18 October 1967, Plaza de al Revolution, Havana, Cuba
Revolutionary comrades: It was a day in July or August of 1955 when we first met El Che. And in one night, as tell in his accounts, he became a future Granma expeditionary. But at that time that expedition had neither ships, weapons, nor troops. And this was the way El Che, together with Raul, joined the first two groups on the Granma list.
Since then, 12 years have gone by, 12 years fraught with struggles and obstructions. Through these years death reaped many valuable and irreparable lives, but at the same time, through these years, extraordinary people emerged in our revolution and were molded among men of the revolution. And ties of affection and friendship were made among these men and the people, ties which went further that it is possible to express.
Tonight we are gathered here, you and I, to try to express these sentiments in some way with regard to one who was one of the most familiar, one of the most admired, one of the most beloved, and, without any doubt, the most extraordinary of our comrades of revolution, to express these sentiment to him and to the heroes who have fought and have fallen beside him—his internationalist army which has been writing a glorious page of history.
Che was on of those persons whom everybody liked immediately because of his simplicity, because of his nature, because of his naturalness, because of his comradeship, because of his personality, because of his originality, even before his other singular virtues were revealed. During those first moments he was the doctor of our troop, and thus our bonds emerged and thus our feelings emerged. He was soon to be impregnated with a profound spirit of hatred and contempt for imperialism, not only because his political makeup was already considerably developed, but because only a short time before he had had the opportunity to witness in Guatemala the criminal imperialist intervention through the mercenary soldiers who overthrew the revolution in that country.
For a man such as he, many arguments were not necessary. It was enough for him to know that Cuba lived under a similar situation. It was enough for him that there were men determined to fight that situation with weapons in hand. It was enough for him to know that those men were inspired by genuinely revolutionary and patriotic sentiments. That was more than enough. In this manner, one day near the end of November 1955, he began the trip to Cuba with us. I recall that the crossing was very difficult for him because, in the circumstances under which it was necessary to organize the departure, he could not even obtain the medicines that he needed, and he suffered a sever attack of asthma during the entire crossing without any relief, but also without a single complain.
We arrived. We began the first marches. We suffered the first setback. And after a few weeks, we met again, as you know, that small group of those who were left of the Granma expedition. Che continued to be the doctor of our troop.
The first victorious battle was waged and Che then became a soldier of our troop; at the same time he was still the doctor.
The second victorious battle was waged and Che the soldier became the most distinguished of the soldiers in that battle, for the first time accomplishing one of those singular exploits which characterized him in all the actions.
Our force continued to develop and a battle of extraordinary importance at that time was waged. The situation was different. Reports were erroneous in many aspects. We were going to attack a strongly defended position in full daylight, in the morning, at the edge of the sea. It was well armed and we had enemy troops at our rear, very near. Under conditions of confusion which it was necessary to ask the men to make a supreme effort, after Comrade Juan Almaida had begun one of the most difficult missions, one of the flanks still did not have enough men. It lacked an attacking force, which could endanger the operation. At that moment, Che, who was still the doctor, asked for three or four men, among them a man with an automatic rifle. In a matter of seconds he quickly began to assume the mission of attack from that direction. On that occasion he was not only a distinguished fighter but he also was a distinguished doctor, giving assistance to the wounded comrades and at the same time caring for the wounded enemy soldiers. And when it was necessary to abandon that position, once all the weapons were captured, and begin a long march besieged by various enemy forces, it was necessary for somebody to stay with the wounded. El Che stayed with the wounded, helped by a small group of our soldiers. He cared for them. He saved their lives and joined them in the column later.
From that moment in which he was outstanding as a capable and brave commander. El Che, this type of man who when a different mission has to be done does not wait, does not wait to be asked – arrived and completed the mission. This he did during the battle of Uvero, and he did this, too, on an occasion, not mentioned in the early stages, when, because of a betrayal, our small force was attacked by surprise by many planes. As we were retreating under the bombing and had already walked some distance, we remembered some rifles of some peasant soldiers who had been with us during the first actions and who had later asked permission to visit their families – there was still not much discipline in our young army – and at the moment we considered the possibility that the rifles would be lost. No sooner was the problem brought up, under the bombing, when El Che volunteered and, and he did so, left rapidly to bring back the rifles.
That was one of his outstanding characteristics – immediate willingness, instantaneous readiness to volunteer for the most dangerous mission. Naturally this elicited admiration, double admiration for that comrade who fought beside us, who was not born in this land, who was a man of profound ideas, who was a man in whose mind surged dreams of struggle in other parts of the continent and yet, that altruism, that unselfishness, that willingness to do the most difficult always, to risk his life constantly. It was in this way that he won his rank of major and of commander of the second column that was organized in the Sierra Maestra. In this way his prestige grew. His fame began to grow as a magnificent fighter, which was to carry him to the highest ranks in the course of the war.
Che was an unbeatable soldier, commander. From a military standpoint Che was an extraordinary capable man, extraordinarily brave, extraordinarily aggressive. If he had and Achilles heel as a guerrilla, that Achilles heel was his excessive aggressiveness. It has his absolute scorn for danger. The enemies try to draw conclusion about his death. Che was a master of war.
Che was an artist in guerrilla warfare. He demonstrated this an infinite number of times, but above all in two extraordinary exploits. One of them was the invasion at the head of a column, a column which was pursued by thousands of soldiers through territory that was absolutely open and unknown. He accomplished with Camilo a formidable military feat.
But, in addition, he demonstrated it in his brilliant campaign in Las Villas, and he demonstrated it above all in his daring attack on the city of Santa Clara, entering a city defended by tanks, artillery, and several thousand infantry soldiers with a column of barely 300 men.
Those two exploits mark him as an extraordinarily able chief, a master, an artist of revolutionary warfare. Nevertheless, after his heroic and glorious death they attempt to deny the veracity or worth of his guerrilla concepts and ideas. The artist can die, particularly when he is an artist in such a dangerous art as the revolutionary struggle, but what cannot die under any circumstances is the art to which he dedicated his life and to which he dedicated his intelligence.
Why is it so strange that this artist should die in a battle? It is much more extraordinary that on the many occasions that he risked his life he was not killed during some battle. Many were the times in which it was necessary to take action to prevent him fro getting killed in actions of minor importance. And so in a battle, in one of the many battles that he waged, he lost his life. We do not have enough evidence to make a judgment as to all the circumstances preceding that battle, as to the degree in which he may have acted in an overly aggressive manner, but we repeat that if as a guerrilla he had an Achilles heel, that Achilles heel was his excessive aggressiveness, his absolute contempt for danger.
That was where it was difficult to agree with him, because we understand that his life, his experience, his ability as a veteran chief, his prestige, and everything that he signified in life, were much more, incomparable more, valuable that he perhaps realized himself. The idea that men have a relative value in history may have profoundly influenced his conduct; the idea that causes cannot be defeated when men fall and that the uncontainable march of history does not stop nor will it stop because the commanders fall. And this is certain, this cannot be doubted. This shows his faith in mankind, his faith in ideas, his faith in setting an example. Yet, as I said a few days ago, I would have wholeheartedly wished to have seen him as the molder of victories, molding under his leadership, molding under his direction, the victories, because men of his experience, of his caliber, of his singular ability are uncommon men. We are able to appreciate all the value of his example and we have the most absolute conviction that this example will serve as emulation and will serve to bring men similar to him from the bosom of the people.
It is not easy to find in one person all the virtues found in him. It is not easy for a person to be able spontaneously to develop a personality like his. I would say that he is the type of man who is difficult to equal and practically impossible to improve upon. But I would also say that men like him are able with their example to help the rise of other men like him.
We not only admire the warrior in El Che, the man capable of great feats, and what he did and what he was doing, that fact in itself of facing alone with a handful of men an entire oligarchic army trained by Yankee advisers, supplied by Yankee imperialism, supported by the oligarchies of all the neighboring nations, that fact in itself is an extraordinary feat. If one seeks in the pages of history one may not possibly find a single case in which somebody with such a small number of men had embarked on such a large-scale task, in which somebody with such a small number of men had embarked on a struggle against such considerable forces. It is proof of his self-confidence. It is proof of his confidence in the people. It is proof of his confidence in the capacity of men for combat. One may seek in the pages of history and nothing comparable will be found.
And he fell. The enemies believe that they have defeated his ideas, that they have defeated his guerrilla concepts, that they have defeated his viewpoints on the armed revolutionary struggle. What they gained with a lucky blow was to eliminate his physical life. What they did was to achieve the accidental advantages which an enemy may achieve in war. That lucky blow, that stroke of fortune, we do not know to what degree it was helped by that characteristic, to which we referred before, of excessive aggressiveness and absolute contempt for danger in a battle like so many battles. It also happened during our war of independence, in a battle at Dos Rios, where they killed the apostle of our independence. In a battle at Punta Brava they killed Antonio Maceo, veteran of hundred battles. In similar battles a number of chiefs were killed, a number of patriots of our independence wars. Nevertheless, that was not the defeat of the Cuban cause.
The death of Che, as we said a few days ago, is a hard blow, it is a tremendous blow to the revolutionary movement because, without any doubt, it deprives it of its most experienced and capable chief. But they who sing victory are mistaken. They are mistaken who believe that his death is the defeat of his ideas, the defeat of his tactics, the defeat of his guerrilla concepts, the defeat of his thesis, because that man who fell as a mortal man, as a man who many times exposed himself to bullets, as a military man, as a chief, he was a thousand time more capable than those who with one stroke of luck killed him.
However, how must revolutionaries face this adverse blow? How must they face this loss? What would be Che’s opinion if he had to make a judgment on this subject? He expressed that opinion very clearly when he wrote in his message to the Latin American solidarity Organization that if death surprised him at any place, it would be welcome, providing that his battle cry had reached a receptive ear and another hand was stretched out to grasp a weapon. And that was his battle cry. It will not reach one receptive ear, but millions of receptive ears, not one hand, but millions of hands outstretching to grasp weapons, inspired by his example. New commanders will arise. Men will need commanders who will rise from the rank and file of the people, just as commanders have arisen in all revolutions. Those hands will not be able to count on a commander of the extraordinary experience, of the enormous ability of El Che. Those commanders will be formed from among the millions who sooner or later will take up arms.