Sunday, April 17, 2011


Last night, I read the chapters, in Jon Lee Anderson's bio of Che, where he and Fidel's rag-tag, tattered, bloodied, out-manned, out-gunned band of rebels won the revolutionary war in Cuba, against Batista's brutal dictatorship.

I cheered, and I almost wept. Stunning. Unbelievable.

I don't know about you, but when I read a book like this, I feel like I live in that world. So the experience is profoundly moving, in a different way from real life, of course. Perhaps, in a way, you understand it better, because you aren't so close to it.

But I don't understand how those small bands of guerrillas won all those dozens or even maybe hundreds of battles against superior forces. They started out with 22 men, for Christ's sake. Often they would be out-numbered ten to one, or a hundred to one.

There isn't enough detail in the book, except for the taking of the armored train in Santa Clara, where they threw Molotov cocktails and the train got too hot for the soldiers inside.

When Che entered one city, I think it was Santa Clara, with 350 men, one of his lieutenants asked a supporter how many soldiers the Army had waiting to fight them. About 5,000, the supporter said. Oh, good, Che's man said, with our jefe, that's no problem.

I thought, holy Christ. What confidence, what audacity. But he was right. They won. 

I imagine that Batista's Army had never fought a war like this. They were used to brutalizing and terrorizing the people, so I imagine they were unprepared to face such intelligent and dedicated guerrillas. Also, I doubt the Army soldiers were willing to die for their cause, which the rebels were.

I was amazed at the amount of thought that Che and Fidel put into preparing to rebuild the country after they won. As they were fighting, against tremendous odds, they planned their new world.

They hit the ground running and began on day one to create a whole new society, a whole new economy, and a whole new government, in all its complexity, from the military to the schools to the infrastructure to the tax system. 

No vacations here. These men knew how to fight, how to work, and how to plan. They were amazingly intelligent in their forethought. 

Then came the bloodbath. Apparently, Raul was the worst, but Che and Fidel did it, too. I'm not sure they needed to kill so many. The firing squads were brutal. Trials lasted a few hours, and then, boom, you were dead.

Che and Fidel claimed it was necessary to kill the men who had tortured and killed thousands of innocent citizens under Batista. But the top dogs got away, many of them. Che said he had seen the government in Guatemala collapse because the president didn't eliminate his enemies.

How many were killed? Several hundred, in the first few months. Maybe that is not terrible, given the numbers of citizens who had been tortured and killed.

The Cuban revolution was bloody, that's for sure. But they won, they got rid of a brutal dictatorship, and they reformed Cuba, which had been known, under Batista, as "the whorehouse of the Caribbean."

Not any more.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

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