back.
Most observers attribute this to "Communist mismanagement." Che himself eventually confessed to his multiple economic errors and failings. Actually, given the goal of Cuba's ruler since January of 1959 (absolute power,) the Cuban economy has been EXPERTLY managed. Castro inherited a vibrant free market economy in 1959, something unique among communist rulers. All the others, from Lenin to Mao to Uncle Ho to Ulbricht to Tito to Kim Il Sung, took over primitive and/or chaotic, war ravaged economies.
A less megalomaniacal ruler would have considered it a golden goose landing in his lap. But Castro wrung its neck. He deliberately and methodically wrecked Latin America's premier economy. A Cuban capitalist is a person I wont be able to control, reasoned Castro--and does so to this day. Cuba--despite a deluge of tourism and foreign investment for over a decade--is as essentially Communist in 2005 as it was in 1965. The Castro brothers are very vigilant in these matters.
Che actually believed in the socialist fantasy. When he pronounced in May of 1961 that under his tutelage the Cuban economy would boast an annual growth rate of 10% the imbecile seemed to believe it.
Castro didn't care. He simply knew as a result he'd be running Cuba like his personal ranch, with the Cuban people as his sheep an cattle.
This is where libertarian/free-market idealogues get it wrong. They insist that with the lifting of the embargo, capitalism will sneak in and eventually blindside Castro. All the proof is to the contrary. Capitalism didn't sweep Castro away or even co opt him. He blindsided it. He swept it away. He's not Deng or Gorbachev. In 1959 Castro could have easily left most of Cuba's economy in place, made it obedient to his whims, and been a Peron, a Franco, a Mussolini. He could have grabbed half and been a Tito. He could have demanded a piece of the action from all involved and been a Marcos, a Trujillo, a Mobutu, a Suharto. But this wasn't enough for him.
Castro lusted for the power of a Stalin or a Mao. And he got it
Che's most famous book is titled Guerrilla Warfare. His famous photo is captioned "Heroic Guerrilla." And his most resounding failure came precisely as guerrilla warrior. There is no record of him prevailing in any bona-fide battle.
There are precious few accounts that he actually fought in anything properly describable as a battle. His most famous military exploit was "The Battle of Santa Clara," in December 1958. The loss of this "battle" by his forces finally caused Batista to lose hope and flee Cuba. To commemorate this historic military engagement, Castro has built a Che Guevara museum in Santa Clara.
"One Thousand Killed in 5 days of Fierce Street Fighting," blared a New York Times headline on Jan 4, 1959 about the battle. "Commander Che Guevara appealed to Batista troops for a truce to clear the streets of casualties." continues the article. "Guevara turned the tide in this bloody battle and whipped a Batista force of 3,000 men."
"Those of us who were there can only laugh at this stuff," say participants on both sides who live in exile today. In fact, the Battle of Santa Clara--despite what those early versions of Jayson Blair reported-- was a puerile skirmish. Che Guevara's own diary mentions that his column suffered exactly one casualty (a soldier known as El Vaquerito) in this ferocious "battle." Other accounts put the grand total of rebel losses as from three to five men. Most of Batista's soldiers saw no reason to fight for a crooked, unpopular regime that was clearly doomed. So they didn't fire a shot, even those on the famous "armored train," that Guevara supposedly attacked and captured.
Today that armored train features as a major tourist attraction in Santa Clara. The train, loaded with 373 soldiers and $4M worth of munitions, was sent from Havana to Santa Clara in late December of 1958 by Batista's high command as a last ditch attempt to halt the rebels. Che's rebels in Santa Clara bulldozed the tracks and the train derailed just outside of town. Then a few rebels shot at it and a few soldiers fired back. No one was hurt. Soon some rebels approached brandishing a truce flag and one of the train's officers, Enrique Gomez, walked out to meet them. Gomez was brought to meet Comandante Guevara.
"What's going on here!' Che shouted. "This isn't what we agreed on!"
Gomez was puzzled. "What agreement?" he asked. Tyrned out, unbeknownst to the troops inside, the train and all its armaments had been sold, fair and square, to Guevara by it's commander Colonel Florentino Rossell, who had already hightailed it to Miami. The price was either $350,000 or $1,000,000, depending on the source.
Actually Che had every reason to be upset. Actual shots fired against his troops? Here's another eye-witness account regarding Che's famous "invasion" of las Villas Province shortly before the famous "battle" of Santa Clara.
"Guevara's column shuffled right into the U.S. agricultural experimental station in Camaguey. Guevara asked manager Joe McGuire 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 sight of uninterested Batista troops."
Francisco Rodriguez Tamayo was a Rebel captain who had been in on many of these transactions but he defected mere months after the Rebel victory. In a El Diariode Nueva York article dated June 25th 1959 he claimed that Castro still had $4,500,000 left in that "fund" at the time of the Revolutionary victory. "I don't know what might have happened to that money." Rodriguez Tamayo adds.
Yet immediately after the Santa Clara bribe and skirmish, Che ordered 27 Batista soldiers executed as "war criminals." Che Guevara's own diary puts the grand total of his forces' losses during the entire 2 year long "civil war" in Cuba at 20, about equal to the average number dead during Rio de Janeiro's carnival every year. "Heck man," says Miguel Uria. "The Sierra is where anti-Batista fighters went for safety and rest. "