The Cuban freedom-fighters who faced Che at the Bay of Pigs and later in the Congo still laugh. The Bay of Pigs invasion plan included a ruse where a little boat packing a huge fireworks show and tape recording of battle sounds landed in extreme western Cuba as a diversion.
Sure enough, the wily Che immediately recognized this as an Anzio-type “second front!” He snapped on his holster, cocked his beret at just the right angle, scowled for the camera and rushed over with a few thousand troops. He spent the whole battle there (300 miles from the invasion site). It was the only thing in the invasion that went according to plan.
Later, many of these Cuban-American freedom-fighters itched to get back into the fight (but with ammo and air cover this time). The CIA obliged and sent them with ex-marine Rip Robertson to the Congo in ‘65 where Castro (with tongue tucked deeply in his cheek) had sent Che to foment a “war of liberation.’ There, the Cuban-Americans fighters linked up with the legendary mercenary “Mad Mike” Hoare and his “Wild Geese.”
Here’s Mike Hoare’s opinion, after watching them in battle: “These Cuban-CIA men were as tough, dedicated and impetuous a group of soldiers as I’ve ever had the honor of commanding. Their leader [Rip Robertson] was the most extraordinary and dedicated soldier I’ve ever met.”
Together Mad Mike, Rip and the Cubans made short work of the alternately Chinese-and Soviet-backed “Simbas” of Laurent Kabila, who were murdering, raping and munching (many were cannibals) their way through the defenseless Europeans still left in the recently abandoned Belgian colony.
Kabila made Idi Amin look like Gandhi. Castro, itching to be rid of this nuisance, sent Che (code-named “Tatu”) and a force of his rebel army “veterans” to help these cannibals. The Congolese reds, unfamiliar with Che’s true record, accepted Tatu gratefully.
The masterful “Tatu’s” first order of business was plotting an attack on a garrison guarding a hydroelectric plant in a place called Front Bendela on the Kimbi River in Eastern Congo. His masterstroke was to be an elaborate ambush of the garrison.
The wily Tatu was stealthily leading his force into position when they heard shots. Whoops! ... Hey?! WHAT THE?! Ambushers became ambushed – and by the same garrison he thought was guarding the plant. Che lost half his men and barely escaped with his life.
His African allies started frowning a little more closely at Tatu’s resume, and asking a few questions. (But in Swahili, which he didn’t understand.)
The problem was, any teen gang member in East L.A. or south Bronx had 10 times the battle experience and savvy of any of these strutting Fidelista “Comandantes.” Imagine the Germans atop Monte Cassino outnumbering and outgunning the Allies 10 to 1 in early ‘44. Hell, they’d STILL be there. It was a defender’s dream.
Well, the brilliant Tatu and his comandantes had that very set-up in a place called Fizi-Baraka in Eastern Congo for their second clash with the mad dogs of imperialism. Mad Mike and his CIA allies sized the place up and attacked. Within one day the mighty Che’s entire force was scrambling away in panic, throwing away their arms, running and screaming like old ladies with rats running up their legs.
One of the most hilarious and enduring hoaxes of the 20th century was the “war” fought by dauntless Che and the Castro rebels against Batista: rustle a few cows, plant a few bombs in stores and cinemas…...But I hear it was a kick.
What 17- or 18-year-old male could resist? Petty delinquency became not just altruism here, but downright heroism. How many punks get such a window of glory? Normally these stunts land you in reform school. In Cuba in 1958 it might get your picture in the New York Times:
“Comandante Humberto ‘El Guapo’ Fontova shown here relaxing with a bottle of rum and a grateful senorita after smiting the Fascist hordes of the Tyrant Batista in the ferocious Battle of Santa Clara, depicted by Stephen Soderbergh in his movie “Che” as bloodier than Stalingrad!
Here’s an insider account of this battle from some eye-witnesses that Soderbergh and Benicio del Toro (because they were too busy consulting Castro’s propaganda ministry) did not consult for their movie These men reported their harrowing battlefield exploits to Paul Bethel who served as U.S. press attaché in Cuba’s U.S. Embassy in 1959.
“We had a helluva time, Paul! We used a short-wave radio to broadcast the so-called battle. We yelled fake battle commands into the mike while a few of the muchachos shot BARs and pistols into the air for the sound effects. We really whooped it up!....Guevara’s column shuffled right into the U.S. agricultural experimental station in Camaguey. Guevara asked manager Joe McGuire to have a man take a package to Batista’s military commander in the city. The package contained $100,000 with a note. Guevara’s men moved through the province almost within sight of uninterested Batista troops.”
According to Paul Bethel, the U.S. embassy had been highly skeptical about all the battlefield bloodshed and heroics reported in the New York Times (same as in Stephen Soderbergh’s new movie, “Che”) and investigated. They ran down every reliable lead and eyewitness account of what the New York Times called a “bloody civil war with thousands dead in single battles!”
They found that in the Cuban countryside, in those two years of “ferocious” battles, the total casualties on BOTH sides actually ran to 152. New Orleans has an annual murder rate DOUBLE that. The famous “Battle of Santa Clara” claimed five casulties total on BOTH sides. But don’t look for this in Stephen Soderbergh’s blockbuster movie, “Che,” where you’ll mistake it for Iwo Jima.
Che the Lionhearted’s image indeed belongs on college campuses. But it’s usually in the wrong places. He belongs in the marketing, PR, advertising – and especially – psychology departments. His lessons and history are fascinating and valuable, but only in light of Sigmund Freud or P.T. Barnum. “One born every minute,” Mr. Barnum? If only you’d lived to see the Che phenomenon. Actually, 10 are born every second.
Here’s a “guerrilla hero” who in real life never fought in a guerrilla war. When he finally brushed up against one, he was routed.
Here’s a cold-blooded murderer who executed thousands without trial, who claimed that judicial evidence was an “unnecessary bourgeois detail,” who stressed that “revolutionaries must become cold-killing machines motivated by pure hate,” who stayed up till dawn for months at a time signing death warrants for innocent and honorable men, whose office in La Cabana had a window where he could watch the executions – and today his T-shirts adorn people who oppose capital punishment!
Here’s a humorless teetotaler, a plodding paper-pusher, a notorious killjoy and all-around fuddy-duddy – and you see his T-shirt on MTV’s Spring Break revelers! Perhaps competent psychologists (if any exist) will explain this some day.
Che excelled in one thing: mass murder of defenseless men. He was a Stalinist to the core, a plodding bureaucrat and a calm, cold-blooded – but again, never in actual battle – killer. Che’s true legacy is simply one of terror and murder.
That dreaded midnight knock. Wives and daughters screaming in rage and panic as Che’s goons drag off their dads and husbands – that’s the real Che legacy.
Desperate crowds of weeping daughters and shrieking mothers clubbed with rifle butts outside La Cabana as Che’s firing squads murder their dads and sons inside – that’s the real Che legacy.
Thousands of heroes yelling “Viva Cuba Libre!” and “Viva Christo Rey!” before firing squads of murderous drunks whom they’d have stomped in open battle – that’s the real Che legacy.
Secret graves and crude boxes with bullet-riddled corpses delivered to ashen-faced loved ones – that’s the real Che legacy.
And let’s not forget the craven “Don’t shoot – I’m Che! I’m worth more to you live than dead!” (Then why didn’t he save his last bullet for himself?) Perhaps the defiant yells of the men he murdered actually affected Che the Lionhearted?
By 1960 he started ordering that his victims’ mouths be taped shut. Perhaps there was a trace of human emotion in this icy dolt after all? Genuine bravery and defiance unnerved him.
When the wheels of justice finally turned, Che was revealed as unworthy to carry his victims’ slop buckets. He learned nothing from their bravery. He could only beg for his life. So yes, the craven request when cornered in Bolivia is also the real Che legacy.
So please excuse all the champagne corks that popped in Cuban-American households back in October 1967 when we got the wonderful news. Yes, our own compatriots serving proudly in the U.S. Special Forces, had helped track down the murderous, cowardly and epically stupid little weasel named Che Guevara in Bolivia. Then he got a major dose of his own medicine.
Justice has never been better served.
Humberto Fontova is the author of four books including “Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him.” Visit hfontova.com.
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