Fidel Castro’s memorial speech of Che Guevara
(Speech given by Fidel Castro on October 18, 1967)
| I first met Che one day in July or August 1955. And in one night — as he recalls in his account — he became one of the future Granma expeditionaries, although at that time the expedition possessed neither ship, nor arms, nor troops. That was how, together with Raúl, Che became one of the first two on the Granma list.
Twelve years have passed since then; they have been 12 years filled with struggle and historical significance. During this time death has cut down many brave and invaluable lives. But at the same time, throughout those years of our revolution, extraordinary persons have arisen, forged from among the people of the revolution, and between them, bonds of affection and friendship have emerged that surpass all possible description.
Tonight we are meeting to try to express, in some degree, our feelings toward one who was among the closest, among the most admired, among the most beloved, and, without a doubt, the most extraordinary of our revolutionary comrades. We are here to express our feelings for him and for the heroes who have fought with him and fallen with him, his internationalist army that has been writing a glorious and indelible page of history.
Che was one of those people who was liked immediately, for his simplicity, his character, his naturalness, his comradely attitude, his personality, his originality, even when one had not yet learned of his other characteristics and unique virtues.
In those first days he was our troop doctor, and so the bonds of friendship and warm feelings for him were ever increasing. He was filled with a profound spirit of hatred and contempt for imperialism, not only because his political education was already considerably developed, but also because, shortly before, he had had the opportunity of witnessing the criminal imperialist intervention in Guatemala through the mercenaries who aborted the revolution in that country.
A person like Che did not require elaborate arguments. It was sufficient for him to know Cuba was in a similar situation and that there were people determined to struggle against that situation, arms in hand. It was sufficient for him to know that those people were inspired by genuinely revolutionary and patriotic ideals. That was more than enough.
One day, at the end of November 1956, he set out on the expedition toward Cuba with us. I recall that the trip was very hard for him, since, because of the circumstances under which it was necessary to organize the departure, he could not even provide himself with the medicine he needed. Throughout the trip, he suffered from a severe attack of asthma, with nothing to alleviate it, but also without ever complaining.
We arrived, set out on our first march, suffered our first setback, and at the end of some weeks, as you all know, a group of those Granma expeditionaries who had survived was able to reunite. Che continued to be the doctor of our group.
We came through the first battle victorious, and Che was already a soldier of our troop; at the same time he was still our doctor. We came through the second victorious battle and Che was not only a soldier, but the most outstanding soldier in that battle, carrying out for the first time one of those singular feats that characterized him in all military action. Our forces continued to develop and we soon faced another battle of extraordinary importance.
The situation was difficult. The information we had was erroneous in many respects. We were going to attack in full daylight — at dawn — a strongly defended, well-armed position at the edge of the sea. Enemy troops were at our rear, not very far, and in that confused situation it was necessary to ask people to make a supreme effort.
Comrade Juan Almeida had taken on one of the most difficult missions, but one of the flanks remained completely without forces — one of the flanks was left without an attacking force, placing the operation in danger. At that moment, Che, who was still functioning as our doctor, asked for three or four men, among them one with a machine gun, and in a matter of seconds set off rapidly to assume the mission of attack from that direction.
On that occasion he was not only an outstanding combatant but also an outstanding doctor, attending the wounded comrades and, at the same time, attending the wounded enemy soldiers.
After all the weapons had been captured and it became necessary to abandon that position, undertaking a long return march under the harassment of various enemy forces, someone had to stay behind with the wounded, and it was Che who did so. Aided by a small group of our soldiers, he took care of them, saved their lives, and later rejoined the column with them.
From that time onward, he stood out as a capable and valiant leader, one of those who, when a difficult mission is pending, do not wait to be asked to carry it out.
Thus it was at the battle of El Uvero. But he acted in a similar way on a previously unmentioned occasion during the first days when following a betrayal, our little troop was attacked by surprise by a number of planes and we were forced to retreat under the bombardment. We had already walked a distance when we remembered some rifles of some peasant soldiers who had been with us in the first actions and had then asked permission to visit their families, at a time when there was still not much discipline in our embryonic army. At that moment, we thought the rifles might have to be given up for lost. But I recall it took no more than simply raising the problem for Che, despite the bombing, to volunteer, and having done so, quickly go to recover those rifles.
This was one of his principal characteristics: his willingness to instantly volunteer for the most dangerous mission. And naturally this aroused admiration — and twice the usual admiration, for a fellow combatant fighting alongside us who had not been born here, a person of profound ideas, a person in whose mind stirred the dream of struggle in other parts of the continent and who nonetheless was so altruistic, so selfless, so willing to always do the most difficult things, to constantly risk his life.
Che was an incomparable soldier. Che was an incomparable leader. Che was, from a military point of view, an extraordinarily capable person, extraordinarily courageous, extraordinarily aggressive. If, as a guerrilla, he had his Achilles’ heel, it was this excessively aggressive quality, his absolute contempt for danger.
The enemy believes it can draw certain conclusions from his death. Che was a master of warfare! He was an artist of guerrilla struggle! And he showed that an infinite number of times. But he showed it especially in two extraordinary deeds. One of these was the invasion, in which he led a column, a column pursued by thousands of enemy soldiers over flat and absolutely unknown terrain, carrying out — together with Camilo [Cienfuegos] — an extraordinary military accomplishment. He also showed it in his lightning campaign in Las Villas Province, especially in the audacious attack on the city of Santa Clara, entering — with a column of barely 300 men — a city defended by tanks, artillery, and several thousand infantry soldiers. Those two heroic deeds stamped him as an extraordinarily capable leader, as a master, as an artist of revolutionary war.
However, now after his heroic and glorious death, some people attempt to deny the truth or value of his concepts, his guerrilla theories. The artist may die — especially when he is an artist in a field as dangerous as revolutionary struggle — but what will surely never die is the art to which he dedicated his life, the art to which he dedicated his intelligence.
What is so strange about the fact that this artist died in combat? What is stranger is that he did not die in combat on one of the innumerable occasions when he risked his life during our revolutionary struggle. Many times it was necessary to take steps to keep him from losing his life in actions of minor significance.
And so it was in combat — in one of the many battles he fought — that he lost his life. We do not have sufficient evidence to enable us to deduce what circumstances preceded that combat, or how far he may have acted in an excessively aggressive way. But, we repeat, if as a guerrilla he had an Achilles’ heel, it was his excessive aggressiveness, his absolute contempt for danger.
And this is where we can hardly agree with him, since we consider that his life, his experience, his capacity as a seasoned leader, his authority, and everything his life signified, were more valuable, incomparably more valuable than he himself, perhaps, believed.
His conduct may have been profoundly influenced by the idea that people have a relative value in history, the idea that causes are not defeated when people fall, that the powerful march of history cannot and will not be halted when leaders fall.
That is true, there is no doubt about it. It shows his faith in people, his faith in ideas, his faith in examples. However — as I said a few days ago — with all our heart we would have liked to see him as a forger of victories, to see victories forged under his command, under his leadership, since people of his experience, of his caliber, of his really unique capacity, are not common.
We fully appreciate the value of his example. We are absolutely convinced that many people will strive to live up to his example, that people like him will emerge.
It is not easy to find a person with all the virtues that were combined in Che. It is not easy for a person, spontaneously, to develop a character like his. I would say that he is one of those people who are difficult to match and virtually impossible to surpass. But I would also say that the example of people like him contributes to the appearance of people of the same caliber.
In Che, we admire not only the fighter, the person capable of performing great feats. What he did, what he was doing, the very fact of his rising with a handful of men against the army of the oligarchy, trained by Yankee advisers sent in by Yankee imperialism, backed by the oligarchies of all neighboring countries — that in itself constitutes an extraordinary feat.
If we search the pages of history, it is likely that we will find no other case in which a leader with such a limited number of men has set about a task of such importance; a case in which a leader with such a limited number of men has set out to fight against such large forces. Such proof of confidence in himself, such proof of confidence in the peoples, such proof of faith in man’s capacity to fight, can be looked for in the pages of history but the likes of it will never be found.
And he fell.
The enemy believes it has defeated his ideas, his guerrilla concepts, his point of view on revolutionary armed struggle. What they accomplished, by a stroke of luck, was to eliminate him physically. What they accomplished was to gain an accidental advantage that an enemy may gain in war. We do not know to what degree that stroke of luck, that stroke of fortune, was helped along, in a battle like many others, by that characteristic of which we spoke before: his excessive aggressiveness, his absolute disdain for danger.
This also happened in our war of independence. In a battle at Dos Rios they killed [José Martí the apostle of our independence; in a battle at Punta Brava, they killed Antonio Maceo, a veteran of hundreds of battles [in the Cuban war of independence]. Countless leaders, countless patriots of our war of independence were killed in similar battles. Nevertheless, that did not spell defeat for the Cuban cause.
The death of Che — as we said a few days ago — is a hard blow, a tremendous blow for the revolutionary movement because it deprives it, without a doubt, of its most experienced and able leader.
But those who boast of victory are mistaken. They are mistaken when they think that his death is the end of his ideas, the end of his tactics, the end of his guerrilla concepts, the end of his theory. For the person who fell, as a mortal person, as a person who faced bullets time and again, as a soldier, as a leader, was a thousand times more able than those who killed him by a stroke of luck.
However, how should revolutionaries face this serious setback? How should they face this loss? If Che had to express an opinion on this point, what would it be? He gave this opinion, he expressed this opinion quite clearly when he wrote in his message to the [Tricontinental] Latin American Solidarity Conference that if death surprised him anywhere, it would be welcome as long as his battle cry had reached a receptive ear and another hand reached out to take up his rifle.
His battle cry will reach not just one receptive ear, but millions of receptive ears! And not one hand but millions of hands, inspired by his example, will reach out to take up arms! New leaders will emerge. The people of the receptive ears and the outstretched hands will need leaders who emerge from their ranks, just as leaders have emerged in all revolutions.
Those hands will not have available a leader of Che’s extraordinary experience and enormous ability. Those leaders will be formed in the process of struggle. Those leaders will emerge from among the millions of receptive ears, from the millions of hands that will sooner or later reach out to take up arms.
It is not that we feel that his death will necessarily have immediate repercussions in the practical sphere of revolutionary struggle, that his death will necessarily have immediate repercussions in the practical sphere of development of this struggle. The fact is that when Che took up arms again he was not thinking of an immediate victory; he was not thinking of a speedy victory against the forces of the oligarchies and imperialism. As an experienced fighter, he was prepared for a prolonged struggle of 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, if necessary. He was ready to fight 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, or all his life if need be! And within that perspective, his death — or rather his example — will have tremendous repercussions. The force of that example will be invincible.
Those who attach significance to the lucky blow that struck Che down try in vain to deny his experience and his capacity as a leader. Che was an extraordinarily able military leader. But when we remember Che, when we think of Che, we do not think fundamentally of his military virtues. No! Warfare is a means and not an end. Warfare is a tool of revolutionaries. The important thing is the revolution. The important thing is the revolutionary cause, revolutionary ideas, revolutionary objectives, revolutionary sentiments, revolutionary virtues!
And it is in that field, in the field of ideas, in the field of sentiments, in the field of revolutionary virtues, in the field of intelligence, that — apart from his military virtues — we feel the tremendous loss that his death means to the revolutionary movement.
Che’s extraordinary character was made up of virtues that are rarely found together. He stood out as an unsurpassed person of action, but Che was not only that — he was also a person of visionary intelligence and broad culture, a profound thinker. That is, the man of ideas and the man of action were combined within him.
But it is not only that Che possessed the double characteristic of the man of ideas — of profound ideas — and the man of action, but that Che as a revolutionary united in himself the virtues that can be defined as the fullest expression of the virtues of a revolutionary: a person of total integrity, a person of supreme sense of honor, of absolute sincerity, a person of stoic and Spartan living habits, a person in whose conduct not one stain can be found. He constituted, through his virtues, what can be called a truly model revolutionary.
When people die it is usual to make speeches, to emphasize their virtues. But rarely can one say of a person with greater justice, with greater accuracy, what we say of Che on this occasion: that he was a pure example of revolutionary virtues!
But he possessed another quality, not a quality of the intellect nor of the will, not a quality derived from experience, from struggle, but a quality of the heart: he was an extraordinarily human being, extraordinarily sensitive!
That is why we say, when we think of his life, when we think of his conduct, that he constituted the singular case of a most extraordinary human, able to unite in his personality not only the characteristics of the man of action, but also of the man of thought, of the person of immaculate revolutionary virtues and of extraordinary human sensibility, joined with an iron character, a will of steel, indomitable tenacity.
Because of this, he has left to the future generations not only his experience, his knowledge as an outstanding soldier, but also, at the same time, the fruits of his intelligence. He wrote with the virtuosity of a master of our language. His narratives of the war are incomparable. The depth of his thinking is impressive. He never wrote about anything with less than extraordinary seriousness, with less than extraordinary profundity — and we have no doubt that some of his writings will pass on to posterity as classic documents of revolutionary thought.
Thus, as fruits of that vigorous and profound intelligence, he left us countless memories, countless narratives that, without his work, without his efforts, might have been lost forever.
An indefatigable worker, during the years that he served our country he did not know a single day of rest. Many were the responsibilities assigned to him: as president of the National Bank, as director of the Central Planning Board, as minister of industry, as commander of military regions, as the head of political or economic or fraternal delegations.
His versatile intelligence was able to undertake with maximum assurance any task of any kind. Thus he brilliantly represented our country in numerous international conferences, just as he brilliantly led soldiers in combat, just as he was a model worker in charge of any of the institutions he was assigned to. And for him there were no days of rest; for him there were no hours of rest!
If we looked through the windows of his offices, he had the lights on all hours of the night, studying, or rather, working or studying. For he was a student of all problems; he was a tireless reader. His thirst for learning was practically insatiable, and the hours he stole from sleep he devoted to study.
He devoted his scheduled days off to voluntary work. He was the inspiration and provided the greatest incentive for the work that is today carried out by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country. He stimulated that activity in which our people are making greater and greater efforts.
As a revolutionary, as a communist revolutionary, a true communist, he had a boundless faith in moral values. He had a boundless faith in the consciousness of human beings. And we should say that he saw, with absolute clarity, the moral impulse as the fundamental lever in the construction of communism in human society.
He thought, developed, and wrote many things. And on a day like today it should be stated that Che’s writings, Che’s political and revolutionary thought, will be of permanent value to the Cuban revolutionary process and to the Latin American revolutionary process. And we do not doubt that his ideas — as a man of action, as a man of thought, as a person of untarnished moral virtues, as a person of unexcelled human sensitivity, as a person of spotless conduct — have and will continue to have universal value.
The imperialists boast of their triumph at having killed this guerrilla fighter in action. The imperialists boast of a triumphant stroke of luck that led to the elimination of such a formidable man of action. But perhaps the imperialists do not know or pretend not to know that the man of action was only one of the many facets of the personality of that combatant. And if we speak of sorrow, we are saddened not only at having lost a person of action. We are saddened at having lost a person of virtue. We are saddened at having lost a person of unsurpassed human sensitivity. We are saddened at having lost such a mind. We are saddened to think that he was only 39 years old at the time of his death. We are saddened at missing the additional fruits that we would have received from that intelligence and that ever richer experience.
We have an idea of the dimension of the loss for the revolutionary movement. However, here is the weak side of the imperialist enemy: they think that by eliminating a person physically they have eliminated his thinking — that by eliminating him physically they have eliminated his ideas, eliminated his virtues, eliminated his example.
So shameless are they in this belief that they have no hesitation in publishing, as the most natural thing in the world, the by now almost universally accepted circumstances in which they murdered him after he had been seriously wounded in action. They do not even seem aware of the repugnance of the procedure, of the shamelessness of the acknowledgement. They have published it as if thugs, oligarchs, and mercenaries had the right to shoot a seriously wounded revolutionary combatant.
Even worse, they explain why they did it. They assert that Che’s trial would have been quite an earthshaker, that it would have been impossible to place this revolutionary in the dock.
And not only that, they have not hesitated to spirit away his remains. Be it true or false, they certainly announced they had cremated his body, thus beginning to show their fear, beginning to show that they are not so sure that by physically eliminating the combatant, they can eliminate his ideas, eliminate his example.
Che died defending no other interest, no other cause than the cause of the exploited and the oppressed of this continent. Che died defending no other cause than the cause of the poor and the humble of this earth. And the exemplary manner and the selflessness with which he defended that cause cannot be disputed even by his most bitter enemies.
Before history, people who act as he did, people who do and give everything for the cause of the poor, grow in stature with each passing day and find a deeper place in the heart of the peoples with each passing day. The imperialist enemies are beginning to see this, and it will not be long before it will be proved that his death will, in the long run, be like a seed that will give rise to many people determined to imitate him, many people determined to follow his example.
We are absolutely convinced that the revolutionary cause on this continent will recover from the blow, that the revolutionary movement on this continent will not be crushed by this blow.
From the revolutionary point of view, from the point of vie of our people, how should we view Che’s example? Do we feel we have lost him? It is true that we will not see new writings of his. It is true that we will never again hear his voice. But Che has left a heritage to the world, a great heritage, and we who knew him so well can become in large measure his beneficiaries.
He left us his revolutionary thinking, his revolutionary virtues. He left us his character, his will, his tenacity, his spirit of work. In a word, he left us his example! And Che’s example will be a model for our people. Che’s example will be the ideal model for our people!
If we wish to express what we expect our revolutionary combatants, our militants, our people to be, we must say, without hesitation: let them be like Che! If we wish to express what we want the people of future generations to be, we must say: let them be like Che! If we wish to say how we want our children to be educated, we must say without hesitation: we want them to be educated in Che’s spirit! If we want the model of a person, the model of a human being who does not belong to our time but to the future, I say from the depths of my heart that such a model, without a single stain on his conduct, without a single stain on his action, without a single stain on his behavior, is Che! If we wish to express what we want our children to be, we must say from our very hearts as ardent revolutionaries: we want them to be like Che!
Che has become a model of what future humans should be, not only for our people but also for people everywhere in Latin America. Che carried to its highest expression revolutionary stoicism, the revolutionary spirit of sacrifice, revolutionary combativeness, the revolutionary’s spirit of work. Che brought the ideas of Marxism-Leninism to their freshest, purest, most revolutionary expression. No other person of our time has carried the spirit of proletarian internationalism to its highest possible level as Che did.
And when one speaks of a proletarian internationalist, and when an example of a proletarian internationalist is sought, that example, high above any other, will be the example of Che. National flags, prejudices, chauvinism, and egoism had disappeared from his mind and heart. He was ready to shed his generous blood spontaneously and immediately, on behalf of any people, for the cause of any people!
Thus, his blood fell on our soil when he was wounded in several battles, and his blood was shed in Bolivia, for the liberation of the exploited and the oppressed, of the humble and the poor. That blood was shed for the sake of all the exploited and all the oppressed. That blood was shed for all the peoples of the Americas and for the people of Vietnam because while fighting there in Bolivia, fighting against the oligarchies and imperialism, he knew that he was offering Vietnam the highest possible expression of his solidarity!
It is for this reason, comrades of the revolution, that we must face the future with firmness and determination, with optimism. And in Che’s example, we will always look for inspiration — inspiration in struggle, inspiration in tenacity, inspiration in intransigence toward the enemy, inspiration in internationalist feeling!
Therefore, after tonight’s moving ceremony, after this incredible demonstration of vast popular recognition — incredible for its magnitude, discipline, and spirit of devotion — which demonstrates that our people are a sensitive, grateful people who know how to honor the memory of the brave who die in combat, that our people recognize those who serve them; which demonstrates the people’s solidarity with the revolutionary struggle and how this people will raise aloft and maintain ever higher aloft revolutionary banners and revolutionary principles today, in these moments of remembrance, let us lift our spirits and, with optimism in the future, with absolute optimism in the final victory of the peoples, say to Che and to the heroes who fought and died with him:
Hasta la victoria siempre! [Ever onward to victory]
Patria o muerte! [Homeland or death]
Venceremos! [We will win]
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