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Message-Id: <199705231727.NAA28212@listserv.brown.edu>
Date: Thu, 22 May 97 09:54:38 CDT
From: bin <bin@ursula.blythe.org>
Subject: PL: Che's War-Cry Still Heard in Congo

PL: Che's War-Cry Still Heard in Congo

Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit

Prensa Latina - Havana, Cuba

Che Guevara's War-Cry Still Resounds in Congo

By Dihur Godefoid Tchamlesso, Prensa Latina (Havana), 22 May 1997

There are incidents that proudly stands the test of time. The most important war incidents stand out and sometimes they outlive their protagonists.

This is the case of the presence of Cuban legendary guerrilla Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna in Lumumba's rebellion in eastern Congo during the 60's.

More than three decades after he walked through the plains of insurrection in eastern congo, Che's commanding voice and example are still a source of inspiration for patriots fighting there for the dignity of man.

Kibamba, a fishing village trapped in the gorge of a steep mountain on the shores of the large and deep Tanganyika Lake, witnessed the disembarkment of Che and a handful of Cuban combatants who came to help Congolese rebels in 1965.

On April 24 of that year, Guevara and 13 men arrived in Kimbamba on a solidarity mission. they were an outpost of what would later became the first column of Cuban internationalists sent south of Sahara to help the Congolese liberation movement.

"Tatu," Swahili for number three, was the war name adopted by Guevara. An expert in the strategies and tacticts of the guerrilla warfare. He became the third in the commanding rank of Cuban troops in Congo.

This was not just for security reasons and the secrecy surrounding his entrance into the central-African country. Che wanted to show his habitual modesty by passing the leadership of the expedition to Cuban Victor Dreke, aka Moya, an expert in irregular warfare.

Dreke, a black man born in Sagua la Grande, in the central province of Villa Clara, fought the counterrevolutionary groups armed and trained in Miami, Florida, who infiltrated the escambray mountainous region, in central Cuba. Dreke was wounded several times during these operations.

Commander Guevara's route to the Congo took him to Dar-es-Salaam, capital of Tanzania, and from there by road to Kigoma, a border city by the lake. The trip was carefully planned and carried out in great secrecy.

Although the Tanzanian government knew about the passage of the Cuban internationalists through its territory and offered them logistic help and protection until they left for the battle field, news about Che's presence stayed within the closed ranks of the Cuban command. Everything was kept in great secrecy.

Forty-eight hours after his arrival in Kibamba, Che Guevara revealed his true identity to the author of this article. in great secrecy, but relaxed, calm and far from dramatizing what up to now had been an enigma to me, "Tatu" asked me to inform Laurent-Desire Kabila, rebel leader in eastern Congo, about his presence there. he said "it's very important and urgent for Kabila to know about my presence here."

We withdrew to a corner of the support base in Kibamba, where we had disembarked the day before after a risky boat trip. during the trip from Kigoma (Tanzania) to the Congolese rebel front, the Cubans had no idea about their destination. Che stood beside one of the many huge sharp rocks of this rough landscape and spoke to me with a confident voice. I felt a mixture of terror and calm.

A few years ago, I read Che's reports describing the lake crossing on a makeshift boat manned by inexperienced sailors that did not even know how to handle a compass.

When I remember that moment, all the memories I keep stored in an archives of my brain pass before me in sequence. I kept them for 28 years until I described all the moments I lived with Che to Cuban Brigadier General William Galvez Rodriguez.

I was not only the guide, but the representative of the rebellion in Tanzania and responsible for the military security and the training of cadres abroad. from this position I was able to meet and be close to this great crusader of the humble.

Long before the arrival of the Cuban internationalist contingent, which came at the request of the leadership of the Congolese liberation movement, particularly at the request of Laurent-Desire Kabila, i had explored the zone where the Congolese armed insurrection was operating. Sometimes, I toured the zone accompanied by Rogelio Oliva, from the Cuban embassy in Tanzania.

I knew, almost by intuition, the route to be followed and the warning signals whenever a boat coming from Tanzania aproached the Kibamba base. We used traditional signals, such as flashlights and war cries to inform of our arrival when were approaching the coasts.

They were primitive signals that could be imitated by any opposite force to deceive our rebel watch.

Fortunately, we did not have to lament any infiltration or casualties because of this. the Cubans who came to support the armed uprising in eastern Congo claimed we were just lucky.

Today, with more expertise in guerrilla warfare, I realized that we were risking our lives for want of more security measures.

Still, not a single Cuban coweered because of the lack of security. When we disembarked, a small unit of Congolese rebels greeted the "Cuban brothers" firing a Chinese 75-mm canon and rounds of ak and ppcha.

Che Guevara, very angry, advised them not to waste ammunitions or make any noise that could make the enemy suspicious.

When he told me who he was, I was confused. I knew he was Che Guevara. During all the journey since we left Dar-es-Salaam I kept telling him "you're commander Ernesto Guevara. But he stubbornly kept denying it. With an expressionless face he repeated "No, I am not." After we had travelled hundreds of kilometers and since I kept asking him the same question he told me that he was Guevara's brother or cousin, but i did not believe him. He remained seated beside me while I drove the car through a Tanzanian dirt road.

Why didn't I believe him? I had met Ernesto Guevara during his first tour of Africa at the end of 1964, just after the Afro-Asian conference. He toured Argel, Cairo, Accra, Brazzaville and Tanzania, where he met Norbert Muyumba, who was also a front representative, and myself.

Kabila was not present at this first meeting held at the Cuban embassy in Dar-es-Salaam. muyumba and Ii were representatives of the front in the Tanzanian capital and we had jurisdiction over the rest of central Africa: Kenya and Uganda. We were ordered to negotiate on behalf of the front and its main leader Kabila. when we first met with Guevara we did it from that position.

We had already asked Cuban ambassador Pablo Rivalta for material support (arms, money and military trainers) from Havana. Che then confirmed that the Cuban government was ready to meet our demand.

The Cuban-Argentinian leader, who would later resign his position as industry minister to join the internationalist guerrilla in Congo, suggested sending men to train Congolese fighters.

He suggested that most of them would be black, although we told him not to place too much importance on the color of the skin of the Cuban volunteers because our enemy, led by Jose-Desire Mobutu, was hiring white mercenaries.

What difference does it make if revolutionaries help each other without distinction of the color of their skin or their geographical origins,? We claimed. Che was silent for a while and then agreed.

Che was impressive. We felt not only honored but morally changed and somewhat carried away with the delight of having met one of the greatest men in contemporary history. Nobody met and approached Ernesto Guevara de la Serna without feeling an internal transformation and a shiver.

This man was unique, a challenge to everything we know about human values, altruism and love for mankind. He had left his native land and the comfort of his different positions in the Cuban government and this touches even the most insensitive human fibers. That the way I remember him.

One day, I decided to stay in the mountains with him. I was still the front's representative abroad and kept seeing him because I was in charge of guiding the Cuban combatants arriving to join Che's mission in the Congo.

Maybe, it was too late. I was delayed because the movement led by Kabila had entrusted me with other missions abroad.

I had fulfilled those missions reluctantly and only out of a sense of duty and discipline, but i was eager to join cubans in the front line, although I was not as brave as them. fire purifies metals and men are forged by the struggle, little by little. I used to repeat to myself.

I not only escorted Cuban fighters, but also outstanding Cuban leaders Commander Fidel Castro used to send to Congo to deliver his personal messages to Che. Among them were Osmany Cienfuegos, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, Oscar Fernandez Padilla, Emilio Aaragonez and Oscar Fernandez Mell. The last two stayed with us until the front fell in november, 1965. some years later, I learned about Fidel Castro's concern about the mission. He was in charge of the arrangements for the Cuban column in Congo and followed every detail of the events taken place there.

Laurent-Desire Kabila, current head of the alliance of democratic forces for the liberation of Congo-Zaire , held his breath and although he was very black, his face paled when he learned from me that Che was in the rebel front in Kibamba.

We left the city in great secrecy to attend a meeting at the outskirts of Dar-es-Salaam. the group was made up of Kabila, Leonard Mitoudidi, Idelphonse Massengo, Norbert Muyumba and Tchamlesso, who had the mission to inform the Congolese leadership about Che's presence in Congo.

We managed to evade the surveillance system, eavesdropping ears and even microphones in hotels, cars and nearby streets. Once we had left the city, everybody was surprised at the news, but they all thanked Che for his action.

Kabila was worried for Che's life and the security of the rest of the expedition, at least at the moment he learned of his presence in Africa. He calmly ordered us to look after the health and physical integrity of the man he always claimed "to hold in high esteem." Kabila also ordered to look after the well-being of all Cubans in our land.

Mitoudidi had better military training because he had been trained in China. He was a cousin of Pierre Mulele and a close friend of Kabila, who ordered him to be prepared to work with Che and the rest of the cuban group.

Unfortunately Mitoudidi drowned in the Tanganyika Lake when the light canoe carrying him and other combatants on an exploratory mission capsized. His death took Che by surprise. He praised him as an outstanding guerrilla leader and the best man in his column.

After Mitoudidi's death, Idelphonse Massengo, Kabila's comrade since the beginning of the uprising, was appointed head of the chiefs of staff of the Congolese in Kkabila's absence.

Laurent-Desire Kabila, now seen as the next leader of Congo-Zaire, introduced the Cuban slogan "motherland or death, we shall overcome" into the Congolese rebel ranks. He also advised the compulsory reading of "history will absolve me," the French edition by the Maspero publishing house, and the manual "the guerrilla warfare," written by Che. Both books were our alter ego.

Che always regretted the delay the Cuban group suffered before starting military action. He also regretted Kabila's delayed arrival and short stay at the Kibamba base. Che thought the Congolese rebel leader was a very charismatic man with great possibilities of becoming a leader of the masses, a great political figure on the African continent. With the passing of time, Che's conclusions were right. some detractors have tried to change the context and the situation in which the immortal guerrilla made that evaluation, denying his vision of the future when he predicted that Laurent-Desire Kabila might change as he becomes hardened by the struggle and manages to become a truly popular leader.

Events that have taken place in eastern Congo from October 1996 until now, in the same region where Che and his group of internationalist fighters encamped for over seven months (from April to November, 1965), confirmed the correctnes of Che's predictions about Kabila.

The veteran fighter never surrendered and made no deals with the government of Kinshasa, where his young rebels trained in strict discipline are currently heading to. Mobuto Sese Seko has offered him important posts in his government or foreign service but Kabila rejected all of them.

Che was always eager to be in the front line, leading his men, but he also dedicated part of his time to cure sick people. He again wore the imaginary white robe of his original profession. He became Doctor Tatu. He also taught politics and economics.

The native population simply adored him and the Congolese combatants admired him, although most of them did not knew his real identity.

I remember the sad ominous days before the failure of the rebellion as if it were yesterday. We were completely surrounded by Mobutu's troops and French, South African, Belgian and British mercenaries. As they were approaching our positions, Che kept the flame of resistance alive.

He evaluated our remaining power: few Congolese and Cuban combatants, our ranks were demoralized after the latest setbacks and our retreat to Tanzania was blocked.

Behind us there was a mountain with a hostile and dense vegetation. We had no other defense line past this 1,200-meter-high mountain, because the Rwandans defending an advance position some kilometers from our base had left, making way for the enemy soldiers. These rwandans were what they call now Banyamulengues, Rwandans that emigrated to Congo centuries ago.

The Tanganyika Lake was behind us. Kigoma, in Tanzania, our uncertain retreat, was 50 kilometer across the lake. So, at the time of our forced withdrawal we had to navigate that distance.

If circumstances at that time prevented Ernesto Guevara's dream of contributing to the liberation of African people from coming true, the flame ignited by the armed rebellion and the contribution of che and his men still survives. Nothing this unique comtemporary warrior touched remains the same.

Zaire, the country of Patrice Lumumba, who was assassinated just after he had been sworn in Congo, is now changed.

The uprising in the 60's, the same Che supported with his faith and his real and altruistic actions, continues on its way to Kinshasa and Laurent-Desire Kabila has persisted in his goals. Like any human being with his ups and downs, he corrected his old mistakes and has become a mass leader, as che predicted.

Cuban blood was shed in Africa. First in Algeria and later in the Congo. Thousands of Cuba's best sons offered their lives for the independence and sovereignty of the African countries. After Congo, they fought in Angola, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verdi, Mozambique and Namibia.

Cuito Cuanavale, which marked the most resounding defeat for the South African troops that invaded southern Angola, had a great impact on southern Africa. it led to the end of apartheid and paved the way to power for the black majority in South Africa.

No other country in the world, not even the former metropolis, has contributed so much to the development of subsaharian Africa than Cuba in terms of aid, academic training and assistance.

[c] 1997. Latin American News Agency
Prensa Latina, S.A. (PL)
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