BUENOS AIRES –”No contact with Manila,” Ernesto “Che” Guevara wrote several times in his diary as he marched to his death in Bolivia and, behind the phrase, is Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s betrayal and abandonment of the legendary guerrilla fighter, Cuban journalist Alberto Müller said.
“Manila” was the codeword for Cuba, Müller told Efe in an interview ahead of the presentation at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair of his book “Che Guevara. Valgo más vivo que muerto.”
The title comes from a phrase attributed to Che when he was found in the Bolivian village of La Higuera and contrasts the guerrilla’s desire to live with Castro’s order to avoid being captured alive, highlighting the “great differences” existing in 1967 between the two revolutionaries, Müller said.
Müller said there was a guerrilla unit in Havana ready to deploy and rescue Guevara, but “Fidel never authorized the mission,” abandoning the guerrilla leader to his fate.
Che was shot dead on Oct. 9, 1967, in La Higuera.
“He died in a pitiful manner. Without medications for his asthma, without boots and only rags wrapped around his feet, without water, without food and without allies,” Müller said.
To understand why Castro withdrew his support from Guevara, the author takes the reader back to what he considers a turning point in the relationship between them, the 1965 Afro-Asian Conference in Algiers.
Guevara’s address to the assembly meant “a break up with the Soviet Union that harmed Che’s relationship with Fidel,” the author said.
Guevara criticized Moscow, accusing the USSR, without mentioning it by name, of being “accomplices of U.S. imperialist exploitation,” just when the Cuban leader was about to conclude agreements on military cooperation with the Kremlin.
The estrangement between Guevara and Castro increased over time, and deepened when the Cuban leader, without consulting the Argentine-born guerrilla, decided to withdraw Cuban fighters from the Congo, leading to the mission in Bolivia that Müller describes as an “induced suicide.”
“Why Bolivia?” Müller would ask Castro if he were to interview him.
“Che’s posture ran against Fidel’s interests,” the author said. “Che became a pest, an inconvenience for the Cuban Revolution, a pebble in the shoe.”
Müller said several historians and Che biographers that helped in his research agreed with him that “Guevara wanted to go to Argentina, his homeland, to liberate it, and in Havana they invented the Bolivia campaign for him.”
The author said he found out that two years before Guevara’s final mission, Castro had acknowledged that Bolivia “didn’t have conditions for a guerrilla movement” and the peasants there did not need a revolution because agrarian reform in the 1950s had given them ownership of the land.
Even so, the Cuban leader sent Guevara to Bolivia and months later cut off the link with supporters in La Paz, increasing the guerrillas’ isolation and worsening their situation.
“I think Che must have died being very aware of his betrayal,” Müller said.