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Fidel's Executioner By: Humberto Fontova
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 14, 2005


This is the fourth article in our "Leftwing Monsters" series, the first of which featured Humberto Fontova's profile of Fidel Castro. "Leftwing Monsters" is a feature of www.discoverthenetworks.org where the entire series will be archived -- The Editors.

In August of 1960, a year and a half after Che Guevara entered Havana ahead of his "column" of "guerrillas," Time magazine featured the revolutionary comandante on its cover and crowned him the "Brains of the Cuban Revolution." (Fidel Castro was "the heart" and Raul Castro "the fist.")

"Wearing a smile of melancholy sweetness that many women find devastating," read the Time article, "Che guides Cuba with icy calculation, vast competence, high intelligence and a perceptive sense of humor."

 

"This is not a Communist Revolution in any sense of the term," The New York Times had declared a year earlier. "Fidel Castro is not only not a Communist, he is decidedly anti-Communist."

 

"It would be a great mistake," Walter Lippmann wrote in the Washington Post that same month, "even to intimate that Castro's Cuba has any real prospect of becoming a Soviet satellite."

 

A few months earlier the London Observer had observed: "Mr. Castro's bearded youthful figure has become a symbol of Latin America's rejection of brutality and lying. Every sign is that he will reject personal rule and violence."

 

Time magazine was in perfect sync with her major-media peers -- utterly wrong. Guevara was no more the brains of the Cuban Revolution than Cheka-head Felix Drezhinsky had been the brains of the Bolshevik Revolution, or Gestapo chief Himmler the brains of the National Socialist Revolution, or KGB head Beria the brains behind Stalinism. In fact Che performed the same role for Fidel Castro as Drezhinsky performed for Lenin, Himmler for Hitler and Beria for Stalin. Che Guevara was the Castro regime’s chief executioner.

 

Under Che, Havana's La Cabana fortress was converted into Cuba's Lubianka. He was a true Chekist: "Always interrogate your prisoners at night," Che commanded his prosecutorial goons, "a man is easier to cow at night, his mental resistance is always lower." [1]

 

A Cuban prosecutor of the time who quickly defected in horror and disgust named Jose Vilasuso estimates that Che signed 400 death warrants the first few months of his command in La Cabana. A Basque priest named Iaki de Aspiazu, who was often on hand to perform confessions and last rites, says Che personally ordered 700 executions by firing squad during the period. Cuban journalist Luis Ortega, who knew Che as early as 1954, writes in his book Yo Soy El Che! that Guevara sent 1,897 men to the firing squad.

 

In his book Che Guevara: A Biography, Daniel James writes that Che himself admitted to ordering "several thousand" executions during the first year of the Castro regime. Felix Rodriguez, the Cuban-American CIA operative who helped track him down in Bolivia and was the last person to question him, says that Che during his final talk, admitted to "a couple thousand" executions. But he shrugged them off as all being of "imperialist spies and CIA agents."

 

Vengeance, much less justice, had little to do with the Castro/Che directed bloodbath in the first months of 1959. Che's murderous agenda in La Cabana fortress in 1959 was exactly Stalin's murderous agenda in the Katyn Forest in 1940. Like Stalin's massacre of the Polish officer corps, like Stalin's Great Terror against his own officer corps a few years earlier, Che's firing squad marathons were a perfectly rational and cold blooded exercise that served their purpose ideally. His bloodbath decapitated literally and figuratively the first ranks of Cuba's anti-Castro rebels.

 

Five years earlier, while still a Communist hobo in Guatemala, Che had seen the Guatemalan officer corps with CIA assistance rise against the Red regime of Jacobo Arbenz and send him and his Communist minions hightailing into exile. (For those leftists who still think that Arbenz was an innocent "nationalist" victimized by the fiendish United Fruit Company and their CIA proxies, please note: Arbenz sought exile not in France or Spain or even Mexico -- the traditional havens for deposed Latin-American politicians -- but in the Soviet satellite, Czechoslovakia. Also, the coup went into motion, not when Arbenz started nationalizing United Fruit property, but when a cargo of Soviet-bloc weapons arrived in Guatemala. "Arbenz didn't execute enough people," was how Guevara explained the Guatemalan coup's success. [2]

 

Fidel and Che didn't want a repeat of the Guatemalan coup in Cuba. Equally important, the massacres cowed and terrorized. Most of them came after public trials. And the executions, right down to the final shattering of the skull with the coup de grace from a massive .45 slug fired at five paces, were public too. Guevara made it a policy for his men to parade the families and friends of the executed before the blood, bone and brain spattered firing squad.

 

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-- 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 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. [3] Evidently, 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 swindler, Fidel Castro, who also dispatched the hero deliberately to his death. As those who know say "Fidel only praises the dead."

 

                                    ******

 

As for the rest of Time's assertions, 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 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. [4]

 

In 1960 Castro appointed Che as Cuba's "Minister of Economics." 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 hemorrhaging 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 confessed to his multiple economic errors and failings. Actually, given the goal of Cuba's ruler since January of 1959 -- i.e., 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 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 that a golden goose had landed in his lap. But Castro wrung its neck. He deliberately and methodically wrecked Latin America's premier economy. A Cuban capitalist is a person that couldn’t be controlled, Castro reasoned then, and continues to do so to this day. Despite a flood of tourism and foreign investment for over a decade, Cuba in 2005 is as essentially as poor (and Communist) as it was in 1965 or worse. The Castro brothers are 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% he seemed to believe it.

 

Castro didn't care. He simply knew as a result he'd be running Cuba like his personal plantation, with the Cuban people as his cattle.

 

This is where libertarian/free-market ideologues 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 – the idol of his youth. 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 Guevara's most famous book is titled Guerrilla Warfare. His famous photo is captioned "Heroic Guerrilla." On the other hand his most resounding failure came precisely as a guerrilla, while there is no record of him prevailing in any bona-fide guerrilla battle. In fact, there are precious few accounts that he actually fought in anything properly described as a battle. The one that describes his most famous military exploit is referred to as "The Battle of Santa Clara," which took place in December 1958. The loss of this "battle" by the Batista forces is alleged to have 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," proclaimed 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" the articles continued. "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. [5] 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 is 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.[6] It turned out, unbeknownst to the troops inside, Guevara had used funds the revolutionaries had raised from anti-Batista Cubans to buy the train and all its armaments had from its corrupt commander Colonel Florentino Rossell, who had already fled to Miami. The price was either $350,000 or $1,000,000, depending on the source. [7]

 

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." [8]

 

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 an El Diario de 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." Dr. Serafin Ruiz was a Castro operative in Santa Clara at the time, but apparently an essentially decent one. "But Comandante" he responded to Che's order. "Our revolution promises not to execute without trials, without proof. How can we just....?"

 

"Look Serafin" Che snorted back. "If your bourgeois prejudices won’t allow you to carry out my orders, fine. Go ahead and try them tomorrow morning--but execute them NOW!" [9] It was a Marxist version of the Red Queen's famous line to Alice in Wonderland: "Sentence first--verdict afterwards!"  

 

Che Guevara's own diary puts the grand total of his forces' losses during the entire two-year long "civil war" in Cuba at 20, about equal to the average number dead during Rio de Janeiro's carnival every year. To put it briefly, Batista's army barely fought.

 

Officials in Cuba's U.S. embassy at the time became a little skeptical about all the battlefield bloodshed and heroics reported in the New York Times and investigated. They ran down every reliable lead and eyewitness account of what the New York Times kept reporting as bloody civil war with thousands dead in single battles.

 

They found that in the entire Cuban countryside, in those two years of "ferocious" battles between rebel forces and Batista troops, the total casualties on both sides actually amounted to 182. [10] New Orleans has an annual murder rate double that.

 

Typically, Che Guevara doesn't even merit credit for the perfectly sensible scheme of bribing rather than fighting Batista's army. The funds for these bribes derived mostly from Fidel's snookering of Batista's wealthy political opponents, convincing them that he was a "patriotic Cuban, a democrat," and that they should join, or at least help fund, his 26th of July Movement in order to bring democracy and prosperity to Cuba.

 

In late 1957 Castro signed an agreement called “The Miami Pact” with several anti-Batista Cuban politicians and ex-ministers in exile at the time. Most of these were quite wealthy. Indeed if the term, "rich, white Miami Cuban exiles," that liberals scornfully use against current Cuban-Americans ever fit -- it was for the mulatto Batista’s liberal opponents, for Fidel Castro's early backers. Among these was former president Carlos Prio who Batista had ousted in his (bloodless) coup in 1952, along with many of Prio's ministers and business cronies.

 

In fact, Guevara went ballistic over the Miami Pact, when he first learned of it, over this shameful deal with "bourgeois" elements. "I refuse to lend my historic name to that crime!" he wrote. "We rebels have proffered our asses in the most despicable act of buggery that Cuban history is likely to recall!" [11]

 

It was despicable buggery for sure. But Che had the buggerers and the buggerees reversed. Lenin coined the term "Useful Idiots," but to this day Castro remains history's virtuoso at snaring and employing them.

 

That a "guerrilla war" with "peasant and worker backing" overthrew Batista is among the century's most widespread and persistent academic fables. No Cuban Castroites who participated actually believe this. The Associated Press dispatches about Castro and Che's "war" were actually concocted and written by Castro's own agent in New York, Mario Llerena, who admits as much in his book, The Unsuspected Revolution. Llerena was also the contact with Castro's most famous publicity agent, the New York Times, Herbert Matthews. National Review's famous 1960 cartoon showing a beaming Castro, "I got my job through the New York Times!" nailed it.

 

To give them credit, most of Castro's comandantes knew their Batista war had been an elaborate ruse and 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.

 

British historian Hugh Thomas, though a leftist Labour Party member who sympathized with Castro's revolution, studied mountains of records and simply could not evade the truth. His massive and authoritative historical volume Cuba sums it up very succinctly: "In all essentials Castro's battle for Cuba was a public relations campaign, fought in New York and Washington."

 

Che Guevara, himself, possessed an immense capacity for self-deception. On a state visit to Czechoslovakia in 1960 his Cuban companions pointed out the numerous prostitutes on the streets and in the very hotel where they stayed. Che nodded wearily. Back in Cuba when one of them winked and brought up the prostitutes Che flared indignantly. "I didn't see any prostitutes there!" [12]

 

The Cubans looked at each other shrugging but knew better than to press the issue. Che didn't want to remember the sight of prostitutes. He wanted to convince himself that such a thing was impossible in a glorious Socialist nation, a sister republic.

 

That gift for self-deception probably led him to believe the guerrilla war fable. And while trying to duplicate it in Bolivia he paid for his obtuseness and wishful thinking with his life. In Cuba, Che couldn't find anyone to fight against him. In the Congo, scene of another of his guerrilla forays, he couldn't find anyone to fight with him. In Bolivia he finally started getting a tiny taste of both. In short order he was betrayed by the very peasants he set out to liberate (but who didn't see it quite that way), brought to ground and killed.

 

Shortly after entering Havana with the revolutionary forces, Che was already advising, equipping and dispatching guerrilla forces in an attempt to duplicate the Cuban Revolution in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Every one of those guerrilla forces (which were Cuban Communist-led and staffed) was wiped out in short order, usually to the last man. Rafael Trujillo and Luis Somoza weren't about to follow Batista's example of pussyfooting against guerrillas.

 

A few years later Che equipped, advised and sent more guerrillas to Argentina and Guatemala. Again they were stamped out almost to a man. These guerrilla expeditions cost the lives of two of Che's fatally credulous friends: the Argentine Jorge Masseti and the Guatemalan Julio Caceres.

 

Leftist "scholars" complain about The Bay of Pigs invasion as "Yankee intervention" (though every single invader, including the commanders was Cuban) against an innocent nationalist revolution that wished only to be left alone. They might revisit the documentary evidence. In fact Castro and Che launched five of their own versions of the Bay of Pigs invasions before the U.S. had even started contingency planning for theirs.

 

Castro seemed to know these invasions to spark revolutions were futile. But for Castro they still had a handy rationale. "These foreigners are nothing but troublemakers," he told a Cuban rebel named Lazaro Ascencio right after the revolutionary triumph. "Know what I'm going to do with Che Guevara? I'm going to send him to Santo Domingo and see if Trujillo kills him." [14]

 

How serious was Castro? We can only guess. But found a way for Che to earn his keep and stay of trouble in Cuba by assigning him as commander of La Cabana, the fortress where political prisoners were held and killed.

 

Che's role in "Imperialism's First Defeat!" as Castro refers to the Bay of Pigs invasion merits mention. The American invasion plan included a ruse in which a CIA squad dispatched three rowboats off the coast of western Cuba in Pinar Del Rio (350 miles from the true invasion site) loaded with time release Roman candles, bottle rockets, mirrors and a tape recording of battle.

 

The wily Guerrilla Che immediately deciphered the imperialist scheme. That little feint 300 miles away at the Bay of Pigs was a transparent ruse, he determined. The real invasion was coming in Pinar Del Rio. Che stormed over to the site with several thousand troops, dug in, locked, loaded and waited for the "Yankee/mercenary" attack. They braced themselves as the sparklers, smoke bombs and mirrors did their stuff offshore.

 

Three days later the (literal) smoke and mirror show expended itself and Che's men marched back to Havana. Somehow Che had managed to wound himself in the heated battle against the tape recorder. The bullet pierced Che's chin and excited above his temple, just missing his brain. The scar is visible in all post April ’61 pictures of Che (the picture we see on posters and T shirts was taken a year earlier.)

 

Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a Fidelista at the time, speculates the wound may have come from a botched suicide attempt. Che hagiographers John Lee Anderson, Carlos Castaneda and Paco Taibo insist it was an accident, Che's own pistol going off just under his face.

 

 

Jorge Castaneda in his Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara cannot resist giving Che some credit for "Imperialism's First Defeat." The Mexican author (and recent foreign minister) writes that Che's role was "crucial," explaining that Cuba's 200,000 man militia played a "central role in the victory." The training of these militia had been in the hands of Che since 1960. "Without Che" Castaneda gushes, "the militias would not have been reliable."

 

Here's a summary of the Battle of the Bay of Pigs, and the militia's performance: 51,000 Castro troops and militia with limitless Soviet arms, including tanks and planes and batteries of heavy artillery met 1400 mostly civilian exile freedom-fighters most with less than a months training. These men carried only light arms and one day's ammunition. The Che-trained militia hit them, then immediately halted and fled hysterically.

 

They were ordered back, probed hesitantly again, got mauled again and retreated in headlong flight again. They marched back again, many at gun-point, and rolled in battery after battery of Soviet 122 mm Howitzers. They rained 2000 rounds of heavy artillery into lightly-armed men they outnumbered 50 -1. ("Rommel's crack Afrika Corps broke and ran under a similar bombardment," explains Bay of Pigs historian Haynes Johnson.) Then Castro's unopposed air force strafed the invaders repeatedly and at will.

 

The invaders stood their ground to the last man and the militia was forced to probe yet again -- and retreat again in headlong flight. They eventually stopped and brought in reinforcements. (50-1 was not enough.) They rained another Soviet artillery storm on the utterly abandoned and hopelessly outnumbered freedom fighters and finally moved in to overwhelm them -- after three days of effort in which the invaders hadn't eaten, drank or slept, and had run out of ammunition. Castro's forces took 5200 casualties in the process. The freedom fighters suffered 114. [14]

 

Che did show up at the battle site, but the day the shooting ended. He walked into a building strewn with captured and wounded freedom-fighters and looked around with his wry Argentine smile. "We're going to execute every one of you," he barked. Then he turned on his heels and walked out. [15] As usual, Castro had a much shrewder plan for the prisoners. His regime reaped a propaganda windfall and 62 million American dollars when JFK ransomed them back.

 

In fact, Castro was fuming at his Militia's performance. A week after the battle he visited some of the freedom-fighters in their Havana prison cells. One had been an old acquaintance from college. "Hombre, If I had 20,000 men like you guys," Castro beamed to his old friend. " I'd have all of Latin America in my hands right now!" [16]

 

                              *****************

 

One of the longest and bloodiest guerrilla wars on this continent was fought not by Fidel and Che but against Fidel and Che -- and by landless peasants. Farm collectivization was no more voluntary in Cuba than in the Ukraine. And Cuba's kulaks had guns, a few at first anyway, and put up a heroic resistance until the Kennedy-Khrushchev deal during the “Cuban Missile Crisis” finally starved them of supplies. Cubans know this war as "The Escambray Rebellion."

 

It's rarely reported, but Che Guevara had a very bloody hand in one of the major anti-insurgency wars on this continent. Seventy to 80 percent of these rural anti-communist peasant guerrillas were executed on the spot on capture. "We fought with the fury of cornered beasts" was how one of the few lucky ones who escaped alive described the guerrillas' desperate freedom-fight against the totalitarian agendas of the Cuban regime. (In 1956, when Che linked up with the Cuban exiles in Mexico city, one of them recalls Che railing against the Hungarian freedom-fighters as "Fascists!" and cheering their extermination by Soviet tanks.)

 

In 1962 Che got a chance to do more than cheer from the sidelines. "Cuban militia units (whose training and morale Jorge Castaneda insists we credit to Che) commanded by Russian officers employed flame-throwers to burn the palm-thatched cottages in the Escambray countryside. The peasant occupants were accused of feeding the counterrevolutionaries and bandits." [17]

 

The Maoist line about how "a guerrilla swims in the sea which is the people, etc.," fit Cuba's anti-Communist rebellion perfectly. Raul Castro himself admitted that his government faced 179 bands of "counter-revolutionaries" and "bandits." at the time.

 

So in a massive "relocation" campaign reminiscent of the one Spanish General Valerinao "The Butcher" Weyler carried out against Cubans during their war of independence at the turn of the century, Castro's Soviet trained armed forces ripped hundreds of thousands of rural Cubans from their ancestral homes at gunpoint and herded them into concentration camps on the opposite side of Cuba.

 

According to evidence presented to the Organization of American States by Cuban-exile researcher Dr. Claudio Beneda 4000 anti-Communist peasants were summarily executed during this rural rebellion.

 

Time magazine notwithstanding, Fidel Castro -- and Fidel Castro alone -- was the "brains" of the Cuban Revolution. And part of his acumen was his proficiency at sizing up his revolutionary companeros, then delegating jobs -- then eliminating them in various ways as circumstances dictated. With Guevara he performed masterfully. First he assigned him to be commander of Havana's La Cabana fortress, which Che promptly converted to a prison and killing field.

 

"Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any enemy that falls in my hands! My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. With the deaths of my enemies I prepare my being for the sacred fight and join the triumphant proletariat with a bestial howl!"

 

Che Guevara wrote these lines while in his early twenties, before he had gotten his hands on any such enemy. The passage appears in Che's Motorcycle Diaries, recently made into a heartwarming film by Robert Redford -- the only film to get a whooping standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival. It seems that Redford omitted this inconvenient portion of Che's diaries form his touching tribute.

 

 Two weeks after Che entered Havana and took his post at La Cabana fortress, Castro saw his instincts as a personnel manager fully vindicated. The "acrid odor of gunpowder and blood" never reached Guevara's nostrils from actual combat. It always came from the close range murder of bound, gagged and blindfolded men. "We must create the pedagogy of the paredon (firing squad.)" Che instructed his Revolutionary Tribunals: "We don't need proof to execute a man. We only need proof that it's necessary to execute him. A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate." [18]

 

Actually, Che Guevara was anything but a "cold killing machine." The term implies a certain detachment or nonchalance towards murder. In fact Che gave ample evidence of enjoying it. Almost all Cubans who knew him and are now in exile and able to talk freely (Jose Benitez, Mario Chanes de Armas Dariel Alarcon among others ) recall Che Guevara as a classic psychopath.

 

In January 1957, shortly after landing in Cuba aboard the yacht Granma with Fidel and Raul Castro, Che sent a letter to his discarded wife, Hilda Gadea. "Dear vieja (i.e, ‘Ole Lady’ -- on top of everything else, Che was also a notorious misogynist) I'm here in Cuba's hills, alive and thirsting for blood." [19] His thirst would soon be slaked.

 

In that very month, January 1957 Fidel Castro ordered the execution of a peasant guerrilla named Eutimio Guerra who he accused of being an informer for Batista's forces. Castro assigned the killing to his own bodyguard, Universo Sanchez. To everyone's surprise, Che Guevara -- a lowly rebel soldier/medic at the time (not yet a comandante -- volunteered to accompany Sanchez and another soldier to the execution site. The Cuban rebels were glum as they walked slowly down the trail in a torrential thunderstorm. Finally the little group stopped in a clearing.

 

Sanchez was hesitant, looking around, perhaps looking for an excuse to postpone or call off the execution. Dozens would follow, but this was the first execution of a Castro rebel by Castro's rebels. Suddenly without warning Che stepped up and fired his pistol into Guerra's temple. "He went into convulsions for a while and was finally still. Now his belongings were mine." Che wrote in his Diaries.

 

Shortly afterwards, Che's father in Buenos Aires received a letter from his prodigal son. "I'd like to confess, papa', at that moment I discovered that I really like killing." [20]

 

This attitude caught Castro's eye. More executions of assorted "deserters" informers" and "war criminals" quickly followed, all with Che's enthusiastic participation. One was of a captured Batista soldier, a 17-years old boy totally green to the guerrilla "war," hence his easy capture. First Che interrogated him.

 

"I haven't killed anyone, comandante," the terrified boy answered Che. "I just got out here! I'm an only son, my mother's a widow and I joined the army for the salary, to send it to her every month...don't kill me!" He blurted out when he heard Che's unmoved reply, "Don't kill me!--why?"

 

The boy was trussed up, shoved in front of a recently dug pit and murdered. [21] Fidel was privy to these events. He thought executing Batista soldiers was incredibly stupid, compared to the propaganda value of releasing them since most weren't fighting anyway. But recognized the value of executions in intimidating other Cubans, and recognized Che's value as someone who enjoyed the job. By the summer of 1957 Che Guevara had been promoted to full-fledged Major or "comandante," the Rebel army's highest rank. His fame was spreading.

 

But not all the revolutionaries were favorably impressed. In mid-1958 one of the rebels was wounded and made his way to a Dr. Hector Meruelo in the nearby town of Cienfuegos. The good doctor patched him up and a few weeks later informed him that he was well enough to return to Che's column.

 

"No, doctor," the boy responded. Please be discreet with this because it could cost me my life, but I've learned that Che is nothing but a murderer. I'm a revolutionary but I'm also a Christian. I'll go and join Camilo's column (Camilo Cienfuegos) --but never Che's." [22]

 

As commander of the La Cabana prison, Che often insisted on shattering the skull of the condemned man by firing the coup de grace himself. When other duties tore him away from his beloved execution yard, he consoled himself with watching the executions. Che's office in La Cabana had a section of wall torn out so he could watch his firing squads at work.

 

A Rumanian journalist named Stefan Bacie visited Cuba in early 1959 and was fortunate enough to get an audience with the already famous leader, whom he had also met briefly in Mexico city. The meeting took place in Che's office in La Cabana. Upon entering, the Rumanian saw Che motioning him over to his office's newly constructed window.

 

Stefan Bacie got there just in time to hear the command of fuego, hear the blast from the firing squad and see a condemned prisoner man crumple and convulse. The stricken journalist immediately left and composed a poem, titled, "I No Longer Sing of Che." ("I no longer sing of Che

any more than I would of Stalin," go the first lines.) [23]

 

A Cuban gentleman named Pierre San Martin was among those jailed by Che Guevara in the early months of the Cuban Revolution. In an El Nuevo Herald article from December 28, 1997 San Martin recalled the horrors: “Thirteen of us were crammed into a cell. Sixteen of us would stand while the other sixteen tried to sleep on the cold filthy floor. We took shifts that way. Dozens were led from the cells to the firing squad daily. The volleys kept us awake. We felt that any one of those minutes would be our last.

 

One morning the horrible sound of that rusty steel door swinging open startled us awake and Che's guards shoved a new prisoner into our cell. He was a boy, maybe 14 years old. His face was bruised and smeared with blood. "What did you do?" We asked horrified. "I tried to defend my papa," gasped the bloodied boy. "But they sent him to the firing squad."

 

Soon Che's guards returned. The rusty steel door opened and they yanked the boy out of the cell. "We all rushed to the cell's window that faced the execution pit," recalls Mr. San Martin. "We simply couldn't believe they'd murder him.

 

"Then we spotted him, strutting around the blood-drenched execution yard with his hands on his waist and barking orders--Che Guevara himself. 'Kneel down!' Che barked at the boy.

 

"Assassins!" we screamed from our window.

 

“I said: KNEEL DOWN!" Che barked again.

 

The boy stared Che resolutely in the face. "If you're going to kill me," he yelled, "you'll have to do it while I'm standing! Men die standing!"

 

"Murderers!" the men yelled desperately from their cells. "Then we saw Che unholstering his pistol. He put the barrel to the back of the boys neck and blasted. The shot almost decapitated the young boy.

 

"We erupted…'Murderers!--Assassins!'" His murder finished, Che finally looked up at us, pointed his pistol, and emptied his clip in our direction. Several of us were wounded by his shots."

 

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Humberto Fontova is the author of Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him. Visit www.hfontova.com


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