Che Guevara’s Legacy In Bolivia Today

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Many are questioning now what are the tactics that should be used by the Left in Latin America, especially in the South American Cone of Bolivia, in response to the massacres and repression of the indigenous and progressive groups resisting the ongoing military fascist coup, reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s, when US-backed coups resulted in military juntas in Latin America, in en era ominously known as the Condor Years.

Thanks to declassified documents over the years, we know Operation Condor, which globalpolicy.org has done a good analysis of the US role in the operation like Operation Paperclip, was a CIA operation bringing in Nazis who were wanted in Europe for war crimes, not just recruiting them as scientists but as advisers to juntas filled with fascists of the same ideology in South America.

Operation Paperclip was the CIA’s first operation in 1948 shortly after WWII, Allen Dulles himself, the head of the CIA, was known as a Nazi sympathizer. His brother was head of the United Fruit Company, who worked with the CIA in Guatemala in the 1950s to back a coup against President Arbenz at the time, where Che Guevara worked as a doctor and an internationalist before he became a revolutionary. It is the purpose of this article to address this recent history and the relevance to the crisis Bolivia faces today.

Interestingly enough, Dulles was no longer head of the CIA when Che was executed in 1967, since JFK had fired him when he was president, for fooling him on the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Strangely enough after Kennedy’s assassination, Dulles was hired on a commission to investigate his death. Later during the Condor Years, in the 70s’, Kissinger facilitated the placing of Nazis in South America into the highest positions of government to back their fellow fascists. The height of irony, not just because Kissinger was a European Jew, but he had fought Nazis during WWII. All was done in the name of “anti-Communism”.

German SS officer and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. the Butcher of Lyon, changed his name to Klaus Altmann and made himself helpful to drug lords and dictators alike while living in Bolivia. Photograph by Gabriel Hackett for Getty

Role of Nazis in South America

Klaus Barbie was one of the Nazis protected by Operation Condor in those years, Klaus himself, known as the Butcher of the Lyon Concentration Camp, was one of the trainers of the Bolivian rangers who in conjunction with the CIA, hunted Che Guevara and his band of guerrillas in the late 1960s. Klaus was also known to be the man behind the Cocaine Coup in Bolivia.  In Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, and other South American countries, the CIA assured Nazis would be protected by the nations there throughout the years. We have seen in movies such as Boys in Brazil, the depiction of Nazis in exile in South America, but what is often overlooked is how they got there. The Vatican took in Nazis, particularly Catholic ones, and with the CIA’s help, a few years after WWII these Nazis were smuggled into South America.

When the Argentine revolutionary, who ended up as the right-hand man of Fidel Castro in Cuba, who was with Fidel from the early days in exile in Mexico, the famed internationalist Ernesto Che Guevara, first entered Bolivia to start his last campaign for the liberation of the oppressed indigenous people, he came incognito. Che ironically came with fake papers as a Uruguayan representative of the OAS (Organization of American States). It was necessary since Che was a wanted man outside of Cuba, and was on the run from the CIA after going to the Congo (formerly Zaire) in Africa to fight alongside with comrades of deposed leader Lumumba, another victim of the CIA.

What is also ironic is when Che was a teenager, his father, a known anti-fascist in Argentina, sent him to spy on a secret meeting of Nazis in Cordoba, Argentina, it is quite possible Klaus Barbie himself was there. Che Guevara came from a family of progressive intellectuals, his mother taught him French, which he never forgot, and he knew some German and English. Like Fidel, Che pretended to not understand English but understood more than what the imperialists knew.

Che, when he was in Central America, after traveling to Bolivia, Peru, and some other countries in the 1950s, like we know from the Motorcycle Diaries, already had sympathy with the Left and indigenous people, and was an activist. Che became a revolutionary, taking on the nom de guerre Che, through his Cuban activities, and left medicine to become a guerrilla and political leader in his own right. Che means people in the Mapuche language of the indigenous group from Argentina and much of Chile, as Mapuche itself means people of the land. It is a common way to say friend in Argentina, Che. Since Che was the Argentine of the group he got the name and it stuck.

Bolivian President Evo Morales during the tribute program to Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, October 5, 2017.

Role of the OAS, Connection Between Che & Evo Morales

The OAS, as mentioned earlier, is an organization that unlike the Latin American people who supported or sympathized with the Cuban Revolution, voted to back the US embargo against Cuba in the early 1960s. Che when he spoke in Uruguay in 1964 as an ambassador of the Cuban government, described the OAS as the Ministry of Colonies. It was like the return of Spanish imperialism, only the gringo version, and the OAS was more than willing to cooperate with the Empire of the North, as it did with the false claims against Evo Morales, with no evidence, of voter rigging, which helped spark this crisis. So you see the irony, and a kind of a repeat of history from that again.

As famed journalist Glenn Greenwald mentioned recently in an interview with Evo Morales during his short exile in Mexico (Evo later went on to Argentina) FDR was elected three times in the US, and no one called him a dictator. The fact Bolivian democracy is not the same as modern US democracy does not mean Evo was a dictator, he had, in fact, made Bolivia number 1 in Latin America for economic growth, when in the early 2000s before taking power, Bolivia, like it was in the 1960s, was the second poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti. Haiti is a country that has also suffered from imperialism, first Spanish, then French, and currently US imperialism as they lose oil support from Venezuela because of US “sanctions”.

Nevertheless, there is a direct link between those who fought alongside Che in Bolivia and Evo Morales’s government. Not only does Evo wear Che shirts, and talk of Che frequently in his speeches. Evo Morales’s first vice-presidential candidate in 2002 when he ran for the presidency (under the MAS party, standing for Movement for Socialism, still in parliament in La Paz today), was Antonio Peredo, who had two brothers who were Bolivian guerrillas killed on orders from right-wing military dictators there. Both Inti and Coco Peredo fought alongside Che in 1966-67, Coco died in combat a few months before Che, and Inti was one of the few survivors but was killed in La Paz in 1969 when he returned to attempt another revolution.

Inti acquired the nom de guerre of Inti to honor the Incas, who called their Sun God Inti. Antonio himself was being trained with other guerrillas in Cuba to go to help his brothers, he planned to get there on a helicopter, but was not able to get there in time, there were also complications in him coming for the 1969 operation. He did become a member of the Bolivian parliament, a member of Evo’s party when Evo ran again in 2006 with another VP and won. Antonio passed away in 2012 and luckily did not live to see this coup.

In this 1967 photo provided by Felix Rodriguez, Rodriguez, left, is shown with Che Guevara, center, before Guevara was executed in Bolivia. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Felix Rodriguez)

Che’s Last Moments

Che Guevara was wounded in the legs in combat on October 8th, 1967 (the Day of the Heroic Guerrilla in Cuba), his last entry date in his Bolivian Diaries, which were recovered and smuggled out after his death, was October 7th. Che was taken with other comrades on a helicopter to La Higuera, and on the next day of the 9th, the CIA ordered his assassination. The soldier was ordered to shoot from the neck down to make it look like Che died in combat. However, Cuban American and former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez took a photo with Che when he was captured in Bolivia moments before his death on that fateful day of the 9th, so we know from this and other accounts this was not how he died. Felix’s arrogance in taking the photo tipped us off, he also brags he stole Che’s watch given to him from Fidel and wears it to this day.

Che’s rifle was out of bullets, his pistol jammed, and this is why he was captured, he did as he said he would, he resisted to the end. When the order came to shoot him, he used what energy he had left to rise to his feet, his executioner ordered him to sit down, but he refused, the soldier, trembling, hesitated, then Che said: “Aim well coward, you are only going to kill a man!”. Barrientos, the Bolivian dictator at the time who cooperated with the CIA in taking Che out, ironically died terribly in a helicopter crash some years later, karma catching up to him.

Che Guevara during the Cuban team’s visit to a Community Project Area in Pilana Block near Delhi. Source Government of India.

Implications of Che’s Internationalism

Che believed you can kill the man but not the idea, his death sparked movements throughout the world to continue the struggle against imperialism. Fighters from different parts of Latin America fought alongside Che in his last battle, including from Cuba, Bolivia, Argentina, and Peru. The soldier who shot Che decades later, a man named Mario Toran, more than 30 years on (in 97’ Che’s body was recovered and returned to Cuba buried in Santa Clara) went blind and had Cuban doctors in Bolivia attend to him to get his sight back. The Cubans understood this infamous soldier was but a pawn of the US Empire.

The doctors were there at the invitation of Evo Morales, as Cuba is known to have the best doctors in the world in spite of being a relatively small nation, and under embargo, such are the gains of Socialism and Che’s legacy as well, as Che’s daughter in Cuba is a doctor herself (Aleida Guevara). Che’s masterpiece, Guerrilla Warfare, which is just as philosophical as it is a manual on how to fight, is more relevant now as revolution through electoral politics has now failed in Bolivia. When Che met with the late Chilean president Allende, who was governor of northern Chile at the time, as he suffered a CIA coup later in 73’, Che said Allende was trying to do what they did in Cuba, only through other means. Many American activists know bits and pieces of this history but fail to connect certain things, especially to the present.

Trump has gone out of his way to punish Cuba with the excuse they support their ally Venezuela. He has recently barred Americans from flying to other Cuban cities besides Havana, as there are other major airports in Santa Clara, Santiago, etc. He does not want us to know the truth from our Cuban comrades. Unlike the US Cuba actually has allies, and sticks with them, as Kissinger said, the US has no allies, only interests. We need only look at the case of Noriega to know how US allies can end up in Latin America, betrayed. This could happen to “president” Anez in Bolivia too.

Che Guevara. arrives in Algiers.

Role of Stalinists in the late 60s’

In all honesty however, it was not just the CIA who were complicit in Che’s defeat in Bolivia (I prefer to call it a defeat then failure, as his legacy lives on) but the Stalinists, who despised Che’s speech in Algeria in 65’, his last public appearance. Che was trying to be neutral during the Sino-Soviet split, that is the rupture of relations between Mao’s China and Khrushchev’s Soviet Union, so he was critical of both countries, however, the Soviets took it personally. The new premier from 64’, Brezhnev, reversed Khrushchev’s policy of supporting revolution in Latin America and made the Soviet state more Stalinist again. This was part of the premier’s pact with US President Johnson, as his US counterpart could stop supporting counter-revolution in Eastern Europe as part of the pact.

With the anger at Che Guevara over his impassioned speech in French to the Algerians who had just kicked out the French imperialists, it was the perfect excuse for the Soviets to pressure Fidel not to support Che in Bolivia, and so Cuba, which relied heavily on Russian aid, had complications, as alluded to earlier, in getting the Bolivians in training in Cuba out to support Che. The revolutionary leader Ben Bella in Algeria and other leaders enjoyed Che’s speech, as did much of the Third World and other non-aligned countries (nor officially with the West or Soviet Union spheres of influence) during the Cold War, but things were complicated. This culminated with the encounter between Che and the head of the Bolivian Communist Party, Mario Monje. This infamous encounter is even portrayed in the Benicio del Toro movie Che II, a movie that has many scenes filmed in Cuba with the approval of the Cuban government. Monje, who had previously promised Che and the comrades to support their struggle, refused and said any Bolivian who would fight alongside Che would be expelled from the party and lose their benefits. None of the Bolivians left with Monje. Monje died years later in disgrace in the Soviet Union.

This effectively sabotaged efforts to bring reinforcements to help Che, along with the massacres of the miners who were about to enter the region of combat to back up Che. Che’s group was split in two, and Che was busy trying to leave no one behind, instead of escaping to the Bolivian jungle, where it was less penetrable. The initial battles were victorious for Che even with inferior numbers, the soldiers of Barrientos surrendered, were given a speech by Che and other leaders of his group, their supplies were taken, and then they were freed to go, treated humanely. It infuriates me when years later other guerrilla groups using Che’s name would do tactics that were contrary to Che’s expressed beliefs and actions. Reprisals against locals who helped Che and his guerrillas, who they relied on, sabotaged things as well. In all the campaign lasted 11 months from November of 66’ to October 67’. Only 5 survived of the dozens of original combatants, one of them was captured, 4 of them escaped, 2 of them were Bolivian, along with 3 Cubans. When Che was captured in Bolivia, a Trotsky book was among his belongings, Che was not sectarian, and Che’s brother Juan Guevara even confirmed in his biography of Che that Che in his youth had access to Trotsky books in French in the family library, they were encouraged to keep an open mind to all who fought fascism. The New Yorker wrote a great review of Juan Guevara’s book I highly recommend.

Many non-Orthodox Trotskyists are aware of this history. Che’s views of Stalin in the 1950s before many things came out on Stalin’s crimes, versus what he thought in the late 60s, were quite different. However, people take him out of context and end up revising history. Let us look at a quote from the Trotskyist conference in Havana from May of 2019 from a speech on Bolivian Trotskyism and an encounter in 1960 between Soviet delegates and Bolivian workers: “hundreds of Bolivian miners gave a warm welcome to the Soviet comrades. On their brown helmets, the miners had the symbol of the Fourth International, and the slogans on their banners talked about Lenin and Trotsky.” The Fourth International is an organization started by Trotsky in Mexico where he ended up as a result of his exile from the Soviet Union on orders from Stalin. Trotsky was a founder alongside Lenin previously of the 3rd International, the 1st International was started by Marx and Engels. As Che maintained contacts with Bolivian workers, it is no wonder his views changed on Stalin, there is more to this, such as Che’s friendship with the Trotskyist Ernest Mandel, but want to keep on the topic at hand.

Bolivian coup President Jeanine Anez.

US Role Currently in Bolivia in Countering Chinese Influence

Today we see with Trump’s open support of the fascist coup in Bolivia, as well as the attempted coups in Venezuela, etc, a repeat of US imperial history, there is even a call for the return of the infamous Monroe Doctrine, where Latin America is treated as a colony of the US, as we see in Puerto Rico today. Latin America, however, will no longer be a backyard of the US, as it has infamously been called in the past. I lived in Peru in my adolescence in 2002, many were excited at the time of the prospect of Evo Morales being elected next door, people began to feel more pride in their indigenous rather than Spanish roots. This coup resulted in the ouster of the elected Socialist president, Evo Morales, on November 12th, 2019, which has resulted in a debate on what are the tactics that are needed to deal with the crisis. It is not over, 65% of Bolivia is indigenous.

The Plurinational flag representing all the indigenous groups of Bolivia, maybe burning now, but many are tucking away this flag and waiting for the right time to rebel again, just as Tupac Amaru II, an Inca prince, waited his time to rebel against the Spanish, he was killed shortly before the rise of Bolivar, the Venezuelan Liberator, who united Spanish born Latin Americans, those of mixed blood, blacks and indigenous people alike, to fight the Spanish Empire. We must remember the people mostly support Evo still and know the truth in-spite of media lies in their own country and the world, that like in Venezuela who was about to do a deal with the Chinese before the attempted coup against Maduro there for Venezuelan oil to be sold to the Orient, the Chinese were to invest in Bolivia to buy their natural resources as well.

Resources like Lithium, which is used to power electronic cars among other things. Evo Morales in 2006 became the first indigenous head of state since before the Spanish Conquest, back when in the region Inca and Aymara leaders ruled over their people. In contrast, the opposition now in control, who has elements of Camacho’s fascist right-wing Christian Falange militant group from Santa Cruz, who represent the white upper-class elites, has little support from the people. The “interim” president herself Ms. Anez comes from a small party, Democrat Social Movement, which only got 4% of the vote in parliamentary elections. This is reminiscent of Guaido’s small party in Venezuela, only he appoints himself president without actually having any power.

Bolivian protesters flee from militarized coup police. Source AP.

Repression Currently in Bolivia

The repression in Bolivia since her takeover has resulted in not just massacres of indigenous people in Cochabamba, Evo’s hometown, but the targeting of all those associated with him they can find, such as the assassination’s of Evo’s secretary. Even those seeking political asylum at the Mexican Embassy in La Paz have been harassed. The Prensa Grafica reported a 29-year-old secretary of Evo’s was beaten to death, no culprit was arrested for this killing, her name has yet to be revealed from my search as of writing this article. Many reports can only be found in Spanish, which I can read, even then it is hard to find. She accompanied Evo to his hometown after leaving the Bolivian capital La Paz when the generals made clear they wanted Evo out. The rank and file in the military, heavily indigenous, may rebel against these generals. This repression to me is reminiscent of the killing of Nin, the founder of the POUM Party in Spain who had militia who fought Franco’s fascist forces on the front during the civil war, they had international brigades including with an unknown British writer at the time, George Orwell (written in the late 1930s, see his book on the topic, Homage to Catalonia).

Nin was captured by Stalinist agents who killed him in a brutal fashion as well. He happened to be a former secretary of Trotsky, and the persecution of the anti-fascist forces on orders from the Kremlin demoralized the Left and facilitated the rise of Franco at the time. Reminiscent somewhat, yet these were not fascists themselves carrying out the orders in Spain. I am very familiar with Spanish history as just as I lived in Peru, I lived in Spain for a time, in a city where many battles happened during those times.

Evo Morales resigns.

US Political Figures Who Oppose Meddling in Latin America

Let us look at the present, a gentleman named Richard Black, State Senator from Virginia has recently come out and criticized US so-called sanctions, which is really economic warfare, against Venezuela, as well as being critical of the US-backed coup in Bolivia, he is a Republican mind you. Senator Rand Paul also in general calls out the US on meddling. On the other side, Bernie Sanders has also been vocal against the Bolivian coup, he had met Evo Morales. Another presidential candidate on the Democrat side, Tulsi Gabbard, has also called for an end of regime change wars and meddling. Rep. Gabbard even condemned the overtaking of the Venezuelan Embassy in DC by US authorities.

Let us hope this can help change the current course, or in the couple next year we see a change of leadership in the White House. However, the US imperial system will need a consistent movement of resistance in order to be defeated. As a passionate learner of history, I am actually optimistic. I would get further into the current situation in Bolivia, however, the focus is Che’s legacy. I can save that for a future article.

Fidel Castro with Che Guevara

Back To Che’s Legacy

Che was in a way like Bolivar, he was criticized by Monje and others for being a foreigner wanting to lead a guerrilla campaign in Bolivia, but many of Che’s comrades responded that Bolivia was named after a Venezuelan (the Liberator Bolivar) they would have to change the name if they were banning Che from leading the expedition. Interestingly enough, the late Hugo Chavez changed the name of Venezuela after he took over. Its current name is the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to honor Bolivar, who fought the Spanish imperialists through much of South America and part of Central America (from Panama to the north to Peru to the south). In the final analysis, Che’s, Bolivar’s, and countless other leaders in the struggle legacy lives on, and we must consider the best tactics to face the menace of fascism, that has shown its ugly face in Bolivia once again, a nation that borders many South American countries, and even though Bolivia lost its coast to Chile in a war long ago and has no port, it has grown economically under Evo Morales, some multinationals have had to pay more taxes in the country, others have been nationalized.

To conclude, Che’s father Ernesto Guevara Lynch, Sr admitted his son was rebellious, and once said: “Remember one thing about my son, he had the blood of Irish rebels running in veins.” Knowing this when I first learned of Che sparked my interest since I am part Irish, also being part Jewish, I felt particularly outraged to know a Nazi helped capture him. Let us hope the truth of history and how it relates to the present, prevails, and change comes to Bolivia, that all these programs are not privatized, that the corporations and state working in this fascist order shall be defeated. The youth are the future, as Che said, the vanguard of the revolution are the youth, Che himself was killed when he was just 39 years of age, the Bolivian youth are woke and educated. I am confident they will defeat the fascists, Che from his early days knew of fascism from Spaniards who took refuge in Argentina after the defeat in the civil war there.

Today Bolivia needs our support from here in the US Empire, from neighboring Argentina, that has a promising new government, and the world over! Let us not let the Trumps or tyrants of the world deter us and make us pessimists. To realistic at times is actually to be optimistic, even with great odds, such as how the Cubans embarked on Cuba from Mexico and had superior forces fighting them, yet took to the mountains, and were able to, in the end, defeat US-backed Batista. Che has inspired me and always been on my mind in all the acts I have taken part in, in revolutionary activism over the years. His image and sacrifice have inspired millions. When I went to Cuba in 2017 I saw his image everywhere, and his image may be being burned by the fascists of Santa Cruz in Bolivia, but it lives on in the hearts of the people. So I end this piece with Che’s words on optimism: “Be a realist, do the impossible!”

Al R Suarez is a Peruvian-American blogger, activist, writer, and journalist. Suarez is a host of Vanguard Youth Radio. Suarez has published 10 books, including “Solidarity Forever? The Struggle of an Occupier” (2013) and “The Vanguard Faction” (2015). Suarez is co-director of the documentary in progress “Embassy Protectors”. Suarez graduated in December 2019 from Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton) with a Bachelor’s in Communications, and a minor in Political Science. He graduated from Miami Dade College in May of 2018 with an Associate’s in Mass Communications. He resides in the Jacksonville, Fl area, where he will continue his education at graduate school at the University of North Florida in the fall of 2020 in Communication Management with an emphasis in leadership. Suarez can be reached at alexandersua2018@fau.edu

 

  • daelv

    Excellent coverage of historical events in South America, The sneaky U.S. involvement and iteration of its crimes. This history from “Dr.” Al Suarez is well researched and heartfelt. Thank you Al, you’ve made a mark in time!

  • Al R Suarez

    They*

  • Al R Suarez

    The day before this article came out the revolutionary known as Pombo, an Afro Cuban, who fought along side Che in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia, passed away in Cuba. I hope this article honors him.

  • Al R Suarez

    The first photo used of Che shows him having ear phones for translation from an interview I believe he did in the US.

  • Al R Suarez

    Anyone familiar with the role of the French journalist Regis Debray in Bolivia?

  • Al R Suarez

    Che was also advised by a Peruvian Trotskyist named Ricardo Napuri.