Real Che Guevara on Guerrilla Warfare


Ernesto Guevara and de la Serna, who signed as «Che» the Banco Nacional of Cuba money bills, was an educated, young, disciplined and methodical man. He was capable of analyzing the «military» path of the Cuban revolution from 1956 to 1958. And he extracted a few characteristics of how it developed this way and why it triumphed. His mistake was to extrapolate them to all the geographical places in his «Guerrilla warfare». As if those qualities were trustworthy, confirmed and, especially, immutable ideological and military principles.

The operative characteristics of the Cuban political guerrilla process, surprisingly rapid, and easy and slightly bloody, were very particular. Because that one was helped and stimulated by a very combative urban insurrection. That supported the weight of the merciless repression of the Batista’s bailiffs. Guevara, guerrilla in the Sierra and foreigner, took those characteristics as the axioms of action for an uprising people. Without giving neither value or usefulness to the civilian fighting, civic or armed. So important always in the Cuban nationalist political process. Following this way, the ideas of other «orthodox» violent revolutionaries of the epoch, but from other parts of the world, like Mao, Giap or Ho Chi Minh.

The Che’s guerrilla experience in Bolivia. The author applied his social military asymmetric theories, far from favorable Cuba.

It is not advisable to try to create a guerrilla focus, applying Guevara’s ideas. In Social Sciences the efficiency is a measure of the kindness of the applied methods and principles. To save the effort and the life, it is necessary to remember how this «strategist and tactician» of the «rural guerrilla warfare, in an underdeveloped Spanish-American country», gentleman ended.

The reading of his «Diary of Bolivia» allows us to learn from a strange, painful, and progressively insurmountable and asphyxiating, reality. Otto von Bismarck, the German Iron Chancellor (chief of the Government) was saying that the intelligent man was also learning with other people’s experience. We know the guerrilla path of the Che in Bolivia. The «scientific» guerrilla method he discovered, took all them to the disaster in Bolivia. The Bolivian Communist party (Mario Monje was his General Secretary) gave him the back. Because the opportunism is a common communist quality. The general Fulgencio Batista and Zaldívar was the candidate for President of the Republic of Cuba with the Popular Socialist party (since 1944, the new name of the Cuban Communist party) in 1940. The Party, in any country and circumstance, always theoretically justifies his acts, saying that the objective conditions for the masses action exist or do not exist. His «scientific» political method, based upon the dialectic materialism, would be very badly tested in the Grecian postwar revolutionary experience, as we will see downwards.

And the armed group with the Che turned finally into a group of «errant rebels». According to Mao Zedong, it is the worst thing that can happen to the irregular armed revolutionaries. That need to be established in a more or less isolated and protected zone with certain safety. And that cannot be indefinitely changing refuge, becoming fruitlessly and rapidly exhausted. They need the «bases» to be able to extend from them their doctrine among the popular masses, always with a certain degree of military constraint. Though only it would be for their armed active presence. And to be able to obtain from them the logistic support, refuge, information, personal help and indispensable recruits.

This way, the guerrilla sedentary and semi fixed bases turn, in turn, into one of the scanty military «hard» goals that the rebels offer to the military forces that fight them. The destruction of the guerrilla bases of the Communist party in the north of Greece by the Greek and British armies in 1949, supposed the end of a long (from 1946), hard and difficult insurrection armed in Greece. Placed around the cities of Vitsi and Grammos, in the border zone with Albania and Yugoslavia triangle, where the guerrillas were getting the supplies and recruits, the bases turned simultaneously in vital and very vulnerable for the guerrillas. The Greeks communists were getting support and energy from the anti nazi war popular crescent force.

The opportunity, extension and qualify of his irregular military rebel doctrine.

At the beginning of January, 1959, in a rapid consideration and synthesis of the guerrilla Cuban process, newly finished, Fidel Castro, got enthusiastic with his social military operational «discovery», was defining categorical: «Without training, without war tactics, we manage to conquer that Army …» «No professional Army (in America) would have forces to offset the activities of revolutionary guerrillas». «In any other (geographical) stage, with the same political conditions that ours, the popular guerrillas are invincible». See Carlos Franqui. Diario de la Revolución Cubana. Ediciones R. Torres. Barcelona, 1976. Pages, 703 and 704. Simultaneously published in France (he lived in Paris) and Italy.

With all this statement, he was who first established the social ideological operational theoretic basis of the Spanish-American guerrilla warfare. Afterwards Guevara developed, with scientific aspirations, its military guerrillas lived ideology. It was wrote in his «Guerrilla Warfare» book. He centered it on two postulates. That he was claiming the Cuban guerrilla warfare had absolutely (undoubtedly and without deviation) demonstrated in practice. «The popular forces can win a war against the Army» Indeed, this has happened in other occasions in History. «Not always it is necessary to wait that all the conditions for the revolution are present. (He was thinking in Mao’s theory of protracted warfare). The rebel revolutionary focus can create and develop them». His tragic end would give the «relative, local character, questionable, personal and conditioned» measure of his principal military «discovery».

Guevara dedicated great part of the forty thousand words of «The Guerrilla Warfare», to the study of the men who were forming the guerrillas and to giving advises on the life in the mount. But the work is slightly extensive in the study of the guerrilla tactics and strategies. As for value the opportunity and quality of his technical «offers» in his work: We only have to look at any photo, even of 2 or 3 decades ago, of armed irregular military rebels in some uneasy country in the World. They all generally have an assault rifle and an antitank rocket launcher. That usually are an AK-47 and a RPG-2 or RPG-7, all of Soviet design. Guevara speaks about a «grenade-launcher» designed by the Cuban guerrillas. Its propellant is a hunting cartridge, without pellets, adjusted to a wood rod. In its free end is adjusted a proper tin, full with gunpowder and grapeshot, and provided with a time fuse. It is fired off with a cut away shotgun, adequately inclined. Their guerrillas long arms were Springfield 1903 cal. .3006, with some American M-1 and Dominican San Cristóbal cal. 30 short carbines, some Thompson 1928 model cal. 45 machineguns and a few semiautomatic Garands cal. 3006. A superficial examination of the American FM Improvised Ammunition Devices, will give you better and abundant ideas to use in an undeveloped, hostile and without logistics support rebel asymmetrical environment.

The facts from which Guevara extracted his conclusions: The development of the insurrection against the usurpation of the political power by Batiste, after his coup d’état of March 10, 1952.

In the violent fighting against Batista, there were two radically different manifestations in their conception, techniques, tactics and strategies: the rural guerrilla and the urban commands for «action and sabotage», both of the Movimiento «26 de Julio». There in the Sierra, Fidel, with a militarily insignificant guerrilla rebel group, turned into the permanent and admired symbol of the resistance against Batista. Being kept in his little accessible «summons base», with an unique magnetism, he was orientating the Cuban public opinion towards his political option and, in these moments, amorphous ideologically.

The small urban groups presented against the regime a discontinuous, appropriate and dangerous battle, using 3 different tactics: attempts, sabotages and bombs and claiming petards. The price paid for these operations was high. Fighting in inferiority of forces, inside populations totally dominated by the men of Batista, whom did not lose their crushing control until January 1, 1959. And if the Police were not always capable of doing an effective preventive task, she followed the strategy of not leaving without response any suffered reverse. And we know that she was not going with considerations at the moment of select and apply the repression. Let’s indicate an example of each one.

On Monday, the 23rd of December, 1957 was «executed» by a «26 de Julio» command the colonel Fermín Cowley, chief of Holguín’s military district, in a hardware store of the city, at the north of Oriente. He was direct responsible of the massacre of the «Corinthia» invaders and a bloody repression against urban members of the Movement. Carried out in the previous Christmas, immediately after the pro-Castro invasion from Mexico in the «Gramma» little motorship.

On Tuesday, the 28th of May of this year took place the destruction of an important electric power conduction knot, in Suárez street at Havana downtown. The used technique was very known from then: rent of a building low floor, excavation of a tunnel up to the goal and placement and detonation of the explosives. As result of the sabotage, extensive zones of the capital were without light up to 3 days.

Every night, at 9 p.m., in La Cabaña fortress over Havana bay, a cannon-shot was going off, to indicate the Havana inhabitants an exact hour to facilitate the adjustment of their clocks. It was a useful custom preserved from the colonial epoch. Along 1957 and 1958, it was frequent to hear 5, 10 «cannon-shots of the nine», in the period that goes from five of nine to five after nine. When we all were more or less attending for the hourly sign. In general, it was tried that these «petards» were not causing body injuries.

The great revolutionary attempt of the urban and democratic «26 de Julio»: the general strike of April, 1958.

The general strike coordinators were Faustino Perez, national delegate of the Movement «26 de Julio» and Manuel Ray, chief of the Civic Resistance. Its organization was in charge of the strike committees, hierarchically integrated from the local level. They were constituted by members of 2 mentioned organizations, with a workers representative, member of the pro-Castro Frente Obrero Nacional (FON). The accomplishment of the strike was in charge of the «action and sabotage» commands of «26 de Julio». The instructions to the population, transmitted in proclamations, leaflets and radio emission, were demanding an active, even violent participation, of the people in the strike.

Strategically everything was outlined as an attempt of the «26 de Julio», to get the people to an urban, fulminating and decisive action, against the government. It was the last opportunity of the liberal and democratic line of the Movement, in wide majority in its ranks. Opposite to the radical and squalid line that was agglutinating in Sierra Maestra and Sierra de Baracoa. Because what was questioned in the later analysis of the facts by the National collegiate Direction of «26 de Julio», was the validity of an ideology (the liberal democratic one) for the failure of a badly applied tactic (to confront too directly the tyrant).

The principal Workers’ Federation of Cuba (CTC) abstained from helping the strikers and the Popular Socialist party was specifically excluded. The FON, the other labor force, without too many capacity of dialog with the employers and without sufficient penetration among the workers, failed in the organization of the strike. The order for the general strike was begun to transmit to the people by the radio at 11 a.m. of Wednesday, 9th of April, 1958, surprising all in their works and occupations. It failed the correct mobilization of the people, in altars of the security of the complex operation. Nevertheless, in March, the «26 de Julio» emitted a Manifest calling to the strike and existed a «rising» of sabotages in the cities, that were encouraging its members for its «summit final operation». For example, in the night from March 15 to March 16 only in Havana exploded nothing less than hundred bombs and petards.

In March, Batista appointed the effective and bloodthirsty army brigadier Pilar García as chief of the National Police. The government was kept calmed. For a time he did not realize roundups of hostile elements. But soon he began to act. There was done an extensive and intense use of false strike callings, in the days he had up to its beginning. Managing to poison the communication between the urban rebels and the people, and that this was beginning to suspect in the genuineness of the pro-Castro summons. Police agents, equipped with the red and blacks bracelets of «26 de Julio», were used extensively in actions of popular confusion and of attack and smashing the commands of action and sabotage.

The result of the efforts to initiate and extend the general strike, made concrete in a number of unconnected, isolated and costly actions and successes. That did not manage to involve the popular masses in the violent facts. In the Great Havana, most of the trade business, the public transport and the industries, did not follow the strike. In Santiago de Cuba, in Santa Clara happened similarly. In Holguín, the commands burned out the thermal plant. In Havana was confirmed the assault to several radio stations, a gunfire in the suburbs, the assault to an armory and the destruction of an electrical transformer, which left a part of the capital without electric light. The number of dead men happened in these urban encounters exceeded the hundred, which in great majority were rebels.

On Saturday, the 3rd of May, 1958, the National Direction of «26 de Julio» celebrated a tense meeting of almost 6 hours, close to Altos de La Plata. There was realized a hard self-criticism process, which take to a radical change of the operational postulates. There were purged Faustino Perez, the chief of the urban castristas commands and the principal leader of the FON, as maximums responsible of the disaster. The dismissed passed to occupy important places in the guerrilla organization. The urban commands remained restricted to a tactical support mission of the operations of the guerrilla columns. The control of the Movement went on totally to hands of the guerrillas, being modified the structure and the composition of the National Direction. This remained presided by a Secretariat with 6 members, presided by Fidel Castro.

The two prominent campaigns in the Cuban guerrilla insurrection: the army’s offensive in the spring summer of 1958 and the final «26 de Julio» counter-offensive, progressively and rapidly occupying the whole Island.

In March, 1957 the pro-Castro guerrilla in Sierra Maestra was approximately formed by 80 men, rest of the invaders of the «Granma», urban members of «26 de Julio» and local peasants. In April, 1958 existed approximately 300 guerrillas. In Sierra Maestra were approximately 180 rebels, distributed in two columns. And in the Sierras del Cristal, Baracoa and Nipe, adjacent with that one, were other 120 «bearded».

In May, 1958 general Eulogio Cantillo Porras was appointed as chief of operations in Sierra Maestra. He took charge to direct the unique important offensive for the destruction of the principal focus of the guerrilla. He got around 6 thousand soldiers joined in 14 infantry battalions, 1 light tanks company (14 Tm. with a 37 mm cannon), 2 75 mm. cannons batteries and 5 infantry independent companies, supported by two fighters and bomberfighters squadrons and several navy vessels. The military aviation, dependent on the army, was called Fuerza Aérea del Ejército (FAE). Between 3 and 4 thousand additional men, of the Rural Guard and the army, simultaneously realized protection of properties and infrastructures and public order missions in the Oriente province. The operations plan was more proper of the regular orthodox war. It was foreseeing to attack simultaneously, with two columns of reinforced infantry, from the north and the west, the «zone under rebel influence» of the Sierra, of around 2 thousand Km2, placed at the west of Santiago de Cuba’s basin. Formed the rebel’s rejection front, another infantry column would progress from the south over its rear, looking for breaking up the enemy resistance. And working together, pushing and squashing it up to its last positions. There would be kept a fixed siege of the operations zone, occupying the mountains spurs, to avoid guerrilla support movements and escapes of beating guerrillas.

Castro, who knew the loss of enthusiasm of the enemy troops, after the first skirmishes, followed a protracted resistance operational strategy. The enemy columns met a defense in depth, in a favorable ground for it. Destined to scourge them to the maximum and removing away from them the victory. And eluding the guerrillas an irreversible tie down in the fights and skirmishes. From the ends of April, the rebels devoted themselves to organize the Sierra’s entrances and its internal routes and to store in their zone all the equipment, weapon and supplies that they could, among these approximately 10 thousand bovine beasts. Around La Plata, Seat of the Comandancia, was established a quadrilateral rhomboid of approximately 100 Km2, framed by the Turquino peak, its mountain chain, Altos de La Plata and Agua Alrevés, as final rebel redoubt, where the commands and the reserves placed.

On May, 25, the troops initiated their advance over the rebel security vanguards, formed usually by short range shotgunners, «escopeteros», in the first Sierra entrances. The military men managed to approach with some of their advance spears, employing reinforced battalions, deployed in companies, to La Plata, but already without really combat force or operational capacity. The military advances were realized without the coordination that was demanded in their plans, attacking always in isolated advance sectors. This allowed the rebels, moving in interior lines of known and wild territory, to successively center in the enemy repulse. Only a maximum of 800 to 1000 soldiers attacked each time, of the whole of those who were operating. This way, the battalions were beaten by parts, even surrounded sometimes for a time, and repelled one after other. The second line units that occupied the zones invaded in May and June, were expelled from the Sierra, by the second ten of August, 1958. Approximately 36 combats, secondary actions and skirmishes took place in the campaign. The rebels suffered in whole approximately 35 dead and 45 injured men and captured more than 450 soldiers. No «bearded» rebel fell down prisoner.

Finished this campaign, Castro extended on August 18 an «order of march» to the commander Camilo Cienfuegos. In it, he was ordered to drive his rebel column «Antonio Maceo» n º 2, with approximately 120 men, up to the province of Pinar del Rio, in the western end of Cuba, at distance of approximately 1000 km. To establish there a guerrilla base, after crossing freely the island. On August 21 another order of the Comandancia arranged that the commander Ernesto Guevara, at the head of his rebel column nº 8 «Ciro Redondo, approximately 150 men strong, was moving to the province of Las Villas, in the center of Cuba, at approximately 500 km. His mission was to paralyze the passing movements of the military governmental forces through this province. The operational rebel strategy was offensive, supposing: an immediate harassment on the Santiago de Cuba basin, by the remaining rebel columns, directly directed by the Comandancia. And the invasion of Pinar del Rio and Las Villas, distant in the distance and in the guerrilla operational capacity. Which were the other two Cuban provinces that were possessing mountainous chains for possible guerrilla refuge.

At the beginning of September, the castristas guerrillas were reaching the thousand men. In the Oriente’s Sierras were operating approximately 700 men and the invading columns had approximately 300 men. At the end of 1958, more than 15 guerrilla columns, almost all of recent creation, had between 3 and 4 thousand men, operating many as auxiliary and of garrison forces. The rebel operations essentially consisted in a successively pushing aside, disarming and detaining, their always very superior enemies in number and equipment. But, without morale, courage, stamina and commitment with their professional duty. The offensive speed of advance over Havana, was dictating by the guerrilla columns’ scanty capacity of advance and maneuver. Each with power similar to a company of irregular infantry, partially motorized.

The Cuban dead soldiers during almost two years of guerrilla campaign were approximately 170-180 men. During this period the rebels approximately lost 125-130 men. In the revolt final period, the Cuban armed forces were increased up to 45 thousand men. The mortality of the Cuban population, according to the census of 1953, was 6 deaths each year for every 1000 inhabitants. According to all that, we can affirm that the Batista’s military men profession during war time was certain safe.

Cuba, simply, was changing from bad personal tyrant to worse institutional tyrant. In his speech of May 1, 1960, during the official acts on the occasion of the Labor Day, Fidel attacked publicly and for the first time, the electoral democratic system, as official channel of the sovereign expression of the people will. There he was shouted repeatedly by the ad hoc concentrated masses with shouts of: «Elections, what for?». With it was enthroned semiofficially and permanently in Cuba the system of «hand lifted at all sight and, poor who dissents!». That is proper of the democratic Marxists Leninist assemblies. And everything what from it was stemming for the government and the personal and collective rights of the Cuban people.