CUBA: Castro's Brain

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The Brain. Prime Minister Castro, at 33, is the heart, soul, voice and bearded visage of present-day Cuba. His younger brother, Armed Forces Chief Raul Castro, 29, is the fist that holds the revolution's dagger. National Bank President Che Guevara, 32, is the brain. It is he who is most responsible for driving Cuba sharply left, away from the U.S. that he despises and into a volunteered alliance with Russia.

He is the most fascinating, and the most dangerous, member of the triumvirate.

Wearing a smile of melancholy sweetness that many women find devastating, Che guides Cuba with icy calculation, vast competence, high intelligence and a perceptive sense of humor. Despite the fact that Fidel Castro has had him declared a "native-born Cuban," Che knows that Cubans still regard him as a foreigner, and has so far realistically set the limit of his personal ambition accordingly. Even his name (pronounced Chay) comes from the Argentine equivalent of "Mac" or "Hey, you."

One day, goes a Cuban story, Fidel was winding up a Cabinet meeting when a thought suddenly struck him. "By the way," he said, "I had to fire the head of the National Bank today. Anybody here an economist?" Che's hand shot up. "I am, chief," he said. "All right, Che," said Fidel, "you're president of the bank." The meeting over, Castro stayed behind for a private chat with Che. "Say, I never knew you were an economist," said Fidel. "Economist!" said Che, astounded. "I thought you said Communist!" The most interesting thing about the story is that Che loves to tell it on himself.

Battle to Breathe. Che's father, Architect Ernesto Rafael Guevara Lynch, also sees some humor in the fact of his son's control of fiscal Cuba. Sitting recently in his Buenos Aires office, the elder Guevara chuckled that "nobody was more surprised than I when I heard my son was managing the Cuban economy. Any business we Guevaras put money into has always been a failure."

Che Guevara was born in the Argentine grain port of Rosario on June 14, 1928, the first of five children in a family of Spanish-Irish descent and some small inherited wealth. Father Guevara was determined to give his premature and puny son a hardy upbringing, and sunned the sickly infant on a balcony wrapped only in a diaper despite the 45° chill of midwinter. Che was plunged into bathtubs of cold water and doused under icy showers. He developed a persistent cough and later serious allergic asthma.

So that the gasping little boy might breathe, the family had to move to the hill town of Alta Gracia. There Che began a stubborn personal battle to beat the asthma. He swam, roamed the streets ;with a gang of toughs, played golf, took odd jobs in Córdoba's vineyards. His father taught him to shoot—and started him rambling through some of the 3,000 books, mostly leftist sociology and history, that crammed the family bookshelves. The boy was entranced with the works of Chile's Communist Poet Pablo Neruda, memorized many of his poems.

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