Congo Diary The Story of Che Guevara’s Lost

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Only Ernesto Che Guevara could disappear into a sugar cane field as a volunteer worker in Cuba and re-emerge as an internationalist fighting for liberation in Africa, living his words with deeds. Guevara learned bitter lessons leading a guerrilla column in the Congo (1965) that in any case would still cost him his life almost two years later in Bolivia. He starts his diary with a gut-wrenching transparency of truthfulness that only he, Che, mastered. So much that this work of his time in the Congo would not be published for more than two decades because of what his critical views of the national liberation struggles and the role and responsibilities of the socialist countries. He wrote something like:

This is the story of a failure.

Would he have said the same of his time in Bolivia, could any one say this about his life and work Only he could. Yet, he did not get to sum up his year in Bolivia organizing guerrilla movement of internationalist dedicated to a national liberation struggle,

The beauty of his efforts in Cuba, the Congo, and Bolivia was that he did not expect any of his comrades in arms to do what he could do himself. Leadership of a new type, the new human that is still desperately needed, however, to struggle with non-violent strategies. Not at any cost.

In Africa, Che learned (or maybe he didn't) that solidarity and internationalism alone could not transform and convene, converge a fragmented revolutionary movement. That he had to have executive power to make tactical and strategic moves and positions to advance what he believed was the way to advance a revolutionary transformation. In the field, in the camps, in the supply and support lines, in the thinking and development of revolutionary consciousness embedded in practical and revolutionary actions. When he was the subordinate in Africa, because he was there to support and serve, he learned that without unity of vision and a stellar commitment to victory or death that mistakes not his making decisively led to unravel his project. The moral of his troops, all Black Cubans except for him and a few others, was not helped when they would see the warriors they were there to work with and support fail to step up to the front lines of their struggle. Even a seemingly small announcement, when Fidel Castro read Che's letter of resignation -- a tactical maneuver nonetheless to throw imperialism off balance believing there was a riff among the Cuban leadership -- impacted and confused and demoralized his comrades-in-arms in Africa.

Guevara's plan all along was to use his experience and work in the Congo to prepare for carrying out an internationalist mission somewhere in Latin America. He was thinking two, three revolutions ahead of everyone else. Che wrote about the importance of revolutionary movements, if not coordinating at least guided by the same belief that their struggles and blows in different spaces against imperialism could bring about if not its downfall, at least setbacks to create breathing room for national liberations.

Che was a brilliant writer, on top of being a brilliant thinker and self-less warrior. Even as the Cuban internationalists were being pulled out of the Congo, Che was trying to convince himself and others to stay behind, saving face and showing that human determination and invulnerable human will to fight to the end that could only be dubbed Che Guevara. He spent time in clandestinity, writing about his internationalist foray in the Congo. Che was even joined by his wife who came to provide salve and solace to his predicament: a failure in the Congo, publicly disassociated from the Cuban revolution, he did not want to return to Cuba. He written elsewhere that in a real revolution one either wins or one dies. And here he was alive.

In clandestinity Che Guevara was also the keen photographer, taking selfies in his room somewhere in a Cuban embassy. Clean-shaven, the physique of a demigod, Guevara looks like the twenty-something in the photographs of him in Mexico City. Che returns again in clandestinity to Cuba, already with plans to continue his internationalist work and project. He has photos with his wife, they look more like a Hollywood couple on a get-away than two revolutionaries in love and struggle consoling each other with tenderness that could heal the wounds of having being separated.

In Bolivia, Che wanted to collaborate with his ideological counterparts but would not share the leadership of the guerrilla movement with the Bolivian communist leadership. He had learned a hard lesson in Africa and a new lesson appeared with new variations in the Bolivian mountains: that different types of leadership and expertise are needed to transform the transformers. His communication and supply lines, both for cadre and food, weapons and a leadership body that might approximate peers, solidarity from those in Bolivia that mattered the most, and historical timing -- what was possible in Bolivia -- were all off and/or missing. Beset by early losses, illness and lack of medicines and food, a enemy that was adapting new surveillance technology to hunt down the guerrillas tilted the moment in favor of the U.S. and its Bolivian partners.

Read Guervara's Adrican diary for his brilliant thinking, his fearless critiques and self-critiques, the harrowing experiences of true band of brothers who were trailblazers in making the road on international resistance possible. Che's exploits in Africa, Bolivia and elsewhere built Cuba's capacity to support national liberation movements at strategic turning points, helping defeat the South Africa apartheid regime's incursions in southern Africa that laid the groundwork for successful national liberation movements and the ultimate defeat of apartheid.

My grandmother said that for any one of us to be successful, a thousand others will have tried and failed sometimes the same exact action or dream. Che Guevara was one of those unique thousand trailblazers that implemented his beliefs and theories of revolution so that others could one day be successful.


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