[News] Fidel Castro speech on death of Che Guevara

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Thu Oct 8 12:11:24 EDT 2020


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Day
of the Heroic Guerrilla - Fidel Castro speech on death of Che Guevara
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*Our 1968 coverage continues although, strictly speaking, this is October
1967. . .*

*Che was executed without trial in Bolivia on October 9, 1967.  The Cuban
leadership declared 1968 “The Year of the Heroic Guerrilla” and supported
revolutionary movements throughout Latin America in particular.  Che’s
reputation, already very high among newly-radicalising young people around
the world, grew significantly in 1968.*

*Below is the speech about Che delivered on October 18, 1967 by Fidel
Castro to a rally of several hundred thousand people in Havana.*

I first met Che one day in July or August 1955. And in one night — as he
recalls in his account — he became one of the future Granma
expeditionaries, although at that time the expedition possessed neither
ship, nor arms, nor troops. That was how, together with Raúl, Che became
one of the first two on the Granma list.

Twelve years have passed since then; they have been 12 years filled with
struggle and historical significance. During this time death has cut down
many brave and invaluable lives. But at the same time, throughout those
years of our revolution, extraordinary persons have arisen, forged from
among the people of the revolution, and between them, bonds of affection
and friendship have emerged that surpass all possible description.

Tonight we are meeting to try to express, in some degree, our feelings
toward one who was among the closest, among the most admired, among the
most beloved, and, without a doubt, the most extraordinary of our
revolutionary comrades. We are here to express our feelings for him and for
the heroes who have fought with him and fallen with him, his
internationalist army that has been writing a glorious and indelible page
of history.

Che was one of those people who was liked immediately, for his simplicity,
his character, his naturalness, his comradely attitude, his personality,
his originality, even when one had not yet learned of his other
characteristics and unique virtues.

In those first days he was our troop doctor, and so the bonds of friendship
and warm feelings for him were ever increasing. He was filled with a
profound spirit of hatred and contempt for imperialism, not only because
his political education was already considerably developed, but also
because, shortly before, he had had the opportunity of witnessing the
criminal imperialist intervention in Guatemala through the mercenaries who
aborted the revolution in that country.

A person like Che did not require elaborate arguments. It was sufficient
for him to know Cuba was in a similar situation and that there were people
determined to struggle against that situation, arms in hand. It was
sufficient for him to know that those people were inspired by genuinely
revolutionary and patriotic ideals. That was more than enough.

One day, at the end of November 1956, he set out on the expedition toward Cuba
with us. I recall that the trip was very hard for him, since, because of
the circumstances under which it was necessary to organize the departure,
he could not even provide himself with the medicine he needed. Throughout
the trip, he suffered from a severe attack of asthma, with nothing to
alleviate it, but also without ever complaining.

We arrived, set out on our first march, suffered our first setback, and at
the end of some weeks, as you all know, a group of those Granma
expeditionaries who had survived was able to reunite. Che continued to be
the doctor of our group.

We came through the first battle victorious, and Che was already a soldier
of our troop; at the same time he was still our doctor. We came through the
second victorious battle and Che was not only a soldier, but the most
outstanding soldier in that battle, carrying out for the first time one of
those singular feats that characterized him in all military action. Our
forces continued to develop and we soon faced another battle of
extraordinary importance.

The situation was difficult. The information we had was erroneous in many
respects. We were going to attack in full daylight — at dawn — a strongly
defended, well-armed position at the edge of the sea. Enemy troops were at
our rear, not very far, and in that confused situation it was necessary to
ask people to make a supreme effort.

Comrade Juan Almeida had taken on one of the most difficult missions, but
one of the flanks remained completely without forces — one of the flanks
was left without an attacking force, placing the operation in danger. At
that moment, Che, who was still functioning as our doctor, asked for three
or four men, among them one with a machine gun, and in a matter of seconds
set off rapidly to assume the mission of attack from that direction.

On that occasion he was not only an outstanding combatant but also an
outstanding doctor, attending the wounded comrades and, at the same time,
attending the wounded enemy soldiers.

After all the weapons had been captured and it became necessary to abandon
that position, undertaking a long return march under the harassment of
various enemy forces, someone had to stay behind with the wounded, and it
was Che who did so. Aided by a small group of our soldiers, he took care of
them, saved their lives, and later rejoined the column with them.

>From that time onward, he stood out as a capable and valiant leader, one of
those who, when a difficult mission is pending, do not wait to be asked to
carry it out.

Thus it was at the battle of El Uvero. But he acted in a similar way on a
previously unmentioned occasion during the first days when following a
betrayal, our little troop was attacked by surprise by a number of planes
and we were forced to retreat under the bombardment. We had already walked
a distance when we remembered some rifles of some peasant soldiers who had
been with us in the first actions and had then asked permission to visit
their families, at a time when there was still not much discipline in our
embryonic army. At that moment, we thought the rifles might have to be
given up for lost. But I recall it took no more than simply raising the
problem for Che, despite the bombing, to volunteer, and having done so,
quickly go to recover those rifles.

This was one of his principal characteristics: his willingness to instantly
volunteer for the most dangerous mission. And naturally this aroused
admiration — and twice the usual admiration, for a fellow combatant
fighting alongside us who had not been born here, a person of profound
ideas, a person in whose mind stirred the dream of struggle in other parts
of the continent and who nonetheless was so altruistic, so selfless, so
willing to always do the most difficult things, to constantly risk his life.
That was how he won the rank of commander and leader of the second column,
organized in the Sierra Maestra. Thus his standing began to increase. He
began to develop as a magnificent combatant who was to reach the highest
ranks in the course of the war.

Che was an incomparable soldier. Che was an incomparable leader. Che was,
from a military point of view, an extraordinarily capable person,
extraordinarily courageous, extraordinarily aggressive. If, as a guerrilla,
he had his Achilles’ heel, it was this excessively aggressive quality, his
absolute contempt for danger.

The enemy believes it can draw certain conclusions from his death. Che was
a master of warfare! He was an artist of guerrilla struggle! And he showed
that an infinite number of times. But he showed it especially in two
extraordinary deeds. One of these was the invasion, in which he led a
column, a column pursued by thousands of enemy soldiers over flat and
absolutely unknown terrain, carrying out — together with Camilo
[Cienfuegos] — an extraordinary military accomplishment. He also showed it
in his lightning campaign in Las Villas Province, especially in the
audacious attack on the city of Santa Clara, entering — with a column of
barely 300 men — a city defended by tanks, artillery, and several thousand
infantry soldiers. Those two heroic deeds stamped him as an extraordinarily
capable leader, as a master, as an artist of revolutionary war.

However, now after his heroic and glorious death, some people attempt to
deny the truth or value of his concepts, his guerrilla theories. The artist
may die — especially when he is an artist in a field as dangerous as
revolutionary struggle — but what will surely never die is the art to which
he dedicated his life, the art to which he dedicated his intelligence.

What is so strange about the fact that this artist died in combat? What is
stranger is that he did not die in combat on one of the innumerable
occasions when he risked his life during our revolutionary struggle. Many
times it was necessary to take steps to keep him from losing his life in
actions of minor significance.

And so it was in combat — in one of the many battles he fought — that he
lost his life. We do not have sufficient evidence to enable us to deduce
what circumstances preceded that combat, or how far he may have acted in an
excessively aggressive way. But, we repeat, if as a guerrilla he had an
Achilles’ heel, it was his excessive aggressiveness, his absolute contempt
for danger.

And this is where we can hardly agree with him, since we consider that his
life, his experience, his capacity as a seasoned leader, his authority, and
everything his life signified, were more valuable, incomparably more
valuable than he himself, perhaps, believed.

His conduct may have been profoundly influenced by the idea that people
have a relative value in history, the idea that causes are not defeated
when people fall, that the powerful march of history cannot and will not be
halted when leaders fall.

That is true, there is no doubt about it. It shows his faith in people, his
faith in ideas, his faith in examples. However — as I said a few days ago —
with all our heart we would have liked to see him as a forger of victories,
to see victories forged under his command, under his leadership, since
people of his experience, of his caliber, of his really unique capacity,
are not common.

We fully appreciate the value of his example. We are absolutely convinced
that many people will strive to live up to his example, that people like
him will emerge.

It is not easy to find a person with all the virtues that were combined in
Che. It is not easy for a person, spontaneously, to develop a character
like his. I would say that he is one of those people who are difficult to
match and virtually impossible to surpass. But I would also say that the
example of people like him contributes to the appearance of people of the
same caliber.

In Che, we admire not only the fighter, the person capable of performing
great feats. What he did, what he was doing, the very fact of his rising
with a handful of men against the army of the oligarchy, trained by Yankee
advisers sent in by Yankee imperialism, backed by the oligarchies of all
neighboring countries — that in itself constitutes an extraordinary feat.

If we search the pages of history, it is likely that we will find no other
case in which a leader with such a limited number of men has set about a
task of such importance; a case in which a leader with such a limited
number of men has set out to fight against such large forces. Such proof of
confidence in himself, such proof of confidence in the peoples, such proof
of faith in man’s capacity to fight, can be looked for in the pages of
history but the likes of it will never be found.

And he fell.

The enemy believes it has defeated his ideas, his guerrilla concepts, his
point of view on revolutionary armed struggle. What they accomplished, by a
stroke of luck, was to eliminate him physically. What they accomplished was
to gain an accidental advantage that an enemy may gain in war. We do not
know to what degree that stroke of luck, that stroke of fortune, was helped
along, in a battle like many others, by that characteristic of which we
spoke before: his excessive aggressiveness, his absolute disdain for danger.

This also happened in our war of independence. In a battle at Dos Rios they
killed [José Martí the apostle of our independence; in a battle at Punta
Brava, they killed Antonio Maceo, a veteran of hundreds of battles [in the
Cuban war of independence]. Countless leaders, countless patriots of our
war of independence were killed in similar battles. Nevertheless, that did
not spell defeat for the Cuban cause.

The death of Che — as we said a few days ago — is a hard blow, a tremendous
blow for the revolutionary movement because it deprives it, without a
doubt, of its most experienced and able leader.

But those who boast of victory are mistaken. They are mistaken when they
think that his death is the end of his ideas, the end of his tactics, the
end of his guerrilla concepts, the end of his theory. For the person who
fell, as a mortal person, as a person who faced bullets time and again, as
a soldier, as a leader, was a thousand times more able than those who
killed him by a stroke of luck.

However, how should revolutionaries face this serious setback? How should
they face this loss? If Che had to express an opinion on this point, what
would it be? He gave this opinion, he expressed this opinion quite clearly
when he wrote in his message to the [Tricontinental] Latin American
Solidarity Conference that if death surprised him anywhere, it would be
welcome as long as his battle cry had reached a receptive ear and another
hand reached out to take up his rifle.

His battle cry will reach not just one receptive ear, but millions of
receptive ears! And not one hand but millions of hands, inspired by his
example, will reach out to take up arms! New leaders will emerge. The
people of the receptive ears and the outstretched hands will need leaders
who emerge from their ranks, just as leaders have emerged in all
revolutions.

Those hands will not have available a leader of Che’s extraordinary
experience and enormous ability. Those leaders will be formed in the
process of struggle. Those leaders will emerge from among the millions of
receptive ears, from the millions of hands that will sooner or later reach
out to take up arms.

It is not that we feel that his death will necessarily have immediate
repercussions in the practical sphere of revolutionary struggle, that his
death will necessarily have immediate repercussions in the practical sphere
of development of this struggle. The fact is that when Che took up arms
again he was not thinking of an immediate victory; he was not thinking of a
speedy victory against the forces of the oligarchies and imperialism. As an
experienced fighter, he was prepared for a prolonged struggle of 5, 10, 15,
or 20 years, if necessary. He was ready to fight 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, or
all his life if need be! And within that perspective, his death — or rather
his example — will have tremendous repercussions. The force of that example
will be invincible.

Those who attach significance to the lucky blow that struck Che down try in
vain to deny his experience and his capacity as a leader. Che was an
extraordinarily able military leader. But when we remember Che, when we
think of Che, we do not think fundamentally of his military virtues. No!
Warfare is a means and not an end. Warfare is a tool of revolutionaries.
The important thing is the revolution. The important thing is the
revolutionary cause, revolutionary ideas, revolutionary objectives,
revolutionary sentiments, revolutionary virtues!

And it is in that field, in the field of ideas, in the field of sentiments,
in the field of revolutionary virtues, in the field of intelligence, that —
apart from his military virtues — we feel the tremendous loss that his
death means to the revolutionary movement.

Che’s extraordinary character was made up of virtues that are rarely found
together. He stood out as an unsurpassed person of action, but Che was not
only that — he was also a person of visionary intelligence and broad
culture, a profound thinker. That is, the man of ideas and the man of
action were combined within him.

But it is not only that Che possessed the double characteristic of the man
of ideas — of profound ideas — and the man of action, but that Che as a
revolutionary united in himself the virtues that can be defined as the
fullest expression of the virtues of a revolutionary: a person of total
integrity, a person of supreme sense of honor, of absolute sincerity, a
person of stoic and Spartan living habits, a person in whose conduct not
one stain can be found. He constituted, through his virtues, what can be
called a truly model revolutionary.

When people die it is usual to make speeches, to emphasize their virtues.
But rarely can one say of a person with greater justice, with greater
accuracy, what we say of Che on this occasion: that he was a pure example
of revolutionary virtues!

But he possessed another quality, not a quality of the intellect nor of the
will, not a quality derived from experience, from struggle, but a quality
of the heart: he was an extraordinarily human being, extraordinarily
sensitive!

That is why we say, when we think of his life, when we think of his
conduct, that he constituted the singular case of a most extraordinary
human, able to unite in his personality not only the characteristics of the
man of action, but also of the man of thought, of the person of immaculate
revolutionary virtues and of extraordinary human sensibility, joined with
an iron character, a will of steel, indomitable tenacity.

Because of this, he has left to the future generations not only his
experience, his knowledge as an outstanding soldier, but also, at the same
time, the fruits of his intelligence. He wrote with the virtuosity of a
master of our language. His narratives of the war are incomparable. The
depth of his thinking is impressive. He never wrote about anything with
less than extraordinary seriousness, with less than extraordinary
profundity — and we have no doubt that some of his writings will pass on to
posterity as classic documents of revolutionary thought.

Thus, as fruits of that vigorous and profound intelligence, he left us
countless memories, countless narratives that, without his work, without
his efforts, might have been lost forever.

An indefatigable worker, during the years that he served our country he did
not know a single day of rest. Many were the responsibilities assigned to
him: as president of the National Bank, as director of the Central Planning
Board, as minister of industry, as commander of military regions, as the
head of political or economic or fraternal delegations.

His versatile intelligence was able to undertake with maximum assurance any
task of any kind. Thus he brilliantly represented our country in numerous
international conferences, just as he brilliantly led soldiers in combat,
just as he was a model worker in charge of any of the institutions he was
assigned to. And for him there were no days of rest; for him there were no
hours of rest!

If we looked through the windows of his offices, he had the lights on all
hours of the night, studying, or rather, working or studying. For he was a
student of all problems; he was a tireless reader. His thirst for learning
was practically insatiable, and the hours he stole from sleep he devoted to
study.

He devoted his scheduled days off to voluntary work. He was the inspiration
and provided the greatest incentive for the work that is today carried out
by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country. He stimulated
that activity in which our people are making greater and greater efforts.

As a revolutionary, as a communist revolutionary, a true communist, he had
a boundless faith in moral values. He had a boundless faith in the
consciousness of human beings. And we should say that he saw, with absolute
clarity, the moral impulse as the fundamental lever in the construction of
communism in human society.

He thought, developed, and wrote many things. And on a day like today it
should be stated that Che’s writings, Che’s political and revolutionary
thought, will be of permanent value to the Cuban revolutionary process and
to the Latin American revolutionary process. And we do not doubt that his
ideas — as a man of action, as a man of thought, as a person of untarnished
moral virtues, as a person of unexcelled human sensitivity, as a person of
spotless conduct — have and will continue to have universal value.

The imperialists boast of their triumph at having killed this guerrilla
fighter in action. The imperialists boast of a triumphant stroke of luck
that led to the elimination of such a formidable man of action. But perhaps
the imperialists do not know or pretend not to know that the man of action
was only one of the many facets of the personality of that combatant. And
if we speak of sorrow, we are saddened not only at having lost a person of
action. We are saddened at having lost a person of virtue. We are saddened
at having lost a person of unsurpassed human sensitivity. We are saddened
at having lost such a mind. We are saddened to think that he was only 39
years old at the time of his death. We are saddened at missing the
additional fruits that we would have received from that intelligence and
that ever richer experience.

We have an idea of the dimension of the loss for the revolutionary
movement. However, here is the weak side of the imperialist enemy: they
think that by eliminating a person physically they have eliminated his
thinking — that by eliminating him physically they have eliminated his
ideas, eliminated his virtues, eliminated his example.

So shameless are they in this belief that they have no hesitation in
publishing, as the most natural thing in the world, the by now almost
universally accepted circumstances in which they murdered him after he had
been seriously wounded in action. They do not even seem aware of the
repugnance of the procedure, of the shamelessness of the acknowledgement.
They have published it as if thugs, oligarchs, and mercenaries had the
right to shoot a seriously wounded revolutionary combatant.

Even worse, they explain why they did it. They assert that Che’s trial
would have been quite an earthshaker, that it would have been impossible to
place this revolutionary in the dock.

And not only that, they have not hesitated to spirit away his remains. Be
it true or false, they certainly announced they had cremated his body, thus
beginning to show their fear, beginning to show that they are not so sure
that by physically eliminating the combatant, they can eliminate his ideas,
eliminate his example.

Che died defending no other interest, no other cause than the cause of the
exploited and the oppressed of this continent. Che died defending no other
cause than the cause of the poor and the humble of this earth. And the
exemplary manner and the selflessness with which he defended that cause
cannot be disputed even by his most bitter enemies.

Before history, people who act as he did, people who do and give everything
for the cause of the poor, grow in stature with each passing day and find a
deeper place in the heart of the peoples with each passing day. The
imperialist enemies are beginning to see this, and it will not be long
before it will be proved that his death will, in the long run, be like a
seed that will give rise to many people determined to imitate him, many
people determined to follow his example.

We are absolutely convinced that the revolutionary cause on this continent
will recover from the blow, that the revolutionary movement on this
continent will not be crushed by this blow.

>From the revolutionary point of view, from the point of vie of our people,
how should we view Che’s example? Do we feel we have lost him? It is true
that we will not see new writings of his. It is true that we will never
again hear his voice. But Che has left a heritage to the world, a great
heritage, and we who knew him so well can become in large measure his
beneficiaries.

He left us his revolutionary thinking, his revolutionary virtues. He left
us his character, his will, his tenacity, his spirit of work. In a word, he
left us his example! And Che’s example will be a model for our people.
Che’s example will be the ideal model for our people!

If we wish to express what we expect our revolutionary combatants, our
militants, our people to be, we must say, without hesitation: let them be
like Che! If we wish to express what we want the people of future
generations to be, we must say: let them be like Che! If we wish to say how
we want our children to be educated, we must say without hesitation: we
want them to be educated in Che’s spirit! If we want the model of a person,
the model of a human being who does not belong to our time but to the
future, I say from the depths of my heart that such a model, without a
single stain on his conduct, without a single stain on his action, without
a single stain on his behavior, is Che! If we wish to express what we want
our children to be, we must say from our very hearts as ardent
revolutionaries: we want them to be like Che!

Che has become a model of what future humans should be, not only for our
people but also for people everywhere in Latin America. Che carried to its
highest expression revolutionary stoicism, the revolutionary spirit of
sacrifice, revolutionary combativeness, the revolutionary’s spirit of work.
Che brought the ideas of Marxism-Leninism to their freshest, purest, most
revolutionary expression. No other person of our time has carried the
spirit of proletarian internationalism to its highest possible level as Che
did.

And when one speaks of a proletarian internationalist, and when an example
of a proletarian internationalist is sought, that example, high above any
other, will be the example of Che. National flags, prejudices, chauvinism,
and egoism had disappeared from his mind and heart. He was ready to shed
his generous blood spontaneously and immediately, on behalf of any people,
for the cause of any people!

Thus, his blood fell on our soil when he was wounded in several battles,
and his blood was shed in Bolivia, for the liberation of the exploited and
the oppressed, of the humble and the poor. That blood was shed for the sake
of all the exploited and all the oppressed. That blood was shed for all the
peoples of the Americas and for the people of Vietnam because while
fighting there in Bolivia, fighting against the oligarchies and
imperialism, he knew that he was offering Vietnam the highest possible
expression of his solidarity!

It is for this reason, comrades of the revolution, that we must face the
future with firmness and determination, with optimism. And in Che’s
example, we will always look for inspiration — inspiration in struggle,
inspiration in tenacity, inspiration in intransigence toward the enemy,
inspiration in internationalist feeling!

Therefore, after tonight’s moving ceremony, after this incredible
demonstration of vast popular recognition — incredible for its magnitude,
discipline, and spirit of devotion — which demonstrates that our people are
a sensitive, grateful people who know how to honor the memory of the brave
who die in combat, that our people recognize those who serve them; which
demonstrates the people’s solidarity with the revolutionary struggle and
how this people will raise aloft and maintain ever higher aloft
revolutionary banners and revolutionary principles today, in these moments
of remembrance, let us lift our spirits and, with optimism in the future,
with absolute optimism in the final victory of the peoples, say to Che and
to the heroes who fought and died with him:

Hasta la victoria siempre! [Ever onward to victory]

Patria o muerte! [Homeland or death]

Venceremos! [We will win]
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