A firsthand account of an ill-fated Marxist revolution in the Congo, with an introduction by historian Richard Gott and an afterword by Aleida Guevara March, daughter of Guevara.
Those who romanticize the life of Guevara (d. 1967) will do well to read these unabridged journals. “This is the history of a failure,” he writes of his months of frustration in the jungles of central Africa. In 1965, Guevara brought a hundred or so Cuban guerillas to the Congo with the intent of training the forces of the then-26-year-old Laurent Kabila, who ruled the country recently (until his assassination earlier this year). His mission foundered because of Kabila’s lack of organization. Page after page describes the ineptness of the antigovernment forces, well armed but untrained in the use of their weapons. In describing the revolutionaries’ inexperience, Guevara employs images that recall Joseph Conrad, as when he sees a group of Rwandans manning an artillery piece on a hillside, completely exposed to enemy fire and not in a position to hit any target. In the few battles Cuban forces join, most of their African comrades run at the sound of the first shot or fire their rifles into the air with their eyes closed. In their one success, when the Cubans and Africans manage to ambush an enemy supply column, the victory is bittersweet. The supply trucks carry alcohol; the soldiers become drunk, argue among themselves, and wind up shooting a peasant they believe is a spy. Guevara is constantly outlining how the Africans might improve their campaign. The journals are a literal guidebook for any revolutionary seeking to mount a military campaign against a government in mountainous terrain. How to dig trenches, organize fighting groups, and distribute munitions and medical supplies, all are given a soldier’s attention. Despite the problems, however, Guevara maintains an optimism that mitigates his otherwise dreary tale.
An important document that evokes the heat in a little-known theater of the Cold War.