Che Guevara’s Proposal for Bolivia

7 years after his murder: his draft program, for the first time in English

Close to a half-century since his fall, this document reminds us that Che’s strength was not only military so much as it was essentially political and moral. That is the quality of his programmatic proposals concerning Bolivia. He did not have the time or the conditions in which to develop them in his brief and eventful final sojourn on this soil. They remain only indications of a political contour of great actuality, worthy of analysis in light of the profound transformations that Bolivia is experiencing since Evo Morales came to power.

Introduction

Forty-seven years ago today Ernesto “Che” Guevara was murdered in cold blood along with two other guerrillas by the Bolivian military after being captured, wounded, the previous day. We now know that the army was acting on orders from the White House and Pentagon.[1]

The event is marked each year in Vallegrande, the town in Santa Cruz department where Che’s body was buried for three decades in a common grave with other guerrillas alongside an aircraft landing strip. His remains were later transferred to Cuba to be placed in a monument in Santa Clara.

This year a novel aspect of the commemoration was the participation of an official Argentine delegation from Che’s country of birth and the placing of a plaque sent by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The two-day ceremonies were shorter than usual because many of the Bolivians normally involved are actively campaigning for the MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) government in Sunday’s election, according to Oswaldo Chato Peredo, a survivor of the 1967 guerrilla force. Peredo told La Razón that many of the MAS candidates in Santa Cruz “are people who have been formed in Che’s school of thinking….”[2]

Appropriately, October 8, celebrated in Bolivia as the “Day of the Heroic Guerrilla,” was the day of the MAS closing campaign rally, held in El Alto.

In Argentina, the Telam news agency reports, a Spanish translation of the Smith and Ratner book (see note 1, below) is being launched.

The Bolivian government newspaper Cambio published today a special four-page supplement on “Che: Bolivian,” from which I have translated the following article, first published two years ago in La Razón and on the web site of the author Carlos Soria Galvarro.[3] The article quotes the text of a previously unpublished programmatic document drafted by Che in the opening stages of his Bolivian guerrilla struggle but never completed before his capture and death.

Of particular interest is what the text (and the crossed-out words) indicate of Che’s evolving and tentative thinking about the immediate tasks facing the Bolivian revolution that he hoped to spark: calling for nationalization of foreign capital and its local allied firms, construction of a “new,” not yet necessarily “socialist” society, the need to involve the original peoples in their own languages, etc.

I have translated the text as published in Cambio, which differs from the original article mainly in the final paragraph with its reference to Evo Morales.

Richard Fidler
Life on the Left


Che’s proposal for Bolivia

imageBy Carlos Soria Galvarro

On the day of his arrival at the Ñacahuasu river, Che began his diary entries with the familiar sentence “Today a new stage begins.” He had arrived clandestinely after spending two nights in the Hotel Copacabana in La Paz, travelling by jeep to the Lagunillas region in southeastern Bolivia.

Left behind were other stages in his footloose life as a revolutionary: his frustrated incursion in Africa (Congo), which in turn had ended the phase of his outstanding presence in the Cuban revolution.

What, then, was the “new stage” initiated on November 7, 1966?

His initial preoccupation with incorporating Peruvian and Argentine recruits seems to indicate that his project was continental. Fighters trained with experience here would return to fight in their own countries and — who knows? — he might himself return to his native Argentina, an ambitious dream he never abandoned.

But as the struggle unfolded in Bolivia a proposal that would justify it was inescapable, although this country might be the last to liberate itself given its landlocked status, as he himself hinted.

The best known documentation of Che’s presence in Bolivia does not contain any more or less explicit programmatic proposal as such. There is none in his famous Diary, a detailed chronicle of the guerrilla group’s day-to-day activity. [4] Nor is there any indication in the public communiqués numbered 1 to 5, which are more military in nature except to some degree in No. 5, addressed to the miners. Or in the communications between Havana and La Paz or the “instructions to cadres assigned to urban areas.”

The missing piece

In April 1998 the bilingual La Paz periodical The Bolivian Times (now disappeared) published for the first time a handwritten document contained in a small notebook that the retired general Jaime Niño de Guzmán, a helicopter pilot operating in the anti-guerrilla campaign, said Che had given to him after his capture.

The Bolivian Times did not publish the complete facsimile, only two pages of the notebook, which also bore the fingerprints of the former soldier and a photograph of Che’s dead body. So it is impossible to verify the accuracy of the transcript, given the acknowledged difficulty in reading Che’s “doctor’s script.”

But from what can be seen, in the form and content as well as the circumstances, this is a document of significant historical value. For the first time the outline of a programmatic plan of the Ñacahuasu guerrillas is revealed, and what’s more, in the handwriting of their principal exponent.

It is not a “final” proclamation of Che, as The Bolivian Times presented it, but rather a first draft that he had not managed to finish writing, or still less intended to publish.

From the first line it is apparent that it was written before the outbreak of armed actions on March 23, 1967, since Che leaves blank the name of his armed group. As we know, it was on March 25, immediately after that first clash, that his column adopted the name Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Bolivia [ELN – National Liberation Army of Bolivia]. [5]

In its first section the document attempts to justify the armed uprising in the following words (we retain the crossed-out corrections as published in The Bolivian Times).

People of Bolivia, Peoples of America

We, the members of the [blank space], make our voice heard for the first time. We want to reach every corner of this continent with the echo of our cry of rebellion.

Today, having exhausted all the possibilities for peaceful struggle, we are rising to show by our example the road to follow. We know the internal and external enemy; we know are aware of the enormous forces that can be placed at the service of local reaction by North American imperialism. We can measure the danger and magnitude of the undertaking: our thinking is not unpremeditated or superficial; our lives are will be [sic] testimonies of the seriousness of the struggle undertaken, which will end only with victory or death.

We have no doubt about the support that we will get from our people, but our situation as a land-locked country surrounded by reactionary governments hostile to our cause impels us to call, from the very moment of initiating the struggle, for effective solidarity from all honest individuals men and women of this continent.

A great united country, not a fragmented giant

The document has a clear programmatic content when it proposes total independence of Bolivia, breaking through the possible imperialist encirclement with the support of revolutionaries from neighbouring countries in the seizure of power, control of the means of production, nationalizations, and the militant support of workers and peasants in the creation of a new society. This is what it says:

Our cause is synthesized in these simple programmatic statements.

1. We are fighting for the real and democratic total independence of Bolivia.

2. That independence cannot be secured achieved without the collaboration of friendly countries that present us with the possibility of breaking the imperialist encirclement. Accordingly, while we ask for their solidarity, we offer our own to any authentically revolutionary movement in the neighbouring countries that is determined to take political power.

3. An unavoidable indispensable condition of any authentic sovereignty is to have control over the means of production. Accordingly, we propose the nationalization of all imperialist property as well as major national industry linked to monopoly capital foreign monopoly, as steps toward the construction of a socialist new society.

4. That society cannot be created without the militant support of peasants and workers to those we call on to join in the struggle under the following slogans:

Here, in the section that Che calls “slogans,” is where there are proposed significant aspects of definite importance for today such as participation of the ethnic populations in the various levels of power, of workers and peasants in planning, and development of communications to strengthen the internal unity of Bolivia.

(a) Democratization of the life of the country with active participation of the larger ethnic populations in the major government decisions;

(b) Education in culture and technical capabilities of the Bolivian people using literacy the vernacular languages in the initial stage;

(c) Development of society, liberating our people from scourges now eliminated in advanced countries;

(d) Participation of workers and peasants in the tasks of planning the new economy with the right of authentic owners of the means of production land and factories fundamentally;

(e) Formulation of a development program that includes the use of our mineral resources and fertility over an extended area;

(f) Development of communications to make Bolivia a great united country and not a fragmented giant with its departments and provinces mutual strangers.

The fifth and final point of this draft programmatic document repeats Che’s well-known position that a revolutionary triumph in Bolivia, even taking power in the country, was not sustainable without the disappearance of the imperialist system, a way of reaffirming his continental focus in the struggle.

(5) We know, from the bitter experience of sister peoples in the world and from our own, that we will not be able to peacefully confront this great work as long as task (even though we take power in our country) while the imperialist enemy has not disappeared, as a social system, from the face of the earth. Accordingly, we declare ourselves as anti fighters decisively anti-imperialists, we offer our small measure of valour and sacrifice to the great arsenal of the peoples of the world immersed engaged in this fight struggle [sic] to the death.

Victory or death

Close to a half-century since his fall, this document reminds us that Che’s strength was not only military so much as it was essentially political and moral. That is the quality of his programmatic proposals concerning Bolivia. He did not have the time or the conditions in which to develop them in his brief and eventful final sojourn on this soil. They remain only indications of a political contour of great actuality, worthy of analysis in light of the profound transformations that Bolivia is experiencing since Evo Morales came to power.


[1] See Who Killed Che? How the CIA got away with murder, by Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith (OR Books, 2011). For an extract, see this. For a review, see this.

[2] La Razón, “Argentina protagoniza homenaje al Che Guevara.”

[3] Soria Galvarro’s web site is probably the most comprehensive source in Spanish of documentation on Che’s experience in Bolivia. Highly recommended. He is the author of many articles and books, most recently Andares del Che en Bolivia (Che’s involvement in Bolivia), published in Argentina.

[4] The Bolivian Diary of Ernesto Che Guevara (Pathfinder, 1994).

[5] The Pathfinder edition of Che’s Diary (supra note 4) also includes the text of a book by Inti Peredo, “My campaign with Che,” that appears to refer to this draft program on pages 398-399. However, a footnote by the Pathfinder editors (p. 399) apparently confuses this with communiqué No. 1 of the ELN. As Inti Peredo indicates, that communiqué was written and published several days later.

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