Ernesto (Che) Guevara was born in Rosario in Argentine in 1928. After studying medicine at the University of Buenos Aires he worked as a doctor. While in Guatemala in 1954 he witnessed the socialist government of President Jacobo Arbenz overthrown by an American backed military coup. Disgusted by what he saw, Guevara decided to join the Cuban revolutionary, Fidel Castro, in Mexico.
In 1956 Guevara, Castro and eighty other men and women arrived in Cuba in an attempt to overthrow the government of General Fulgencio Batista. This group became known as the July 26 Movement. The plan was to set up their base in the Sierra Maestra mountains. On the way to the mountains they were attacked by government troops. By the time they reached the Sierra Maestra there were only sixteen men left with twelve weapons between them. For the next few months Castro's guerrilla army raided isolated army garrisons and were gradually able to build-up their stock of weapons.
When the guerrillas took control of territory they redistributed the land amongst the peasants. In return, the peasants helped the guerrillas against Batista's soldiers. In some cases the peasants also joined Castro's army, as did students from the cities and occasionally Catholic priests.
In an effort to find out information about the rebels people were pulled in for questioning. Many innocent people
were tortured. Suspects, including children, were publicly executed and then left hanging in the streets for several days as a warning to others who were considering joining the revolutionaries. The behaviour of Batista's forces increased support for the guerrillas. In 1958 forty-five organizations signed an open letter supporting the July 26 Movement. National bodies representing lawyers, architects, dentists, accountants and social workers were amongst those who signed. Castro, who had originally relied on the support of the poor, was now gaining the backing of the influential middle classes.
General Fulgencio Batista responded to this by sending more troops to the Sierra Maestra. He now had 10,000 men hunting for Castro and his 300-strong army. Although outnumbered, Castro's guerrillas were able to inflict defeat after defeat on the government's troops. In the summer of 1958 over a thousand of Batista's soldiers were killed or wounded and many more were captured. Unlike Batista's soldiers, Castro's troops had developed a reputation for behaving well towards prisoners. This encouraged Batista's troops to surrender to Castro when things went badly in battle. Complete military units began to join the guerrillas.
The United States supplied Batista with planes, ships and tanks, but the advantage of using the latest technology such as napalm failed to win them victory against the guerrillas. In March 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower, disillusioned with Batista's performance, suggested he held elections. This he did, but the people showed their dissatisfaction with his government by refusing to vote. Over 75 per cent of the voters in the capital Havana boycotted the polls. In some areas, such as Santiago, it was as high as 98 per cent.
Fidel Castro was now confident he could beat Batista in a head-on battle. Leaving the Sierra Maestra mountains, Castro's troops began to march on the main towns. After consultations with the United States government, Batista decided to flee the country. Senior Generals left behind attempted to set up another military government. Castro's reaction was to call for a general strike. The workers came out on strike and the military were forced to accept the people's desire for change. Castro marched into Havana on January 9,1959, and became Cuba's new leader.
In its first hundred days in office Castro's government passed several new laws. Rents were cut by up to 50 per cent for low wage earners; property owned by Fulgencio Batista and his ministers was confiscated; the telephone company was nationalized and the rates were reduced by 50 per cent; land was redistributed amongst the peasants (including the land owned by the Castro family); separate facilities for blacks and whites (swimming pools, beaches, hotels, cemeteries etc.) were abolished.
In 1960 Guevara visited China and the Soviet Union. On his return he wrote two books Guerrilla Warfare and Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War. In these books he argued that it was possible to export Cuba's revolution to other South American countries. Guevara served as Minister for Industries (1961-65) but in April 1965 he resigned and become a guerrilla leader in Bolivia.
In 1967 David Morales recruited Félix Rodríguez to train and head a team that would attempt to catch Che Guevara. Guevara was attempting to persuade the tin-miners living in poverty to join his revolutionary army. When Guevara was captured, it was Rodriguez who interrogated him before he ordered his execution in October, 1967. Rodriguez still possesses Guevara’s Rolex watch that he took as a trophy.
(1) Che Guevara, speech (21st August, 1960)
Almost everyone knows that I began my career as a doctor a few years ago. When I began to study medicine, most of the concepts that I now have as a revolutionary were absent from my store of ideals. I wanted to succeed just as everyone wants to succeed. I dreamed of becoming a famous researcher; I dreamed of working tirelessly to aid humanity, but this was conceived as personal achievement. I was - as we all are - a product of my environment.
After graduating, due to special circumstances and perhaps also to my personality, I began to travel throughout America. Except for Haiti and the Dominican Republic, I have visited all the countries of Latin America. Because of the circumstances in which I made my trips, first as a student and later as a doctor, I perceived closely misery, hunger, disease - a father's inability to have his child treated because he lacks the money, the brutalization that hunger and
permanent punishment provoke in man until a father sees the death of his child as something without importance, as happens very often to the mistreated classes of our American fatherland. I began to realize then that there were things as important as being a famous researcher or as important as making a substantial contribution to medicine: to aid those people.
But I continued to be, as we always remain, a product of my environment and I wanted to aid those people with my personal effort. Already I had traveled much - at the time I was in Guatemala, Arbenz's Guatemala - and I began to make some notes on the norms that a revolutionary doctor should follow. I began to study the means of becoming a revolutionary doctor.
Then aggression came to Guatemala. It was the aggression of the United Fruit Company, the State Department, and John Foster Dulles - in reality the same thing - and their puppet, called Castillo Armas. The aggression succeeded, for the Guatemala people had not achieved the degree of maturity that the Cuban people have today. One day I chose the road of exile, that is, the road of flight, for Guatemala was not my country.
I became aware, then, of a fundamental fact: To be a revolutionary doctor or to be a revolutionary at all, there must first be a revolution. The isolated effort of one man, regardless of its purity of ideals, is worthless. If one works alone in some isolated corner of Latin America because of a desire to sacrifice one's entire life to noble ideals, it makes no difference because one fights against adverse governments and social conditions that prevent progress. To be useful it is essential to make a revolution as we have done in Cuba, where the whole population mobilizes and learns to use arms and fight together. Cubans have learned how much value there is in a weapon and in the unity of the people. So today one has the right and the duty of being, above everything else, a revolutionary doctor, that is, a man who uses his professional knowledge to serve the Revolution and the people.
Now old questions reappear: How does one actually carry out a work of social welfare? How does one correlate individual effort with the needs of society? To answer, we have to review each of our lives, and this should be done with critical zeal in order to reach the conclusion that almost everything that we thought and felt before the Revolution should be filed and a new type of human being should be created.
(2) Che Guevara, speech (17th October, 1959)
Our universities produced lawyers and doctors for the old social system, but did not create enough agricultural extension teachers, agronomists, chemists, or physicists. In fact, we do not even have mathematicians. Consequently we have had to innovate.
In many cases our universities do not even offer the required resources. On a few occasions a very small number of students go into such fields. We have found a technological vacuum because there was no planning, no direction on the part of the state that considered the needs of our society.
We believe that the state is capable of understanding the needs of the nation; as such, then, the state must participate in the administration and direction of the university. Many people oppose this vehemently. Many consider it a destruction of university autonomy.
This is a mistaken attitude. The university cannot be an ivory tower, far away from the society, removed from the practical accomplishments of the Revolution. If such an attitude is maintained, the university will continue giving our society lawyers that we do not need.
There are two possible paths that the university can take. A number of students denounce state intervention and the loss of university autonomy. This student sector reflects its class background while forgetting its revolutionary obligation. This sector has not realized that it has an obligation to workers and peasants. Our workers and peasants died beside the students in order to attain power.
It is dangerous to maintain this attitude. The fact is that larger questions are involved here. Great strategic links are being developed abroad to destroy our Revolution. Those forces are trying to attract all those who have been hurt by the Revolution. We do not refer to the embezzlers, criminals, or the members of the old government; we are thinking of those who have remained on the margin of this revolutionary process, those who have lost economically but support the Revolution in a limited way.
All these people are dispersed throughout different social classes. Today they can express their discontent with freedom. National and international reactionaries want to strengthen their forces by attracting these people and making a front to bring economic depression, an invasion, or who knows what.
The issue of autonomy which is being fought so furiously is creating the very conditions that we should avoid. Those are the conditions that reactionaries can use effectively against the Revolution. The university, vanguard of our struggling people, cannot become a backward element, but it would become so if the university did not incorporate itself into the great plans of the Revolution.
(3) Che Guevara, Tactics and Strategy of the Latin American Revolution (October, 1962)
There are no unalterable tactical and strategic objectives. Some- times tactical objectives attain strategic importance, and other times strategic objectives become merely tactical elements. The thorough study of the relative importance of each element permits the full utilization, by the revolutionary forces, of all of the facts and circumstances leading up to the great and final strategic objective: the taking of power.
Power is the sine qua non strategic objective of the revolutionary forces, and everything must be subordinated to this basic endeavor.
But the taking of power, in this world polarized by two forces of extreme disparity and absolutely incompatible in interests, cannot be limited to the boundaries of a single geographic or social unit. The seizure of power is a worldwide objective of the revolutionary forces. To conquer the future is the strategic element of revolution; freezing the present is the counterstrategy motivating the forces of world reaction today, for they are on the defensive.
In this worldwide struggle, position is very important. At times it is decisive. Cuba, for example, is a vanguard outpost, an outpost which overlooks the extremely broad stretches of the economically distorted world of Latin America. Cuba's example is a beacon, a guiding light for all the peoples of America. The Cuban outpost is of great strategic value to the major contenders who at this moment dispute their hegemony of the world: imperialism and socialism.
Its value would be different if it had been located in another geographic or social setting. Its value was different when prior to the Revolution it merely constituted a tactical element of the imperialist world. Its value has increased, not only because it is an open door to America but because, added to the strength of its strategic, military and tactical position, is the power of its moral influence. "Moral missiles" are such a devastatingly effective weapon that they have become the most important element in determining Cuba's value. That is why, to analyze each element in the political struggle, one cannot extract it from its particular set of circumstances. All the antecedents serve to reaffirm a line or position consistent with its great strategic objectives.
Relating this discussion to America, one must ask the necessary question: What are the tactical elements that must be used to achieve the major objective of taking power in this part of the world? Is it possible or not, given the present conditions in our continent, to achieve it (socialist power, that is) by peaceful means? We emphatically answer that, in the great majority of cases, this is not possible. The most that could be achieved would be the formal takeover of the bourgeois superstructure of power and the transition to socialism of that government which, under the established bourgeois legal system, having achieved formal power will still have to wage a very violent struggle against all who attempt, in one way or another, to check its progress toward new social structures.
(4) Che Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare: A Method, Cuba Socialista (September, 1963)
Guerrilla warfare has been employed on innumerable occasions throughout history in different circumstances to obtain different objectives. Lately it has been employed in various popular wars of liberation when the vanguard of the people chose the road of irregular armed struggle against enemies of superior military power. Asia, Africa, and Latin America have been the scene of such actions in attempts to obtain power in the struggle against feudal, neo-colonial, or colonial exploitation. In Europe, guerrilla units were used as a supplement to native or allied regular armies.
In America, guerrilla warfare has been employed on several occasions. As a case in point, we have the experience of Cesar Augusto Sandino fighting against the Yankee expeditionary force on the Segovia of Nicaragua. Recently we had Cuba's revolutionary war. Since then in America the problem of guerrilla war has been raised in discussions of theory by the progressive parties of the continent with the question of whether its utilization is possible or convenient. This has become the topic of very controversial polemics.
Almost immediately the question arises: Is guerrilla warfare the only formula for seizing power in all of Latin America? Or, at any rate, will it be the predominant form? Or simply, will it be one formula among many used during the struggle? And ultimately we may ask: Will Cuba's example be applicable to the present situation on the continent? In the course of polemics, those who want to undertake guerrilla warfare are criticized for forgetting mass struggle, implying that guerrilla warfare and mass struggle are opposed to each other. We reject this implication, for guerrilla warfare is a people's war; to attempt to carry out this type of war without the population's support is the prelude to inevitable disaster. The guerrilla is the combat vanguard of the people, situated in a specified place in a certain region, armed and willing to carry out a series of warlike actions for the one possible strategic end - the seizure of power. The guerrilla is supported by the peasant and worker masses of the region and of the whole territory in which it acts. Without these prerequisites, guerrilla warfare is not possible.
(5) Che Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare (1961)
We consider that the Cuban Revolution made three fundamental contributions to the laws of the revolutionary movement in the current situation in America. First, people's forces can win a war against the army. Second, one need not always wait for all conditions favorable to revolution to be present; the insurrection itself can create them. Third, in the underdeveloped parts of America, the battleground for armed struggle should in the main be the countryside.
(6) Che Guevara, The Cuban Economy, International Affairs (October, 1964)
Sugar cane has been part of the Cuban picture since the sixteenth century. It was brought to the island only a few years after the discovery of America; however, the slave system of exploitation kept cultivation on a subsistence level. Only with the technological innovations which converted the sugar mill into a factory, with the introduction of the railway and the abolition of slavery, did the production of sugar begin to show a considerable growth, and one which assumed extraordinary proportions under Yankee auspices.
The natural advantages of the cultivation of sugar in Cuba are obvious, but the predominant fact is that Cuba was developed as a sugar factory of the United States.
North American banks and capitalists soon controlled the commercial exploitation of sugar and, furthermore, a good share of the industrial output of the land. In this way, a monopolistic control was established by U.S. interests in all aspects of a sugar production, which soon became the predominant factor in our foreign trade due to the rapidly developing monoproductive characteristics of the country.
Cuba became the sugar-producing and -exporting country par excellence; and if she did not develop even further in this respect, the reason is to be found in the capitalist contradictions which put a limit to a continuous expansion of the Cuban sugar industry, which depended almost entirely on North American capital.
The North American government used the quota system on imports of Cuban sugar not only to protect her own sugar industry, as demanded by her own producers, but also to make possible the unrestricted introduction into our country of North American manufactured goods. The preferential treaties of the beginning of the century gave North American products imported into Cuba a tariff advantage of 20 percent over the most favored of the nations with whom Cuba might sign trade agreements. Under these conditions of competition, and in view of the proximity of the United States, it became almost impossible for any foreign country to compete with North American manufactured goods.
The US quota system meant stagnation for our sugar production. During the last years the Cuban productive capacity was rarely utilized to the full, but the preferential treatment given to Cuban sugar by the quota also meant that no other export crops could compete with it on an economic basis.
Consequently, the only two activities of our agriculture were cultivation of sugar cane and the breeding of low-quality cattle on pastures which at the same time served as reserve areas for the sugar plantation owners.
Unemployment became a constant feature of life in rural areas, resulting in the migration of agricultural workers to the cities. But industry did not develop either, only some public service undertakings under Yankee auspices (transportation, communications, electrical energy).
(7) Che Guevara, People's War, People's Army (1964)
Mass struggle was utilized throughout the war by the Vietnamese communist party. It was used, first of all, because guerrilla warfare is one expression of the mass struggle. One cannot conceive of guerrilla war when it is isolated from the people. The guerrilla group is the numerically inferior vanguard of the great majority of the people, who have no weapons but express themselves through the vanguard. Also, mass struggle was used in the cities as an indispensable weapon for the development of the struggle. It is important to point out that never during the period of the struggle for liberation did the masses give away any of their rights in order to get some concession from the regime. The people did not talk about reciprocal concessions but demanded liberties and guarantees, which brought inevitably in many sectors a crueler war than the French would have waged otherwise. This mass struggle without compromises - which gives it its dynamic character - gives us fundamental elements with which to understand the problem of the liberation struggle in Latin America.
Marxism was applied according to the concrete historical situation of Vietnam and because of the guiding role of the vanguard party, faithful to its people and consequently to its doctrine, a resounding victory was achieved over the imperialists. The characteristics of the struggle, in which territory had to be given to the enemy and many years had to pass in order to achieve final victory, with fluctuations, ebb and flow, was that of a protracted war. During the entire struggle one could say that the front lines were where the enemy was. At a given moment, the enemy occupied almost the entire territory and the front was spread to wherever the enemy was. Later the lines of combat were delimited and a main front was established. But the enemy's rear guard constituted another front; it was a total war and the colonialists were never able to mobilize their forces with ease against the liberated zones. The slogan "dynamism, initiative, mobility, and quick decision in new situations" is in synthesis the guerrilla tactic. These few words expressed the tremendously difficult art of popular war.
Escape was impossible. The room had but one barred window in the rear. There were troops all around the schoolhouse. No, the soldier was only complying with his orders. The Bolivians didn't want any prisoners. They wanted the guerrillas dead. I turned without saying anything and went back into the room where Che lay, his arms and legs trussed together.
The place was small-about eight feet long and ten feet wide with mud walls and earthen floor. The tiny window was the sole source of light. There was a single, narrow door also facing the front. Che lay next to an old wooden bench. In the rear of the room, just across from him were the bodies of Antonio and Arturo.
I examined him more closely than I had before. He was a wreck. His clothes were filthy, ripped in several places and missing most of their buttons. He didn't even have proper shoes, only pieces of leather wrapped around his feet and tied with cord.
I stood above Che, my boots near his head, just as Che had once stood over my dear friend and fellow 2506 Brigade member, Nestor Pino. Captured at the Bay of Pigs, Pino was beaten by Castro's soldiers when he told them that he was not a cook or radio operator but the company commander of a paratroop battalion. His body battered, he lay on the earthen floor of a seaside hut taking the kicks and blows. Suddenly, they stopped.
Pino opened his eyes and saw a pair of polished boots next to his face. He looked up. It was Che Guevara, staring coolly down at him. Che spoke as matter-of-factly as if he was telling a child tomorrow is a school day. "We're going to kill you all," he said to Pino.
Pino had survived his ordeal. Now, the situation was reversed. Che Guevara lay at my feet. He looked like a piece of trash.
I said, "Che Guevara, I want to talk to you."
Even now he played the role of comandante. His eyes flashed. "Nobody interrogates me," he replied sarcastically.
"Comandante, " I said, somewhat amazed that he had chosen to answer me at all, "I didn't come to interrogate you. Our ideals are different. But I admire you. You used to be a minister of state in Cuba. Now look at you - you are like this because you believe in your ideals. I have come to talk to you."
He looked at me for about a minute in silence, then agreed to speak and asked if he could sit up. I ordered a soldier to untie him and got him propped onto the rickety wooden bench. I got him tobacco for his pipe.
He would not discuss tactical matters or technical things. When I asked him about some of his specific operations, he responded by saying only, "You know I cannot answer that."
But to more general questions, like "Comandante, of all the possible countries in the region, why did you pick Bolivia to export your revolution?" he answered at length.
He told me he had considered other places - Venezuela, Central America, and the Dominican Republic were three he named. But, he added, experience had shown that when Cuba tried to foment unrest so close to the U.S., the Yanquis reacted strongly and the revolutionary activities failed.
So, Che continued, since countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua were "too important to Yankee imperialism, and the Americans hadn't allowed us any success there, we figured that, by picking a country so far from the U.S. it wouldn't appear to present an immediate threat, the Yanquis wouldn't concern themselves with what we did. Bolivia fulfills that requirement.
"Second," he added, "we were looking for a poor country-and Bolivia is poor. And third, Bolivia shares boundaries with five countries. If we are successful in Bolivia, then we can move into other places-Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay."
He told me he believed that he'd lost support in Bolivia because the people were too provincial. "They cannot see their revolution in broad terms-as an international guerrilla movement working for the proletariat-but only as a regional issue," he said. "They want a Boliviano comandante, not a Cuban, even though I am an expert in these matters."
We talked about Cuba. He admitted to me that the economy was in a shambles, largely because of the economic boycott by the U.S. "But you helped cause that," I told Che. "You-a doctor-were made president of the Cuban National Bank. What does a doctor know about economics?"
"Do you know how I became president of the Cuban National Bank?" he asked me. "No. "
"I'll tell you a joke." He laughed. "We were sitting in a meeting one day, and Fidel came in and he asked for a dedicated economista. I misheard him - I thought he was asking for a dedicated comunista, so I raised my hand." He shrugged. "And that's why Fidel selected me as head of the Cuban economy. "
He refused to talk about what he had done in Africa although, when I said we'd been told he had a ten thousand-man guerrilla force, but that his African soldiers were a disaster, he laughed sadly and said, "If I'd really had ten thousand guerrillas it would have been different. But you are right, you know - the Africans were very, very bad soldiers."
He refused to speak badly about Fidel, although he damned him with faint praise. Actually, Che was evasive when Fidel's name came up. It became apparent to me that he was bitter over the Cuban dictator's lack of support for the Bolivian incursion. Indeed, that Che admitted how bad the Cuban economy was represented an indictment of Fidel's leadership, even though he did not specifically criticize him.
Che and I talked for about an hour and a half until, shortly before noon, I heard the chopper arrive. I went outside and discovered that Nino de Guzman had brought a camera from Major Saucedo, who wanted a picture of the prisoner. That was when I purposely screwed up the Bolivian's camera, but had Nino de Guzman snap a picture of
Che and me using my own Pentax. It is the only photograph of Che alive on the day he died.
Back inside, we resumed our conversation. Che expressed surprise that I knew so much about him, and about Cuba. "You are not a Bolivian," he said.
"No, I am not. Where do you think I am from?"
"You could be a Puerto Rican or a Cuban. Whoever you are, by the sorts of questions you've been asking I believe that you work for the intelligence service of the United States."
"You are right, Comandante," I said. "I am a Cuban. I was a member of the 2506 Brigade. In fact, I was a member of the infiltration teams that operated inside Cuba before the invasion at the Bay of Pigs."
"What's your name?"
"Felix. Just Felix, Comandante." I wanted to say more, but I didn't dare. There was still a slim possibility that he might get out of this alive, and I didn't want my identity to escape with him.
"Ha," Che answered. Nothing more. I don't know what he was thinking at the moment and I never asked.
We started to talk about the Cuban economy once again when we were interrupted by shots, followed by the sounds of a body falling to the floor. Aniceto had been executed in the adjoining room. Che stopped talking. He did not say anything about the shooting, but his face reflected sadness and he shook his head slowly from left to right several times.
Perhaps it was in that instant that he realized that he, too, was doomed, even though I did not tell him so until just before 1 P.M.
I had been putting off the inevitable, shuttling between Che's room and the table where I was photographing his documents. I was taking pictures of his diary when the village schoolteacher arrived.
I looked up from my work. "Yes?"
"When are you going to shoot him?"
That caught my attention. "Why are you asking me that?" I asked.
"Because the radio is already reporting that he is dead from combat wounds."
The Bolivians were taking no chances. That radio report sealed Che's fate. I went down the hill, into the schoolhouse and looked Che in the face. "Comandante, " I said, "I have done everything in my power, but orders have come from the Supreme Bolivian Command..."
His face turned as white as writing paper. "It is better like this, Felix. I should never have been captured alive."
When I asked him if he had any message for his family, he said, "Tell Fidel that he will soon see a triumphant revolution in America." He said it in a way that, to me, seemed to mock the Cuban dictator for abandoning him here in the Bolivian jungle. Then Che added, "And tell my wife to get remarried and try to be happy."
Then we embraced, and it was a tremendously emotional moment for me. I no longer hated him. His moment of truth had come, and he was conducting himself like a man. He was facing his death with courage and grace.
I looked at my watch. It was one in the afternoon. I walked outside to where Mario Teran and Lieutenant Perez stood. I looked at Teran, whose face shone as if he had been drinking. I told him not to shoot Che in the face, but from the neck down. Then I walked up the hill and began making notes. When I heard the shots I checked my watch. It was 1: 10 P.M.
Che was dead.
On April 20, 1976, the CIA agent who had orchestrated the hunt for Che Guevara in Bolivia, retired. The brief ceremony, during which he was awarded the Intelligence Star for Valor, was held in his Miami home. He had refused to accept it from Director George Bush at Langley because he considered Bush a political appointee who was wet behind the ears when it came to covert actions.
Upon retiring Ramos resumed using his true name, Felix I. Rodriguez, which had been mothballed during his years of agency service. Rodriguez, who resembles Desi Arnaz, had belonged to the landed gentry in pre-revolutionary Cuba, and he carried a personal grudge against Castro. In 1961 while training with Brigade 2506 before the Bay of Pigs invasion, he volunteered to assassinate Fidel. He said that the CIA presented him with "a beautiful German bolt action rifle with a powerful telescopic sight, all neatly packaged in a custom-made carrying case." The weapon had been presighted for a location where Castro made frequent appearances. But after several abortive attempts to infiltrate Cuba, the mission was abandoned."
Rodriguez went on to a number of assignments under his JM/WAVE case officer, Thomas Clines. During the October 1962 Missile Crisis he was poised to parachute into Cuba to plant a beacon pointing to a Russian missile site, but the crisis passed. He became communications officer in Nicaragua for Manuel Artime's Second Naval Guerrilla, which was conducting hit-and-run raids to soften up Cuba for a second invasion. He went on to lead helicopter assault teams in Vietnam.
But by his own account Rodriguez's most magnificent moment came when he lifted off in a helicopter from La Higuera, Bolivia, on October 9, 1967, with Che Guevara's body lashed to the right skid. "On my wrist was his steel Rolex GMT Master with its red-and-blue bezel," he recounted. "In my breast pocket, wrapped in paper from my loose-leaf notebook, was the partially smoked tobacco from his last pipe."
It was the Secret Warrior's dream come true. But after becoming a CIA pensioner Rodriguez still couldn't shake the anticommunist demons that drove him. Even before he was officially disconnected from the CIA he flirted with trouble. It should have been a red flag that Tom Clines, who was still on active duty manning the Cuba Desk at Langley, was offering him a private deal. Rodriguez accepted and rode herd on a shipment of arms consigned to the Christian militia, the CIA's favorite faction in war-torn Lebanon.
Whether Rodriguez knew it or not his paycheck came from Edwin P. Wilson, yet another JM/WAVE alumnus now doing a long stretch in federal prison for illegal arms sales to Libya. Both Clines and Theodore Shackley, who had been station chief at JM/WAVE during the heady sixties, continued dealing with the corrupt Wilson and wound up with blighted careers. It was a particularly bad tumble for Shackley, who wore bottom-bottle glasses and was dubbed the Blond Ghost because his past was largely blank. Insiders had touted the Blond Ghost to succeed the Chief Spook, George Bush, as director.
With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 it was bombs away again. Rodriguez drew up a paramilitary battle plan aimed at decimating the Salvadoran insurgent units that were becoming increasingly successful against government regulars. In his memoirs Rodriguez speaks deferentially, almost obsequiously, about the tinhorn Salvadoran generals he convinced to go along with his plan, turning a blind side to the fact that they moonlighted with death squads and were the guns for hire of the ruling extremist oligarchy. In Washington Rodriguez took his proposal to Donald Gregg, who had been his CIA boss in Vietnam and who had become George Bush's national security adviser. Gregg arranged a fireside chat with Bush, whom Rodriguez had earlier spurned, and the two became pen pals. In the end Rodriguez's plan, which featured Apocalyse Nowstyle helicopter gunship raids, went operational.
Inexorably Rodriguez was drawn into Oliver North's resupply network to the Nicaraguan Contras, which used funds diverted from secret arms sales to Iran. Also inexorably he wound up testifying before Congressional committees when the lid blew off and exposed the ring of former military and agency brass who had charged more bucks for the bang. On the stand Rodriguez denied briefing Bush on the weapons smuggling, and indignantly rejected accusations that he had solicited millions in drug money to finance the Contras.
But Rodriguez had his star-shell moment when the independent counsel probing the Iran-Contra affair asked, "Did you participate in Operation Mongoose to kill Castro with an exploding cigar?"
"No, sir, I did not," he responded. "But I did volunteer to kill that son of a bitch in 1961 with a telescopic rifle."
(10) Larmar Waldron and Thom Hartmann, Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK (revised edition, 2006)
Eighteen years ago, Thom Hartmann and I began writing a book about the battles of President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F Kennedy, against the Mafia and Fidel Castro. In 2005, using new information from almost two dozen people who worked with John and Robert Kennedy-backed up by thousands of files at the National Archives-we exposed for the first time JFK's top-secret plan to overthrow Castro and invade Cuba on December 1, 1963. "The Plan for a Coup in Cuba" (as it was titled in a memo for the joint Chiefs of Staff) would include a "palace coup" to eliminate Castro, allowing a new Cuban "Provisional Government" to step into the power vacuum. The coup would be supported by a "full-scale invasion" of Cuba by the US military, if necessary.
However, even as JFK's secret plan was nearing its final stage, he had two emissaries making last-ditch attempts to avoid a potentially bloody coup and invasion by trying to jump-start secret negotiations with Fidel Castro. One long-secret November 1963 memo about those negotiations states that "there was a rift between Castro and the (Che) Guevara ... Almeida group on the question of Cuba's future course." Che Guevara is still widely known today, perhaps even more than in 1963. But most people in the United States have never heard of Che's ally against Castro, Juan Almeida, even though in 1963 he wielded more power inside Cuba than Che himself. In some ways, Almeida was the third most powerful official in Cuba in 1963, after Fidel and his brother Raul - and even today, in 2006, the CIA lists Juan Almeida as the third-highest official in the current Cuban government.
In this new edition, we can now reveal for the first time that Almeida wasn't just allied with Che against Castro in November of 1963: Almeida was also allied with President Kennedy. In 1963, Juan Almeida was the powerful Commander of the Cuban Army, one of the most famous heroes of the Revolution - and he was going to lead JFK's "palace coup" against Fidel. Commander Almeida had been in direct contact with John and Robert Kennedy's top Cuban exile aide since May of 1963, and both men would be part of Cuba's new, post-coup Provisional Government. By the morning of November 22, 1963, Almeida had even received a large cash payment authorized by the Kennedys, and the CIA had placed his family under US protection in a foreign country.
The "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" was fully authorized by JFK and personally run by Robert Kennedy. Only about a dozen people in the US government knew the full scope of the plan, all of whom worked for the military or the CIA, or reported directly to Robert. The Kennedys' plan was prepared primarily by the US military, with the CIA playing a major supporting role. Input was also obtained from key officials in a few other agencies, but most of those who worked on the plan knew only about carefully compartmentalized aspects, believing it to be a theoretical exercise in case a Cuban official volunteered to depose Fidel.