Thus, I remember that during the days of Batista’s final offensive in the Sierra Maestra mountains against our militant but small forces, the most experienced cadres were not in the front lines; they were assigned strategic leadership assignments and save for our devastating counterattack. It would have been pointless to put Che, Camilo [Cienfuegos], and other compañeros who had participated in many battles at the head of a squad. We held them back so that they could subsequently lead columns that would undertake risky missions of great importance, it was then that we did send them in enemy territory with full responsibility and awareness of the risks as in the case of the invasion of Las Villas led by Camilo and Che, an extraordinarily difficult assignment that required men of great experience and authority as column commanders, men capable of reaching the goal.
In line with this reasoning, and considering the objectives, perhaps it would have been better if this principle had been observed and Che had joined at a later stage. It really was no so critical for him to handle everything right from the start. But he was impatient, very impatient really. Some Argentine comrades had been killed in the initial efforts he had made years before, including Ricardo Massetti, the founder of Presna Latina. He remembered that often and was really impatient to start to participate personally in the work.
As always, we respected our commitments and his views, for our relationship was always based on absolute trust, absolute brotherhood, regardless of our ideas about what would be the right time for him to join in. And so we gave him all the help and the facilities possible to start the struggle. The news came of the first clashes, and contact was completely lost. The enemy detected the initial stage of organization of the guerrilla movement, and that marked the start of a period lasting many months in which almost the only news we received was what came via international news dispatches, and we had to know how to interpret them. But that’s something our revolution had become very experienced at: determining when a report is reliable or when it is made up, false.
I remember, for example, when a dispatch came with the news of the death of Joaquín’s grip (his real name was Vilo Acuña.* When we analyzed it, I immediately concluded that it was true, this was because of the way they described how the group had been eliminated while crossing a river. Because of our own guerrilla experience, because of what we had lived through, we knew how a small guerrilla group can be done away with. We knew the few, exceptional ways such a group can be destroyed,
When it was reported that a peasant had made contact with the army and provided detailed information on the location and plans of the group, which was looking for a way to cross the river; how the army set up an ambush on the other bank at a spot on the route the same peasant had told the guerrilla fighters to use; the way the army opened fire in midstream; there was no doubt as to the truth of the explanation. If the writers of false reports, which came in often, tried to do it again, it was impossible to admit that they, who were always so clumsy in their lies, would have had enough intelligence and experience to make up the exact and only circumstances in which the group could be eliminated. That’s why we conclude the report was true. Long years of revolutionary experience had taught us to decipher dispatches and tell the difference between the truth and the falsehood of each development; although, of course, there are other things to keep in mind when making a judgment. But that was the type of information we had about the situation until the news of Che’s death arrived.
As we have explained, we had hopes that even with only twenty men left, even in a very difficult situation, the guerrillas still had a chance. They were headed toward an area where sectors of the peasants were organized, where some good Bolivian cadres had influence, and until that moment, until almost the very end, there was chance that the movement could consolidate and could develop. But the circumstances in which my relationship with Che were so unique — the almost unreal history of the brief but intense saga of the first year of the revolution when we were used to making the impossible possible — that is, as I explained to that journalist, one had the permanent impression that Che had not died, that he was still alive. Sine his was such an exemplary personality, so unforgettable, so familiar, it was difficult to resign oneself to the idea of his death.
Sometimes I would dream — all of us dream of things related to our lives and struggles — that I saw Che, that he returned, that we was alive. How often this happened! I told the journalist that these are feelings you seldom talk about, but they give an idea of the impact of Che’s personality and also of the extraordinary degree to which he really lives on, almost as if his was a physical presence, with his ideas and deeds, with his example and all the things he created, with his continued relevance and the respect for him not only in Latin America but in Europe and all over the world. As we predicted on October 18, twenty years ago, he became a symbol for all the oppressed, for all the exploited, for all the patriotic and democratic forces, for all the revolutionaries. He became a permanent and invincible symbol.
We feel Che’s presence for all these reasons, because of the real force that he still has today which, even though twenty years have gone by, exists in the spirit of all of us, when we hear the poem, when we hear the anthem, or the bugle is sounded before a moment’s silence, when we open our newspapers and see photographs of Che during different stages of his life, his image, so well known throughout the world — because it has to be said that Che not only had the virtues and all the human moral qualities to be a symbol, he also had the appearance of a symbol, the image of a symbol: his look, the frankness and strength of his look; his face, which reflects character irrepressibly determined for action, at the same time showing great intelligence and great purity — when we look at the poems that have been written, the episodes that are recounted, and the stories that are repeated, we feel the reality of Che’s relevance, of his presence.
It’s not strange if one feels Che’s presence not only in everyday life, but even in dreams if one imagines that he is alive, that Che is in action and that he never died. In the end we must reach the conclusion that for all intents and purposes in the life of our revolution, Che never died, and the light that of what has been done, he is more alive than ever, has more influence than ever, and is a more powerful opponent of imperialism than ever. Those who disposed of his body so that he would not become a symbol; those who, under the guidance of the methods of their imperial masters, did not want any trace to remain, have discovered that although his tomb is unmarked, there are no remains, and there is no body, nevertheless a frightening opponent of imperialism, a symbol, a force, a presence that can never be destroyed, does exist.
When they hid Che’s body, they showed their weakness and their cowardice, because they also showed their fear of the example and the symbol. They did not want the exploited peasants, the workers, the students, the intellectuals, the democrats, the progressives or the patriots of this hemisphere to have a place to go to pay tribute to Che’s remains. And in the world today, in which there is no specific place to go to pay tribute to Che’s remains, tribute is paid to everywhere.
Today tribute is not paid to Che once a year, not once ever five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years; today homage is paid to Che every year every month, every day, everywhere, in a factory, in a school, in a military barracks, in a home, among children, among Pioneers. Who can count how many millions of times in these twenty years, the Pioneers have said: “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che”!
Really, there can be no superior symbol, there can be no better image, when searching for a model revolutionary man, when searching for the model communist. I say this because I have the deepest conviction — I always have had and I still have today, just the same or more so when I spoke that October 18 and I asked how we wanted our fighters, our revolutionaries, our party members, our children to be, and I said we wanted them to be like Che. Because Che is the personification, Che is the image of that new man, the image of that human being if we want to talk about a communist society; if our real objective is to build, not just socialism but the higher stages of socialism, if humanity is not going to renounce the lofty and extraordinary idea of living in a communist society one day.
If we need a paradigm, a model, an example to follow, then men like Che are essential, as are men and women who imitate him, who are like him, who think like, who act like him; men and women whose conduct resembles his when it comes to doing their duty, in every little thing, every detail, every activity; in his attitude toward work, his habit of teaching and educating by setting an example; his attitude of wanting to be first at everything, the first to volunteer for the most difficult tasks, the hardest ones, the most self-sacrificing ones; the individual who gives his body and soul to others, the person who displays true solidarity, the individual who never lets down a compañero; the simple man; the man without a flaw, who doesn’t live any contradiction between what he says and what he does, between what he practices and what he preaches; a man of thought and a man of action — all of which Che symbolizes.
For our country, it is a great honor and privilege to have had Che as a son of our people even though he wasn’t born in this land. He was a son because he earned the right consider himself and to be considered a son of our country, and it is an honor and a privilege for our people, for our country, for our country’s history, for our revolution to have had among its ranks a truly exceptional man such as Che.
That’s not to say that exceptional people are rare; that’s not to say that amid the masses there are not hundreds, thousands, even millions of exceptional men and women. I said it once during the bitter days after Camilo disappeared. When I recounted the history of how Camilo became the man he was, I said: “Among our people there are many Camilos.” I could say: “Among our peoples, among the peoples of Latin America and peoples of the world, there are many Ches.” But, why do we call them exceptional? Because in actual fact, in the world in which they lived, in the circumstances in which they lived, they had the chance and the opportunity to demonstrate all that man, with his generosity and solidarity, is capable of being. And, indeed, seldom do ideal circumstances exist in which man has the opportunity to express himself and to show everything he has inside as was the case with Che.
Of course, it’s clear that there are countless men and women among the masses who, partly as a result of other people’s examples and certain new values, are capable of heroism, including a kind of heroism I greatly admire: silent heroism, anonymous heroism, silent virtue, anonymous virtue, But given that its so unusual, so rare for all the necessary circumstances to exist to produce a figure like Che — who today has become a symbol for world, a symbol that will grow — it is a great honor and privilege that this figure was born during our revolution.
And as proof of what I said earlier about Che’s presence and force today, I could ask: Is there a better date, a better anniversary than this one to remember Che with all our conviction and deep feelings of appreciation and gratitude? Is there a better moment than this particular anniversary, when we are in the middle of the rectification process?
What are we rectifying? We are rectifying all those things — and there are many — that strayed from the revolutionary spirit, from revolutionary work, revolutionary virtue, revolutionary effort, revolutionary responsibility; all those things that strayed from the spirit of solidarity among people. We’re rectifying all the shoddiness and mediocrity that is precisely the negation of Che’s ideas, his revolutionary thought, his style, his spirit and his example. I really believe, and I say it with great satisfaction, that if Che were sitting in this chair, he would feel jubilant. He would be happy about what we are doing these days, just like he would have felt very unhappy during that unstable period, that disgraceful period of building socialism in which there began to prevail a series of ideas, of mechanisms, of bad habits, which would have caused Che to feel profound and terrible bitterness.