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"A Necessary Introduction" by Fidel Castro, excerpted from "The Bolivian Diary" by Ernesto Che Guevara

December 21

by Fidel Castro

 

To celebrate the release of The Bolivian Diary by Ernesto Che Guevara, the latest addition to our new Che Guevara Library, we are proud to share an introduction written by Fidel Castro for the original publication of this book, back in 1968. The introduction is long, but it is incredibly special. Castro's interpretation of events, written so warmly and with such deference to his late friend and comrade, offers the reader an added context for the diary entries in the pages that follow, and provides a window into the impact that Che had on those he encountered. We hope you'll enjoy it.


  

A Necessary Introduction

by Fidel Castro

It was Che’s custom during his days as a guerrilla [during the 1956–58 Cuban revolutionary war] to carefully record his daily observations in a personal diary. During long marches over rugged and difficult terrain, in the midst of damp woods, when the lines of men, always hunched over from the weight of their packs, ammunition, and weapons, would stop for a moment to rest, or when the column would receive orders to halt and set up camp at the end of an exhausting day’s march, you would see Che—as he was affectionately nicknamed by the Cubans from the beginning—take out a small notebook and, with the tiny and nearly illegible handwriting of a doctor, write his notes.

What he was able to save from these notes he later used in writing his magnificent historical narratives of the revolutionary war in Cuba—accounts full of revolutionary, educational, and human content. [1]

This time, thanks to his invariable habit of noting the main events of each day, we have at our disposal rigorously exact, priceless, and detailed information on the heroic final months of his life in Bolivia.

These notes, not really written for publication, served as a tool in the constant evaluation of events, situations, and people, and at the same time served as an outlet for the expression of his keenly observant and analytical spirit, often laced with a fine sense of humor. They are soberly written and form a coherent whole from beginning to end.

It should be kept in mind that they were written during those rare moments of rest in the midst of a heroic and superhuman physical effort, where he bore exhausting obligations as leader of a guerrilla detachment in the difficult first stages of a struggle of this nature, which unfolded under incredibly harsh material conditions. This reveals once more his method of work, his will of steel.

The diary, in the course of analyzing in detail the incidents of each day, takes note of the shortcomings, critical assessments, and recriminations that are part of and inevitable in the development of a revolutionary guerrilla struggle.

Inside a guerrilla detachment such assessments must take place constantly. This is especially true in the stage in which it consists of a small nucleus facing extremely adverse material conditions and an enemy infinitely superior in number, when the slightest negligence or the most insignificant mistake can be fatal. The leader must be extremely demanding, using each event or episode, no matter how insignificant it may seem, to educate the combatants and future cadres of new guerrilla detachments.

The process of training a guerrilla force is a constant appeal to each person’s consciousness and honor. Che knew how to touch the most sensitive fibers in revolutionaries. When Marcos, after being repeatedly admonished by Che, was warned that he could be dishonorably discharged from the guerrilla unit, he replied, “I would rather be shot!” Later he gave his life heroically. Similar behavior could be noted among all those in whom Che placed confidence and those he had to admonish for one reason or another in the course of the struggle. He was a fraternal and humane leader, but he also knew how to be demanding and, at times, severe. But above all, and even more than with others, Che was severe with himself. He based discipline on the guerrilla’s moral consciousness and on the tremendous force of his own example.

The diary also contains numerous references to [Régis] Debray; it reflects the enormous concern Che felt over the arrest and imprisonment of the revolutionary writer who had been given a mission to carry out in Europe—although at heart Che would have preferred him to have stayed with the guerrilla unit, which is why Che shows a certain uneasiness and, on occasion, some doubts about his behavior.

Che had no way of knowing the odyssey Debray experienced in the hands of the repressive forces, or the firm and courageous attitude he maintained in face of his captors and torturers. He noted, however, the enormous political significance of the trial and on October 3, six days before his death, in the midst of bitter and tense events, he wrote, “We heard an interview with Debray, very courageous when faced by a student acting as an agent provocateur.” This was his last reference to the writer.

The Cuban revolution and its relation to the guerrilla movement are repeatedly referred to in the diary. Some may interpret our decision to publish it as an act of provocation that will give the enemies of the revolution—the Yankee imperialists and their allies, the Latin American oligarchs—arguments for redoubling their efforts to blockade, isolate, and attack Cuba.

Those who judge the facts this way should remember that Yankee imperialism has never needed a pretext to carry out its crimes anywhere in the world, and that its efforts to crush the Cuban revolution began as soon as our country passed its first revolutionary law. This stems from the obvious and well-known fact that imperialism is the policeman of world reaction, the systematic supporter of counterrevolution, and the protector of the most backward and inhuman social structures that still exist in the world.

Solidarity with a revolutionary movement may be taken as a pretext for Yankee aggression, but it will never be the real cause. To deny solidarity in order to avoid giving a pretext is a ridiculous, ostrich-like policy that has nothing to do with the internationalist character of today’s social revolutions. To abandon solidarity with a revolutionary movement not only does not avoid providing a pretext, but in effect serves to support Yankee imperialism and its policy of dominating and enslaving the world.

Cuba is a small country, economically underdeveloped as are all countries dominated and exploited for centuries by colonialism and imperialism. It is located only 90 miles from the coast of the United States, has a Yankee naval base on its territory [Guantánamo], and faces numerous obstacles in attaining socioeconomic development. Grave dangers have threatened our country since the triumph of the revolution; but imperialism will never make us yield for these reasons, because the difficulties that flow from a consistently revolutionary line of action are of no importance to us.

From the revolutionary point of view, there is no alternative but to publish Che’s Bolivian diary. It fell into the hands of [President René] Barrientos, who immediately sent copies to the CIA, the Pentagon, and the US government. Journalists with links to the CIA had access to the document inside Bolivia; having made photocopies of it, they promised to refrain, for the moment, from publishing it.

The Barrientos government and the top-ranking military officers have more than enough reasons not to publish the diary. It reveals the immense incapacity of their army and the countless defeats they were dealt by a handful of determined guerrillas who, in a matter of weeks, took nearly 200 weapons from them in combat. Furthermore, Che describes Barrientos and his regime in terms they deserve, with words that cannot be erased from history.

Imperialism also had its own reasons: Che and the extraordinary example he set are gaining increasing force in the world. His ideas, image, and name are banners of struggle against the injustices suffered by the oppressed and exploited; they evoke impassioned interest among students and intellectuals throughout the world.

In the United States itself, the Black [rights] movement and progressive students, both of which are continuing to grow in numbers, have made Che’s figure their own. In the most combative demonstrations for civil rights and against the aggression in Vietnam, his image is brandished as a symbol of struggle. Few times in history, perhaps never before, has a figure, a name, an example become a universal symbol so quickly and with such impassioned force. This is because Che embodies, in its purest and most selfless form, the internationalist spirit that marks the world of today and that will characterize even more the world of tomorrow.

Arising from a continent yesterday oppressed by colonial powers, today exploited and held in backwardness and the most iniquitous underdevelopment by Yankee imperialism, there has emerged this singular figure who has become the universal symbol of revolutionary struggle, even in the metropolitan centers of the imperialists and colonialists.

The Yankee imperialists fear the power of this example and everything that may help to spread it. The diary is the living expression of an extraordinary personality; a lesson in guerrilla warfare written in the heat and tension of daily events, as flammable as gunpowder; a demonstration in life that the people of Latin America are not powerless in face of the enslavers of entire peoples and of their mercenary armies. That is its intrinsic value, and that is what has kept them from publishing it up to now.

Also among those who may be interested in keeping the diary unpublished are the pseudo-revolutionaries, opportunists, and charlatans of every stripe. These people call themselves Marxists, communists, and other such titles. They have not, however, hesitated to call Che a mistaken adventurer or, when they speak more benignly, an idealist whose death marked the swan song of revolutionary armed struggle in Latin America. “If Che himself,” they say, “the greatest exponent of these ideas and an experienced guerrilla fighter, died in the guerrilla struggle and his movement failed to free Bolivia, it only shows how mistaken he was!” How many of these miserable creatures were happy with the death of Che and have not even blushed at the thought that their stance and arguments completely coincide with those of imperialism and the most reactionary oligarchs!

That is how they justify themselves. That is how they justify their treacherous leaders who, at a given moment, did not hesitate to play at armed struggle with the underlying intention—as would be seen later—of destroying the guerrilla detachments, putting the brakes on revolutionary action, and imposing their own shameful and ridiculous political schemes, because they were absolutely incapable of carrying out any other line. That is how they justify those who do not want to fight, who will never fight for the people and their liberation. That is how they justify those who have made a caricature of revolutionary ideas, turning them into an opium like dogma with neither content nor message for the masses; those who have converted the organizations of popular struggle into instruments of conciliation with domestic and foreign exploiters; and those who advocate policies that have nothing to do with the genuine interests of the exploited peoples of this continent.

Che thought of his death as something natural and probable in the process; he made an effort to stress, especially in his last writings, that this eventuality would not hold back the inevitable march of the Latin American revolution. In his “Message to the Tricontinental,” he reiterated this thought, “Our every action is a battle cry against imperialism … Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome if our battle cry has reached even one receptive ear, if another hand reaches out to take up our arms …” [2]

Che considered himself a soldier in the revolution, with absolutely no concern as to whether he would survive it. Those who see the outcome of his struggle in Bolivia as marking the failure of his ideas can, with the same oversimplification, deny the validity of the ideas and struggles of all the great revolutionary precursors and thinkers; this includes the founders of Marxism, who were themselves unable to complete the task and to see in life the fruits of their noble efforts.

In Cuba, [José] Martí and [Antonio] Maceo were killed in combat; Yankee intervention followed, ending the War of Independence and frustrating the immediate objectives of their struggle. Brilliant advocates of socialist revolution, like Julio Antonio Mella, have been killed, murdered by agents in the service of imperialism. But these deaths could not, in the long run, block the triumph of a process that began 100 years ago. And absolutely nothing can call into question the profound justice of the cause and line of struggle of those eminent fighters, or the timeliness of their basic ideas, which have always inspired Cuban revolutionaries.

In Che’s diary, from the notes he wrote, you can see how real the possibilities of success were, how extraordinary the catalyzing power of the guerrilla struggle. On one occasion, in the face of evident signs of the Bolivian regime’s weakness and rapid deterioration, he wrote, “The government is disintegrating rapidly. What a pity we don’t have 100 more men right now.”

Che knew from his experience in Cuba how often our small guerrilla detachment had been on the verge of being wiped out. Whether such things happen depends almost entirely on chance and the imponderables of war. But would such an eventuality have given anyone the right to consider our line erroneous, and, in addition, to take it as an example to discourage revolution and inculcate a sense of powerlessness among the peoples? Many times in history revolutionary processes have been preceded by adverse episodes. We ourselves in Cuba, didn’t we have the experience of Moncada just six years before the definitive triumph of the people’s armed struggle?

From July 26, 1953—the attack on the Moncada garrison in Santiago de Cuba—to December 2, 1956—the landing of the Granma—revolutionary struggle in Cuba in the face of a modern, well-equipped army seemed to many people to lack any prospect for success; the action of a handful of fighters was seen as a chimera of idealists and dreamers who were “deeply mistaken.” The crushing defeat and total dispersal of the inexperienced guerrilla detachment by Batista’s troops on December 5, 1956, seemed to confirm entirely those pessimistic forebodings. But only 25 months later the remnants of that guerrilla unit had developed the strength and experience necessary to annihilate that same army.

In all epochs and under all circumstances, there will always be an abundance of pretexts for not fighting; but not fighting is the only way to never attain freedom. Che did not live as long as his ideas; he fertilized them with his blood. It is certain, on the other hand, that his pseudo-revolutionary critics, with all their political cowardice and eternal lack of action, will outlive by far the evidence of their own stupidity.

Worth noting in the diary are the actions of one of those revolutionary specimens that are becoming typical in Latin America these days: Mario Monje, brandishing the title of secretary of the Communist Party of Bolivia, sought to dispute with Che the political and military leadership of the movement. Monje claimed, moreover, that he had intended to resign his party post to take on this responsibility; in his opinion, obviously, it was enough to have once held that title to claim such a prerogative.

Mario Monje, naturally, had no experience in guerrilla warfare and had never been in combat. In addition, the fact that he considered himself a communist should at least have obliged him to dispense with the gross and mundane chauvinism that had already been overcome by those who fought for Bolivia’s first independence.

With such a conception of what an anti-imperialist struggle on this continent should be, “communist leaders” of this type do not even surpass the level of internationalism of the aboriginal tribes subjugated by the European colonizers in the epoch of the conquest.

Bolivia and its historical capital, Sucre, were named after the country’s first liberators [Simón Bolívar and Antonio José de Sucre], both of whom were Venezuelan. And in this country, in a struggle for the definitive liberation of his people, the leader of the Communist Party of Bolivia had the possibility of enlisting the cooperation of the political, organizational, and military talent of a genuine revolutionary titan, a person whose cause was not limited by the narrow and artificial—not to mention unjust—borders of Bolivia. Yet he did nothing but engage in disgraceful, ridiculous, and unjustified claims to leadership.

Bolivia has no outlet to the sea, and therefore, for its own liberation and to avoid exposure to a cruel blockade, it more than any other country needs revolutionary victories by its neighbors. Che, because of his enormous authority, ability, and experience, was the person who could have accelerated this process.

In the period before a split occurred in the Bolivian Communist Party, Che had established relations with leaders and members, soliciting their help for the revolutionary movement in South America. Under authorization from the party, some members worked with Che for years on various assignments. When the split occurred, it created a special situation, given that a number of the people who had been working with him ended up in one or another group. But Che did not see the struggle in Bolivia as an isolated occurrence, rather as part of a revolutionary liberation movement that would soon extend to other countries in South America. He sought to organize a movement free of sectarianism, one that could be joined by anyone who wanted to fight for the liberation of Bolivia and of all the other peoples of Latin America subjugated by imperialism.

In the initial phase of preparing a base for the guerrilla unit, however, Che depended for the most part on the help of a group of courageous and discreet collaborators who, at the time of the split, remained in the party headed by Monje. Although he certainly felt no sympathy toward Monje, in deference to them he invited Monje to visit his camp first. He then invited Moisés Guevara, a leader of the mine workers and a political leader. Moisés Guevara had left the party to join in the formation of another organization, the one led by Oscar Zamora. He later left that group because of differences with Zamora, who proved to be another Monje. Zamora had once promised Che he would help in organizing the armed guerrilla struggle in Bolivia, but later backed away from that commitment and cowardly folded his arms when the hour of action arrived. After Che’s death, Zamora became one of his most venomous “Marxist-Leninist” critics. Moisés Guevara joined Che without hesitation, as he had sought to do long before Che arrived in Bolivia; he offered his support and gave his life heroically for the revolutionary cause.

The group of Bolivian guerrillas who until then had stayed with Monje’s organization also joined Che. Led by Inti and Coco Peredo, who proved to be courageous, outstanding fighters, they left Monje and decisively backed Che. But Monje, seeking revenge, began to sabotage the movement. In La Paz he intercepted well-trained communist militants who were on their way to join the guerrillas. These facts demonstrate that within the ranks of revolutionaries, men who meet all the conditions necessary for struggle can be criminally frustrated in their development by incapable, maneuvering, and charlatan-like leaders.

Che was a man never personally interested in posts, leadership, or honors; but he believed revolutionary guerrilla warfare was the fundamental form of action for the liberation of the peoples of Latin America, given the economic, political, and social situation in nearly all Latin American countries. Moreover, he was firmly convinced that the military and political leadership of the guerrilla struggle had to be unified. He also believed the struggle could be led only by the guerrilla unit itself, and not from the comfortable offices of bureaucrats in the cities. So he was not prepared to give up leadership of a guerrilla nucleus that, at a later stage of its development, was intended to develop into a struggle of broad dimensions in Latin America. And he certainly was not prepared to turn over such leadership to an inexperienced emptyhead with narrow chauvinist views. Such chauvinism often infects even revolutionary elements of various countries in Latin America. Che believed that it must be combatted because it represents reactionary, ridiculous, and sterile thinking.

“And let us develop genuine proletarian internationalism,” he said in his “Message to the Tricontinental.” “Let the flag under which we fight be the sacred cause of the liberation of humanity, so that to die under the colors of Vietnam, Venezuela, Guatemala, Laos, Guinea, Colombia, Bolivia … to mention only the current scenes of armed struggle … will be equally glorious and desirable for a Latin American, an Asian, an African, and even a European.

“Every drop of blood spilled in a land under whose flag one was not born is experience gathered by the survivor to be applied later in the struggle for liberation of one’s own country. And every people that liberates itself is a step in the battle for the liberation of one’s own people.”

In the same way, Che believed fighters from various Latin American countries would participate in the guerrilla detachment, that the guerrilla struggle in Bolivia would be a school in which revolutionaries would serve their apprenticeship in combat. To help him with this task he wanted to have, together with the Bolivians, a small nucleus of experienced guerrilla fighters, nearly all of whom had been his comrades in the Sierra Maestra during the revolutionary struggle in Cuba. These were men whose abilities, courage, and spirit of self-sacrifice Che knew. None of them hesitated to respond to his call, none of them abandoned him, none of them surrendered.

In the Bolivian campaign Che acted with his proverbial tenacity, skill, stoicism, and exemplary attitude. It might be said that he was consumed by the importance of the mission he had assigned himself, and at all times he proceeded with a spirit of irreproachable responsibility. When the guerrilla unit committed a careless mistake, he quickly called attention to it, corrected it, and noted it in his diary.

Unbelievably adverse factors built up against him, such as the separation—supposed to last for just a few days—of part of the guerrilla detachment, a unit that included a courageous group of fighters, some of them sick or convalescent.

Once contact between the two groups was lost in very rough terrain, separation continued, and for endless months Che was preoccupied with the effort to find them. In this period his asthma—an ailment easily treated with simple medication, but one that, lacking the medication, became a terrible enemy— attacked him relentlessly. It became a serious problem, as the medical supplies that had been accumulated by the guerrillas beforehand had been discovered and captured by the enemy. This fact, along with the annihilation at the end of August of the part of the guerrilla detachment he had lost contact with, were factors that weighed considerably in the development of events. But Che, with his iron will, overcame his physical difficulties and never for an instant cut back his activity or let his spirits flag.

Che had many contacts with the Bolivian peasants. Their character—highly suspicious and cautious—would have come as no surprise to Che, who knew their mentality perfectly well because he had dealt with them on other occasions. He knew that winning them over to the cause required long, arduous, and patient work, but he had no doubt that in the long run they would obtain the support of the peasants.

If we follow the thread of events carefully, it becomes clear that even when the number of men on whom Che could count was quite small—in the month of September, a few weeks before his death—the guerrilla unit still retained its capacity to develop. It also still had a few Bolivian cadres, such as the brothers Inti and Coco Peredo, who were already beginning to show magnificent leadership potential.

It was the ambush in La Higuera [on September 26, 1967]— the sole successful action by the army against the detachment led by Che—that created a situation they could not overcome. In that ambush, in broad daylight, the vanguard group was killed and several more men were wounded as they headed for a peasant area with a higher level of political development—an objective that does not appear to have been noted in the diary but which is known through the survivors. It was without doubt dangerous to advance by daylight along the same route they had been following for days, with inevitably close contact with the residents of an area they were entering for the first time. It was certainly obvious that the army would intercept them at some point; but Che, fully conscious of this, decided to run the risk in order to help the doctor [Octavio de la Concepción de la Pedreja (El Médico)], who was in very poor physical condition.

The day before the ambush, he wrote, “We reached Pujio but there were people who had seen us down below the day before, which means we are being announced ahead of time by Radio Bemba [word of mouth] … Traveling with mules is becoming dangerous, we are trying to make it as easy as possible for El Médico because he is becoming very weak.”

The following day he wrote, “At 13:00, the vanguard set out to try to reach Jagüey and to make a decision there about the mules and El Médico.” That is, he was seeking a solution for the sick, so as to get off the road and take the necessary precautions. But that same afternoon, before the vanguard reached Jagüey, the fatal ambush occurred, leaving the detachment in an untenable situation.

A few days later, encircled in the El Yuro ravine, Che fought his final battle.

Recalling the feat carried out by this handful of revolutionaries is deeply moving. The struggle against the hostile natural environment in which their action took place constitutes by itself an insuperable page of heroism. Never in history has so small a number of men embarked on such a gigantic task. Their faith and absolute conviction that the immense revolutionary capacity of the peoples of Latin America could be awakened, their confidence in themselves, and the determination with which they took on this objective—these things give us a just measure of these men.

One day Che said to the guerrilla fighters in Bolivia, “This type of struggle gives us the opportunity to become revolutionaries, the highest form of the human species, and it also allows us to emerge fully as men; those who are unable to achieve either of those two states should say so now and abandon the struggle.”

Those who fought with him until the end have become worthy of such honored terms; they symbolize the type of revolutionary and the type of person history is now calling on for a truly challenging and difficult task—the revolutionary transformation of Latin America.

The enemy our forebears faced in the first struggle for independence was a decadent colonial power. Revolutionaries have as their enemy today the most powerful bulwark of the imperialist camp, equipped with the most modern technology and industry. This enemy not only organized and equipped a new army for Bolivia—where the people had destroyed the previous repressive military apparatus—and immediately sent weapons and advisers to help in the struggle against the guerrillas. It has also provided military and technical support on the same scale to every repressive force on the continent. And when these methods are not enough, it has intervened directly with its troops, as in the Dominican Republic.

Fighting this enemy requires the type of revolutionaries and individuals Che spoke of. Without this type of revolutionary and human being, ready to do what they did; without the spirit to confront the enormous obstacles they faced; without the readiness to die that accompanied them at every moment; without their deeply held conviction in the justice of their cause and their unyielding faith in the invincible force of the peoples, against a power like Yankee imperialism, whose military, technical, and economic resources are felt throughout the entire world—without these, the liberation of the peoples of this continent will not be attained.

The people of the United States themselves are beginning to become aware that the monstrous political superstructure that reigns in their country has for some time no longer been the idyllic bourgeois republic the country’s founders established nearly 200 years ago. They are increasingly subjected to the moral barbarism of an irrational, alienating, dehumanized, and brutal system that takes from the people of the United States a growing number of victims in its wars of aggression, its political crimes, its racial aberrations, the miserable hierarchy it has created among human beings, its repugnant waste of economic, scientific, and human resources on its enormous, reactionary, and repressive military apparatus—in the midst of a world where three-quarters of humanity live in underdevelopment and hunger.

Only the revolutionary transformation of Latin America will enable the people of the United States to settle their own accounts with imperialism. At the same time, and in the same way, the growing struggle of the people of the United States against imperialist policy can become a decisive ally of the revolutionary movement in Latin America.

An enormous differentiation and imbalance occurred in the Americas at the beginning of this century. On one side a powerful and rapidly industrializing nation, in accordance with the very law of its social and economic dynamics, was marching toward imperial heights. On the other side, the weak and stagnant countries in the Balkanized remainder of the Americas were kept under the boot of feudal oligarchies and their reactionary armies. If this part of the hemisphere does not undergo a profound revolutionary transformation, that earlier gap will seem but a pale reflection of not just the enormous present unevenness in finance, science, and technology, but rather of the horrible imbalance that, at an increasingly accelerated rate, the imperialist superstructure will impose on the peoples of Latin America in the next 20 years.

If we stay on this road, we will be increasingly poor, weak, dependent, and enslaved to imperialism. This gloomy perspective also confronts, to an equal degree, all the underdeveloped nations of Africa and Asia. If the industrializedand educated nations of Europe, with their Common Market and supranational scientific institutions, are worried about the possibility of being left behind, and contemplate with fear the perspective of being converted into economic colonies of Yankee imperialism, what does the future have in store for the peoples of Latin America?

This is unquestionably the real situation that decisively affects the destiny of our peoples. What is urgently needed is a deep-going revolutionary transformation that can gather together all the moral, material, and human forces in this part of the world and launch them forward so as to overcome the economic, scientific, and technological backwardness of centuries; a backwardness that is greater still when compared with the industrialized world to which we are tributaries and will continue to be to an even greater degree, especially to the United States. If some liberal or bourgeois reformist, or some pseudorevolutionary charlatan, incapable of action, has a different answer; and if, in addition, that person can provide the formula, the magic road to carrying it out, that is different from Che’s conception—one that can sweep away the oligarchs, despots, and petty politicians, that is to say, the servants, and the Yankee monopolists, in other words, the masters, and can do it with all the urgency the circumstances require—then let them stand up to challenge Che.

But no one really has an honest answer or a consistent policy that will bring genuine hope to the nearly 300 million human beings who make up the population of Latin America. Devastatingly poor in their overwhelming majority and increasing in number to 600 million within 25 years, they have the right to the material things of life, to culture, and to civilization. So the most dignified attitude would be to remain silent in face of the action of Che and those who fell with him, courageously defending their ideas. The feat carried out by this handful of guerrila fighters, guided by the noble idea of redeeming a continent, will remain the greatest proof of what determination, heroism, and human greatness can accomplish. It is an example that will illuminate the consciousness and preside over the struggle of the peoples of Latin America. Che’s heroic cry will reach the receptive ear of the poor and exploited for whom he gave his life; many hands will come forward to take up arms to win their definitive liberation.

On October 7, Che wrote his last lines. The following day at 1 p.m., in a narrow ravine where he proposed waiting until nightfall in order to break out of the encirclement, a large enemy force made contact with them. The small group of men who now made up the detachment fought heroically until dusk. From individual positions located on the bottom of the ravine, and on the cliffs above, they faced a mass of soldiers who surrounded and attacked them. There were no survivors among those who fought in the positions closest to Che. Since beside him were the doctor in the grave state of health mentioned before, and a Peruvian guerrilla who was also in very poor physical condition, everything seems to indicate that until he fell wounded, Che did his utmost to safeguard the withdrawal of these comrades to a safer place. The doctor was not killed in the same battle, but rather several days later at a place not far from the Quebrada del Yuro [El Yuro ravine]. The ruggedness of the rocky, irregular terrain made it difficult—at times impossible—for the guerrillas to maintain visual contact. Those defending positions at the other entrance to the ravine, some hundreds of meters from Che, among them Inti Peredo, resisted the attack until dark, when they managed to lose the enemy and head toward the previously agreed point of regroupment.

It has been possible to establish that Che continued fighting despite being wounded, until a shot destroyed the barrel of his M-2 rifle, making it totally useless. The pistol he carried had no magazine. These incredible circumstances explain how he could have been captured alive. The wounds in his legs kept him from walking without help, but they were not fatal.

Moved to the town of La Higuera, he remained alive for about 24 hours. He refused to exchange a single word with his captors, and a drunken officer who tried to annoy him received a slap across the face.

At a meeting in La Paz, Barrientos, Ovando, and other top military leaders coldly made the decision to murder Che. Details are known of the way in which the treacherous agreement was carried out in the school at La Higuera. Major Miguel Ayoroa and Colonel Andrés Selich, rangers trained by the Yankees, ordered warrant officer Mario Terán to proceed with the murder. Terán, completely drunk, entered the school yard. When Che, who heard the shots hat had just killed a Bolivian [Willy] and a Peruvian guerrilla fighter [Chino], saw the executioner hesitate, he said firmly, “Shoot! Don’t be afraid!” Terán left, and again it was necessary for his superiors, Ayoroa and Selich, to repeat the order. He then proceeded to carry it out, firing a machine gun burst at the belt down. A statement had already been released that Che died a few hours after combat; therefore, the executioners had orders not to shoot him in the chest or head, so as not to induce fatal wounds immediately. This cruelly prolonged Che’s agony until a sergeant, also drunk, killed him with a pistol shot to the left side of his body. Such a procedure contrasts brutally with the respect shown by Che, without a single exception, toward the lives of the many officers and soldiers of the Bolivian Army he took prisoner.

The final hours of his existence in the hands of his contemptible enemies must have been very bitter for him, but no one was better prepared than Che to be put to such a test.

The way in which the diary came into our hands cannot be told at this time; suffice it to say it required no monetary payment. It contains all the notes he wrote from November 7, 1966, the day Che arrived in Ñacahuazú, until October 7, 1967, the evening before the battle in the El Yuro ravine. There are a few pages missing, pages that have not yet reached our hands; but they correspond to dates on which nothing of any importance happened, and therefore do not alter the content of the diary in any way. [3]

Although the document itself offers not the slightest doubt as to its authenticity, all photocopies have been subjected to a rigorous examination to establish not only their authenticity but also to check on any possible alteration, no matter how slight. The dates were compared with the diary of one of the surviving guerrilla fighters; both documents coincided in every aspect. Detailed testimony of the other surviving guerrilla fighters, who were witnesses to each of the events, also contributed to establishing the document’s authenticity. In short, it has been established with absolute certainty that all the photocopies were faithful copies of Che’s diary.

It was a laborious job to decipher the small and difficult handwriting, a task that was carried out with the tireless assistance of his compañera, Aleida March.

Hasta la victoria siempre! [Ever onward to victory]

Written for the first authorized edition of Che’s The Bolivian Diary, published in July 1968.


​​​​​​​1.  Ernesto Che Guevara, Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2022).

2. Ernesto Che Guevara, Che Guevara Reader (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2022).

3. These pages are now incorporated in this edition.

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