CUBA: Castro's Brain

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When your "voice cries to the four winds, "Land reform, justice, bread, liberty!" There at your side we shall be fighting. We are yours.

As he pondered Fidel, Che also pondered the objectives of the revolution he was fighting. Out of his own catch-as-catch-can Marxist reading, Che proceeded to map out Cuba's first true, peasant-based social revolution. He plotted total destruction of the old political and economic system, under which U.S. investors owned one-third of Cuba's largest crop (sugar), and the country was run by a tough and crooked former army sergeant, Fulgencio Batista. Che proposed to nationalize industry and agriculture, to reorganize that traditional prop of Cuban political power, the army, and to cut Cuba's historic ties with the U.S. With the cold-eyed dedication of a Marxist zealot, Che meant to concentrate and hold power until the old system was irreparably destroyed. First he had to convince Fidel.

Persuading by Doing. Che convinced Castro with competence, diplomacy and patience. When grenades were needed, Che set up a factory to make them. When bread was wanted, Che set up ovens to bake it. When new recruits needed to learn tactics and discipline, Che taught them. When a school was needed to teach peasants to read and write, Che organized it. If a situation called for a revolution ary expert, Che knew how it had been done in Bolivia or Guatemala. Through the long evenings, without ever appearing to contradict, Che encouraged Castro's leftism, planted the seeds of a deep-cutting and basic grab for power.

The measure of Che's competence is the fact that it was he who led the mili tary action that finally overturned Batista. Thrusting out of the sheltering Sierra Maestra, he led his men—perhaps 150—boldly through the canebrakes and swamps of Camaguey province, fighting toward Cuba's heart. Batista's forces blasted away with fighter planes, tanks and machine guns, but could not stop Che's men. When they swept into Santa Clara, in central Las Villas province, Cuba was cut in two, and Batista boarded a plane for exile.

En route Che had picked up a "secretary," an attractive, high-cheekboned Cuban girl named Aleida March. When Che took over his victory headquarters—the commandant's house at Havana's La Cabana fortress—Aleida was with him.

Later he divorced Hilda (who had borne him a daughter after he left Mexico) and married Aleida.

Banker's Green. Through Castro, Che's revolution got to work. Firing-squad rifles cracked, and 553 Batista "war criminals" —most of them stalwarts of the old army —fell dead, after drumhead trials. Elections were put off indefinitely. There was a brief backslide when Castro, warmed by his welcome to the U.S. in April 1959, told Cuban newsmen traveling with him, "Don't worry. I will get rid of Che." He sent Che off on a world trip. The repudiation lasted only until the afterglow of Castro's U.S. trip died away. In November Fidel finally turned Cuba's economy over to Che by naming him to run the National Bank, which in addition to acting as Cuba's central bank and bank of issue controls foreign trade.

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