Aleida Guevara: “My life with Che”
The story begins with my first encounter with Commander Ernesto ”Che” Guevara in the Escambray Mountains during the revolutionary war in Cuba. Che, an Argentine with an already well-deserved reputation, was the leader of the Eighth Column. I was active in the urban underground movement and was sent on a mission by local leaders of the July 26 Movement.It is quite a daunting task to describe my personal experiences with a man who, well before he was my partner, was already recognised as a remarkable individual.
I was standing in the doorway of the factory and suddenly, from behind, Che started to recite a poem I didn’t know. Because I was chatting with others at the time, this was his way of attracting my attention. I suspected he wanted me to notice him, not as a leader or my superior, but as a man.
As part of the guerilla unit, I slowly overcame any doubts that I could be a useful member of the troop. The focus of the war then shifted to Placetas, and we immediately transferred there. At first, we stayed in a food supply store in that town, huddling between sacks of grain to protect ourselves from aircraft bombing raids.
We made our way to Las Tullerias hotel where, with remarkable energy, Che threw himself into preparing for what later became one of his biggest military feats, the Battle of Santa Clara.
He gave me instructions to copy the passwords to be sent to Sinecio Torres in Manicaragua. From then on, I acted as Che’s personal assistant, which meant I was hardly engaged in any combat but was always at his side.
[On December 28, the vastly outnumbered rebels are still fighting to take control of the city of Santa Clara. Che and Aleida have been back to the now-secured town of El Pedrero to attend a funeral and visit injured fighters, and are heading back to Santa Clara.]
At sunset, something most unexpected happened. I don’t know if it was because of the time of day, or because of a deep need he had, but for the first time Che spoke to me about his personal life. He told me about his marriage to Hilda Gadea (a Peruvian economist) and his daughter, Hildita. At the time I wasn’t sure if he had said Hildita was three or 13 years old. He told me that by the time he left Mexico he had already separated from Hilda … I can see myself in that car in the fading afternoon light, in the company of a man who is relating the story of his life to a fellow soldier. She, aware of what is going on around her, is looking out for the safety of her commander. But Che is interrupted and we continue on our way.
We had some most enjoyable times within the maelstrom of the war, and those moments brought us all closer together. They helped us get to know each other as we really were. Some of us were naive, others, very clever; we were all young and full of hope for a future victory. We took every chance to have fun. I remember Che later wrote: ”At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”
On the night of December 29, Che and I went out for a walk along the highway. He scrutinised everything and I took notes like a good assistant. He told me we had to locate a ”Caterpillar”, a bulldozer, in order to lift the railroad tracks to derail the dictator’s armoured train that was expected to arrive.
Che had a deep, guttural voice and because it was late at night he spoke in a whisper. I didn’t understand what he had said. I had no idea what a Caterpillar was – he used the word ”Caterpillar” in English – so I noted down what I thought he had said in Spanish: ”catres, palas y pilas” [beds, shovels and batteries]. Realising I was confused, he asked to see what I had written. He jokingly remarked, ”A teacher, eh?”
Years later, when I told our children this story, they enjoyed taunting me, chanting: ”Beds, shovels and batteries!”
[By January 1, 1959, Che’s ”suicide troops” have captured Santa Clara, Batista has fled Havana and Che and Aleida are making their way to the capital.]
We made our first stop to refuel at dusk. I think this was in Los Arabos, but it might have been Coliseo. It was a place I knew, having passed through there during my time in the clandestine struggle. But what I could never have imagined was that this place would become so special to me for the rest of my life. In that small, apparently insignificant town, Che first declared his love for me.
We found ourselves sitting alone in the vehicle. He suddenly turned to me and told me he had realised he loved me that day in Santa Clara when the armoured car suddenly came up behind us. He said he was dreadfully afraid that something might happen to me. I was exhausted and half asleep, so I was hardly listening to what he was saying. I didn’t even take it very seriously, as I still saw him as much older than I was. He might have expected some kind of response from me, but at that moment I couldn’t utter a word – I was so tired. Also, I thought perhaps I hadn’t heard him correctly and I didn’t want a repeat of the ”Caterpillar” incident.
Looking back, I think Che didn’t exactly choose the best moment to declare his love, and I felt a bit upset later thinking he didn’t get the response he might have hoped for. But that was it. The others piled back into the jeep, and we were soon on our way again. But the ice had certainly been broken.
[On June 2, 1959, Che and Aleida are married.]
This is the story of a great legend and a great love. This is the story of a tenacious but loving woman, who lived through great danger and sorrow with incredible courage and the heart of a rebel.Forty-five years after Che’s assassination in Bolivia in 1967, his widow and the great love of his life has finally released her memoir of their years together.
They metas fellow guerrillas during the revolutionary war in Cuba and married in June 1959, a few months after the revolution. They had four children together.
Here, with great passion and poignancy, Aleida describes their shared dreams for the future and their family.
This book also includes a remarkable, moving short story Che sent to Aleida from the Congo, Africa.
With poems Che wrote for Aleida, along with unpublished photographs from the family albums, never before have readers been offered such an intimate insight into the man who remains one of the great revolutionary symbols of our time.
ALEIDA MARCH is now the director of the Che Guevara Studies Center (Havana).Author: Aleida March
Publisher: Ocean Press
Keywords: che, guevara, life, remembering
Number of Pages: 190
List price: $18.95