CUBA: Castro's Brain

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Recalls an Argentine who met him then: "Once we came across a group of undernourished, belly-bloated kids. We were in United Fruit land. Che went into one of his rages. He cursed everybody from God to North American 'exploiters,' and wound up with a frightening asthmatic attack that lasted two hours."

In 1954, at the Caracas conference of the hemisphere's foreign ministers in March, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles pushed through a resolution opposing Communist domination of any Latin American nation. The disapproval among Che's friends in Guatemala was immediate and violent, and he was swept along by their passion. Two months later, with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency as a silent partner, a Guatemalan colonel named Carlos Castillo Armas launched his counter-revolutionary invasion of the Red-dominated country. As F-47s swooped down over Guatemala City with U.S. pilots at the controls, Guevara dashed blindly around town trying to organize a resistance force. When Arbenz caved in without a fight, Guevara's wounded idealism and urge to do battle combined with his strong dislike of the U.S. to become a deep and deadly hatred.

Fidel, Meet Che. He darted into the Argentine embassy, stayed nearly two months as a dish-washing guest, then cut north across Guatemala to Mexico, where he rejoined Hilda Gadea. Welcomed as a member of Apra into the city's revolutionary-exile set, she met Fidel and Raul Castro, who had just been amnestied from prison in Cuba by Dictator Batista. She introduced them to Che, and the four became close friends. When Hilda and Che legalized their relationship in May 1955, Raul was best man. But it was Fidel and Che who hit it off. "Those two talked nothing but revolution," she says. "I lost my husband to the Cuban revolution."

When, on Nov. 26, 1956, Castro and his 81 men cast off for Cuba in the 62-ft. yacht Granma, Che was aboard. Batista's troops cut down the seasick invaders at the foot of the Sierra Maestra on Dec. 2.

The tragedy of Cuba began in that farce. Che was one of the twelve survivors who straggled into the tangled hills with Fidel.

In the hills, Che felt at home for the first time in his life. Castro quickly made him a lieutenant. Survival meant keeping constantly on the move, and Che ruthlessly goaded his men into motion. During the day he was the merciless martinet, intolerant of weakness and inspiringly confident. In the evening he taught tactics and the use of weapons, read to his men from Cervantes, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Venezuelan novelist (and ex-President) Romulo Gallegos, or recited Pablo Neruda's Communist poetry from memory. As they proved themselves in battle, his men proudly christened themselves "Che's Suicide Squad."

Study the Leader. Riding the mountain trails on a mule he called Martin Fierro,* Che puffed endless cigars and pondered his leader. He saw Castro clearly as an inspired and inspiring zealot, brimming with a disorganized flood of liberal ideals, incapable of accepting criticism, dependent on others to put his schemes into action. Che adapted himself to Castro. He never contradicted Castro in public. Allowing Fidel to take credit for Guevara accomplishments, he carefully avoided bruising the massive Castro ego. Che even wrote a "Rhapsody to Fidel":

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