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Farewell Letter from Ernesto 'Che' Guevara

On April 1st 1965 Che gave the following letter to Fidel Castro (leaving the timing of its release up to his comandante) before departing to the Congo to lead a group of Cuban volunteers aiding Congolese forces fighting an imperialist-imposed regime. As months went by his absence became a subject of growing comment, including a U.S.-backed rumor campaign alleging a falling-out between Fidel and Che resulting in Che's (possibly fatal) removal.

Though these lies were decisively refuted by Fidel's televised presentation of the letter on October 3rd 1965 –held off that long out of concern for Che's security– they would later be revived and to this day are widely circulated by opponents of the Cuban Revolution, now re-framed as Fidel sending Che off on a certainly-suicidal mission Bolivia a year later.

In fact both Che and Fidel entirely agreed on the concept of the guerilla campaign in Bolivia, although Fidel urged Che to delay his departure until initial forces had successfully established a base of operations, arguing that Che was too valuable to participate in the beginning and most risky part of the campaign. Ultimately Fidel deferred to Che (who was after all an Argentinian, not a Cuban) and his insistence that the campaign's importance meant his leadership skills shouldn't be withheld for some later date.

The same opponents of the Cuban Revolution that allege Fidel sent Che off to certain death simultaneously (never mind the contradiction) portray Che as a hopeless idealist on a tragic course to foolish martyrdom.

In fact Che was not only an utterly-dedicated revolutionary of action, but a hard-eyed thinker and writer whose keen intelligence produced a uniquely-valuable contribution on the thorny theoretical question of how to overcome the dilemma of creating a new society with human beings crippled with a consciousness formed under capitalism.

In any case the Bolivian campaign was based on a deeply-thought-out analysis of the state of the class struggle in the southern cone of Latin America. In Che's and Cuba's revolutionary leaders' assessment, popular insurgencies in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Peru were imminent. Bolivia was not only the country closest to explosion, it and its borders with six countries would make a uniquely-valuable base for revolutionary transformations of the whole southern cone of Latin America.

And indeed Bolivia was the first to erupt, as unionized miners launched an armed general strike that brought down the government only a few months after Che's death, while Argentine workers exploded in the Cordobazo uprising not long after and Chilean workers' resistance led to the later election of the social-democrat Salvador Allende.

Che and the Cubans' assessments were accurate.

Had the initial forces led by Che not gotten accidentally separated, had they gotten support rather than betrayal by the Stalinist-minded Bolivian Communist Party –had they been able to hold out for only a month or two longer– most of Latin America's southern cone might well have turned into their own versions of revolutionary Cuba.

Far from a pipe-dream of a Christ-figure, Che –along with Cuban and other Latin American revolutionaries– had a solid analysis and plan that nearly transformed history.

Of course however close they came, it's true that they didn't quite make it. Yet today new forces are rising again in Latin America, as popular movements in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador finally install indigenous leaders and assert control over their national resources. Whether or not this leads to Simon Bolivar's dream of a United States of Latin America or Jose Martí's vision of the Americas joined together by the rule of workers and farmers remains to be seen.

But there's little question that those goals can't be reached without knowing both the truth and the lessons of what's gone before.

 

Fidel: At this moment I remember many things -- when I met you in Marfa Antonia's house, when you suggested my coming, all the tensions involved in the preparations.

One day they asked who should be notified in case of death, and the real possibility of that fact affected us all. Later we knew that it was true, that in revolution one wins or dies (if it is a real one). Many comrades fell along the way to victory.

Today everything is less dramatic, because we are more mature. But the fact is repeated. I feel that I have fulfilled the part of my duty that tied me to the Cuban Revolution in its territory, and I say good-bye to you, the comrades, your people, who are already mine.

I formally renounce my positions in the national leadership of the party, my post as minister, my rank of major, and my Cuban citizenship. Nothing legal binds me to Cuba. The only ties are of another nature -- those which cannot be broken as appointments can.

Recalling my past life, I believe I have worked with sufficient honor and dedication to consolidate the revolutionary triumph. My only serious failing was not having confided more in you from the first moments in the Sierra Maestra, and not having understood quickly enough your qualities as a leader and a revolutionary.

I have lived magnificent days, and I felt at your side the pride of belonging to our people in the brilliant yet sad days of the Caribbean crisis. Seldom has a statesman been more brilliant than you in those days. I am also proud of having followed you without hesitation, identified with your way of thinking and of seeing and appraising dangers and principles. Other nations of the world call for my modest efforts. I can do that which is denied you because of your responsibility as the head of Cuba, and the time has come for us to part.

I want it known that I do it with mixed feelings of joy and sorrow: I leave here the purest of my hopes as a builder, and the dearest of those I love. And I leave a people who received me as a son. That wounds me deeply. I carry to new battlefronts the faith that you taught me, the revolutionary spirit of my people, the feeling of fulfilling the most sacred of duties: to fight against imperialism wherever it may be. This comforts and heals the deepest wounds.

I state once more that I free Cuba from any responsibility, except that which stems from its example. If my final hour finds me under other skies, my last thought will be of this people and especially of you. I am thank- ful for your teaching, your example, and I will try to be faithful to the final consequences of my acts.

I have always been identified with the foreign policy of our revolution, and I will continue to be. Wherever I am, I will feel the responsibility of being a Cuban revolutionary, and as such I shall behave. I am not sorry that I leave my children and my wife nothing material. I am happy it is that way. I ask nothing for them, as I know the state will provide enough for their expenses and education.

I would like to say much to you and to our people, but I feel it is not necessary. Words cannot express what I would want them to, and I don't think it's worth while to banter phrases.

Ever onward to victory! Our country or death!

I embrace you with all my revolutionary fervor.

Che

 


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