Latin American Network Information Center - LANIC

San Miguel Speech

Santiago Chile PRENSA LATINA in Spanish to PRENSA LATINA Havana 1612 GMT 29

[Text] Santiago, Chile, 29 Nov--Following is a test of a speech delivered
by Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro at a rally held at San Miguel commune,
Pedro Aguirre Department, on 28 November 1971:

Officials and residents of the Pedro Aguirre Cerda Department and the three
communes, especially the San Miguel commune, several days ago when we
visited the Jose Marti monument we said that we would come a few days later
to visit Che's monument along with the residents of this community.

I thank you today for having honored me with this title of illustrious son
of this commune. My purpose is to give you my impressions, recollections on
the outstanding characteristics of the life and personality of Che.

When we arrived here and placed flowers at the base of this monument many
memories came to our minds. In the first place we remembered our comrade in
arms and brother of the Cuban people and fighters. It is impressive to see
here the man whom we had the privilege of knowing one day, of fighting at
his side, turned into bronze. It is really the first time in our lives that
we have seen the monument of someone whom we knew alive.

Generally speaking statues are carved by sculptors in memory of men who
distinguished themselves because of their feats in the field of battle for
humanity and these statues symbolize persons who have lived many years
ago--hundreds of years and some times thousand of years. It is a very
special occasion that one can see the statute of persons known by one
because generally history takes care of raising such monuments with the
passing of time. However, in this case the proletarian and revolutionary
commune of San Miguel erected a monument to Che 3 years after his death, a
monument which this community unveiled in October 1970.

We knew Che in 1955, an Argentine by birth, a Latin American in soul and
heart, Che arrived from Guatemala. Many stories have been written about Che
as is generally the case with all revolutionaries. They tried to depict him
as conspirator, a subversive, a horrid character who dedicated his life to
forging conspiracies and revolutions.

Che, a young man, like many other students, graduated from his country's
university--in this case he was a medical graduate--special curiosity and
interest in the affairs of the continent, with a special interest in
studying and gaining knowledge, with a special calling which attracted him
to our countries. He began a trip through various countries. With nothing
else but his degree at times he walked or traveled on a motorcycle from
country to country. When we visited Chuquicamata we were shown a place
where at one time, during his first trip outside his country, he had
stopped one day. He had no money and was no tourist. He visited work
centers, hospitals, and historic sites. He crossed the cordillera, took a
boat or raft, and arrived at a leper hospital in the Amazonas. He worked
there as a doctor for some time. He continued his pilgrimage. He arrived in
Guatemala, if my memory does not fail me-- after travelling through Brazil,
Venezuela and Colombia. He arrived in Guatemala when a progressive group
headed by Jacobo Arbenz [words indistinct] was ruling the country and when
survivors of the attack on the Moncada barracks, in 1953 had arrived. There
they became friends to Che. If I remember correctly Che was doing medical
work in this country.

Interested in the process, a studious man, thirsty for knowledge, a
restless soul, with a revolutionary spirit and vocation, with a good mind,
Che had naturally read the books and theories of Karl Marx, Engels, and
Lenin. Although he did not belong to any party, at that time Che was a
Marxist in his thoughts.

However, he lived through a bitter experience and while he was in this
country the imperialist intervention against Guatemala occurred, an
invasion led by the U.S. CIA. The CIA led the invasion against Guatemala
from neighboring countries with weapons, aircraft, and all the equipment
just as they tried to do in Giron later. However, on this occasion they
attacked with planes at random, advanced, and ousted the revolutionary

The Cubans and other Latin Americans there at the time supported the
government. They were involved in practical projects--nothing to do with
politics--but because of the situation were forced to leave the country.
Then they went to Mexico.

In 1955 the first fighters who had just been released from prison were also
forced to leave Cuba. Raul was one of the first comrades to be harassed and
persecuted and he went to Mexico. We arrived a few weeks later.

Raul had already made contact with the other comrades who had not been in
prison and had met Che. A few days after arriving in Mexico Che stopped at
a place where a group of Cubans--I cannot remember how many were in the
group--had stopped. There we met Che.

Che was not Che. He was Ernesto Guevara. As it is an Argentine customer to
call others Che, the Cubans began to call him Che, and thus he made this
name famous, a symbol. It was there that we became acquainted.

As Che tells it in one of his writings, he immediately joined the Cuban
movement after a few hours of conversation.

Considering his spirits when he left Guatemala--the bitter experience he
had been through, the cowardly aggression against the country, the
interruption of this process which had further awakened the people's hopes,
with such a revolutionary commitment and spirit of struggle--one cannot
speak of hours, but in a matter of minutes Che joined the small band of
Cubans which was working to organize a new phrase in the struggle for our

We spent a little over a year in Mexico, working under difficult
conditions, with very limited resources, but this really made no
difference; this was implicit in our struggle, like any struggle. Finally
on 25 November, we headed for Cuba. Our movement had made a commitment
despite the skeptics, those who doubted we would continue our struggle--the
ones who were fighting against our evaluation of the situation which had no
other solution. We had said that by 1956 we would be either free or
martyrs. The statement, then, had the simple purpose of reaffirming to the
Cuban nation our determination to fight and our conviction that the
struggle would come very soon.

It is true that many persons discussed it, but not from among our ranks,
for they knew full well the implications of our commitment: to return to
Cuba within an almost fixed span of time. So, too, it was that many people
in our country had turned skeptical as a result of the talk, of the deceit
of the traditional politicians, and the fact that those with vested
interests were making great efforts in their political maneuvering in order
to reach a political agreement with the Batista tyranny, and to destroy the
faith of the people in the revolutionary struggle.

So, under the circumstances, we were forced to make this commitment.
Whether this was good or bad is not for us to argue here. It could be a
topic for theoretical discussion. Men are not always closely guided by an
agenda. Men contribute to future history, but future history also makes
men. In other words, whether rightly or wrongly, we made the commitment
and, rightly or wrongly, we decided to honor it.

We were prepared for complications--and, in fact, some very serious
complications did arise just as we were about to leave. So we had a small
cache of arms well hidden. We used to say: If all of us cannot go, some of
us will be able to go anyway. But as it was, we were all able to go--82
fighters--in a small craft called Granma, sail (? 195) miles, and land on
the Cuban coast on 2 December 1956. In exactly 2 or 3 days, our country
will be celebrating the 15th anniversary of that landing, which marked the
emergence of our small army, which our armed forces celebrate nowadays as
their founding day.

Thus began our struggle. I do not intend to tell you the whole history or
anything of the sort. I merely want you to visualize the moment in which we
began our struggle. What was Che? He was our doctor. He was not an officer
and, therefore, did not yet have a troop command. He was simply the doctor,
but one day, because of his seriousness, intelligence, and character, he
was placed in charge of a house in Mexico where there was a group of
Cubans, and a small, unpleasant incident occurred there. Some of the Cubans
who were staying there--the group consisted of 20 or 30, and there were
only two or three, but that is all that is needed sometimes to create an
unpleasant incident--where against Che's being put in charge because he was
Argentine and not Cuban. We, of course, criticized the attitude which
rejected human values and was unmindful of the fact that, despite his not
having been born on our soil, he was willing to spill his blood for it. So
I remember that we were very much hurt by this, and I think he, too, was
hurt by it. Furthermore, he had no ambition to be a commander. He had no
ambitions whatsoever, or cult of self. He was, instead, someone who
withdrew into himself if anyone rejected him. When we left for our country,
he went as the doctor and a member of the general staff.

An interesting story is how Che became a soldier, how he stood out, and
what his characteristics were. Here are some incidents: On 5 December, our
small detachment, through a tactical error, was attacked by surprise and
completely scattered. A few of the men were able to come together again
after great difficulties, in the middle of the circle, and a rough chase.
There were three groups: one with Raul; another that Che belonged to but
was not commanding, since he was not yet a commander, and in which Comrade
Almeida also participated; and another group. Some days later, we were able
to start our struggle again.

In our first clash, which took place on 17 January 1957, we had 17 men to
begin with. At first we had only seven of the weapons we had brought with
us. This was, so to speak, a baptism of fire for Che and for many of our
comrades, that was on 5 December. The first small successful clash was on
17 November. In the second battle Che stood out for the first time; he
began to show that he was Che. We were being pursued, and during the clash
he performed a personal feat. In an almost individual struggle with an
enemy soldier, in the midst of the general fighting, Che overcame the
soldier, dragged him under the hale of bullets, and seized his weapon.

On his own initiative, he carried out that courageous, outstanding, special
act which earned him everyone's sympathy. Six or 7 days later as a result
of treason at the end of January the same year, our small group which had
reached some 30 men, out of which five or six peasants had requested
permission to visit their families-- discipline was not solidly established
in that small group--and had left their weapons with the group, was
attacked during the early morning by a squadron of fighters and bombers.
They attacked the exact location of the small group in a very serious
bombing effort--at least that it what we thought at that time. We had some
similar experiences before, but that was the worst one.

I am saying this because at the time of the bombing, the combatants were
trying to get away from the area being bombed by climbing a hill. At that
time, we remembered the weapons of the five or six peasants visiting their
families. We needed to pick up those weapons, so I asked for volunteers and
immediately the first man said without hesitation: "I will go." Quickly, he
approached the area being bombed with another comrade, pickup up the
weapons, put them in a safe place, joined the rest of the group.

Other experiences occurred. Che was still a medic; he had no command. But
on 28 May the same year, something happened in our country. By then our
column consisted of some 100 men, if I remember correctly, and a group of
revolutionaries had landed north of the province. We, who remembered our
landing experience and the difficult moments we had experienced, wanted to
help that group with some action. As a result, we went to the coast where a
company of infantry had its positions with bunkers and trenches. At dawn,
the attack was very quickly organized on the basis of available
information. When combat was to begin at dawn, a complicated situation
arose because the information was not accurate; the positions were not
located where we thought they were and the outlook became really
complicated; however, it was impossible to forget about the plan.

Around us, in a 1.5-km perimeter, there were small units, platoons and
squads; they could not even withdraw. We simply had to attack. At that
time, Che was on the general staff with us, he already had some
responsibilities, but he had to get involved in two or three operations. It
was necessary to ask Comrade Almeida's platoon to close in on a determined
position in a very risky advance which cost a lot of casualties.

But we also had to move to the west, and while we were analyzing what to do
and how to organize that operation, Che immediately requested a group of
men, an automatic rifle, to conduct the operation. At that time he was
given an automatic rifle, and a group of men practically from the general
staff. They quickly advanced toward that position. It was on a third
occasion when a volunteer was needed when a difficult situation arose, that
he volunteered and acted immediately.

That fierce combat, during which practically 30 percent of both sides'
forces were wounded or killed in 3 hours of combat after which the camp was
occupied, inspired in him the desire to help those who had landed in the
north--who incidentally, in spite of our efforts, were surrounded,
captured, and murdered. As a result of that combat which lasted 3 hours,
the camp was occupied and there were a good number of wounded men, ours and

Che was the doctor who quickly assisted the wounded; ours and the wounded
enemy soldiers. That was always our policy throughout the struggle.
Logically, following that operation, a converging movement of forces, a
persecution began.

We had to overcome the problem of our numerous casualties because after
assisting the wounded, we left them in the position so that when we
withdrew they could be picked up by their units. Then Che, as a doctor,
stayed with the wounded, taking care of them in a difficult situation,
since there were numerous forces in the area trying to capture our column.
The column advanced through rugged and difficult terrain; it escaped the
siege, but Che stayed in the rear with the wounded and a very few men. He
stayed with them several weeks until sometime later, with the wounded well,
the small group of men joined the main column which had arrived at the area
where the arms captured in that combat were stacked.

Then, for the first time, a new column was organized and Che was appointed
its commander; so Che was the second commander of our forces and he began
to operate in a certain area with his column, not too far from where the
first column was located. That is how Che became a soldier and was named
the commander of a small column; he always had the same character, the same
attitude so it can be said that we had to take care of him.

What does that mean, taking care of him? His aggressiveness and boldness
made him come up with daring operations, and when engagements took place
during later phases when we had not fully developed, lacked forces and
experience, he demonstrated a tenacious and persistent character with his
small column where he operated. We can talk about his tenacious and daring
character as a soldier: on some occasions he insisted in fighting the
adversary for a position. He would fight for hours, even days. Let us say
that in a certain manner, he acted contrary to the struggle's deepest
ideals, risking his life in operations which only obeyed impulses from his
character, tenacity, and spirit. That resistance to yield a position, even
though his troops were numerically small and the advancing forces were
large, and the position not worth defending, showed his character, his
tenacity, his combative spirit.

But logically, that is why we had to outline to him certain policies,
certain rules. Now, what did he admire? What moved us? What exactly
conveyed by one of the most characteristic elements of Che's soul and
spirit? His morals, his altruism, his absolute unselfishness. He had met a
group of Cubans; he understood their cause; and from the first moment he
showed such unselfishness, such generosity, and from the first moment he
showed an absolute willingness to die regardless of whether it was the
first or second or third engagement. There we had a man born so many
thousand kms from our land, the man whom once the Cubans looked down upon
because he was ordering them and had not been born in Cuba.

For that country and for that cause, he was at any time the first to
volunteer for risk; the first to volunteer for danger. He had no personal
ambitions; he could not be ambitious about anything. To fulfill his duty,
give a quick answer, and provide an example without hesitation was what he
believed a revolutionary should do.

How far from his thoughts in those early days would have been the
possibility of our having a ceremony such as this one today, and the fact
we would visit his monument. Che did not fight for honors; Che did not
fight for material things; Che did not fight for ambitions; Che never
fought for glory. This man from the first instant, from the first combat
was willing to give his life; he could have died as any other combatant. If
he had died in the first battle, he would had left the memory of his
person, his gestures, his characteristics and nothing more. The same would
have occurred if he had died in the second, third, fourth or fifth
engagements. He could have died in any of those battles, and many men did
die in those battles.

The only thing that passed through his mind were the concept of duty, the
concept of sacrifice, the most absolute purity, the most complete
unselfishness. It can be said that Che survived the Sierra Maestra struggle
because he stuck to a principle; when men become outstanding leaders, we
followed the policy of not exposing them to minor engagements; as followed
the line of saving them for more important operations.

One day, after the last offensive unleashed against us in March 1958 which
began at the end of that month, when some 10,000 men advanced against our
forces and we were able to gather at most 300 combatants; we had among them
Che's column and other forces. After a struggle which lasted 70 consecutive
days, our combatants, hardened and experienced--despite the disadvantage in
men and weapons--were able to destroy the offensive, capture numerous
weapons, and organize several columns. When the offensive began we had some
300 men; when it ended we had 805 armed men.

Under these circumstances we organized two columns, one under Camilo's
command and the other under Che's, equipped with the best available
weapons. What was accomplished it what can truly be considered an epic?
They left the Sierra Maestra, advanced to the west to Las Villas Province,
[word indistinct] through some 50 kms of stark territory long deserted. The
two columns of Camilo and Che, which left the Sierra Maestra around
September, advancing, while many times fighting and being tenaciously
pursued in unfavorable terrain, fulfilled their mission of reaching the
center of the island.

At the end of the December, when our forces had virtual control of Oriente
Province, the island cut in half through the province of Santa Clara, Che
carried out one of his heroic deeds and advanced upon the city of Santa
Clara with 300 combatants, confronted an armored train located on the
outskirts of the city, seized the area between the train and the main enemy
force, derailed the train and captured all the weapons in the train--that
is, he began the attack against the city of Santa Clara with 300 men.

When the definitive crisis took place in the Batista regime on 1 January,
and there was an attempt to block the Cuban revolution, orders were given
to the columns of Che and Camilo to quickly advance to Havana. They carried
out their missions. On 2 January, both columns were in the capital. That
day victory was consolidated and marked the beginning of a long journey.
The lives of everyone changed; many tasks arose and many combatants assumed
administrative-type functions. Che, at the end of a few months, was
appointed minister of industries and began work which lasted for years.

We have spoken of Che as a combatant, but Che had many other qualities. In
the first place he was a man of an extraordinary culture--one of the most
intelligent men we have ever known, one of the most complex spirits, one of
the most revolutionary characters. His soul extended throughout the world;
his concern for other countries, for the movements in Africa, Asia. During
that time the Algerians were struggling for their independence. In those
days in their continents, the underdeveloped countries or the poor
countries of the world were carrying out different movements. He saw the
need to establish contact with those worlds. He visited numerous countries
on different missions, looking for rapprochement, looking for trade
exchange, and worked very hard to overcome the consequences of the economic
blockade imposed against our country.

When the Giron invasion took place, Che was commanding the Pinar del Rio
Province forces. When the attacks took place in Giron, to the south and
center of the island, we did not know which was the spearhead of the main
assault. In general, the most experienced chiefs assumed command of certain
military regions. Even though he was the industries minister, immediately
after the mobilization he was sent to Pinar del Rio Province. Likewise,
when the October 1962 crisis erupted, Che again assumed the command of that
military region.

So many times, under different circumstances, we were forced to confront
serious dangers. He continued to be a combatant [words indistinct] deeply
studious in the free time permitted by his intense work, be sacrificed
sleep and rest to study. He not only worked many hours in the Ministry of
Industry, but received visitors, wrote war stories and wrote about
experiences in countries where he went to fulfill some mission. He told
everything in a simple, interesting style. Many of the Cuban war episodes
are preserved thanks to Che, thanks to the interest he had that our people
share those experiences--written by their sons at a dedicated moment in his

Che was the creator of voluntary work in Cuba. Che was a man who maintained
close links with the ministry's work centers. He would visit them, talk to
the workers, review problems, every Sunday Che would go to a work center.
Sometimes he would go to the pier to load sacks along with the stevedores.
At other times he would go to the mines and work with the miners. On other
occasions he would go to the cane plantations or meet with construction
workers. He never reserved a Sunday for himself.

One must consider all these activities and his former feats from the
viewpoint of his own health as he suffered from certain (?respiratory)
problems which caused him to have acute asthmatic attacks. Even under these
circumstances he waged a campaign. Under these circumstances, he worked day
and night, wrote, travelled throughout the world, worked in the mines, the
fields, went everywhere and never rested for a minute. When he was not
working at the ministry he studied when he should have been sleeping or
performed voluntary work.

Che was a man who had infinite trust and faith in man. He was an example.
He set the example of a man of great spirit of sacrifice, a truly Spartan
character, able to deprive himself of anything. His policy was to set an
example. We might say that his life was an example in every respect. He was
a man of absolute moral integrity, of strong principles, a complete
revolutionary who looked at the future, at the man of tomorrow, who looked
at the humanity of the future--a man who reflected human values, the moral
values of man and who, above anything else, practiced unselfishness,
resignation and devotion. Nothing said here conveys the slightest
exaggeration of the slightest defense, they simply empress how the man was
that we knew.

Here is his monument, here is his personality as the artist saw it. It is,
however, impossible for monuments to convey a true idea of the man.

Che left us his manuscripts, his stories, his speeches. We have the
remembrance of Che from those who knew him. We have seen in many of our
factories the pride with which the workers recall the day Che visited them,
the place where Che undertook some voluntary task. Not too long ago in a
large textile plant we visited, where the machinery was being repaired and
we were accompanied by a distinguished foreign visitor, the workers led us
to the shop where the looms are kept as relics and where Che undertook some
voluntary work. The mines Che visited, the placed he talked with the
workers and labored are so many other monuments to his memory which our
workers preserve with much affection.

Che did not live for history--that is to say, he did not live for glory. As
a true revolutionary, as a dedicated revolutionary, he realized what that
extraordinary man said, that great patriot whom you have also mentioned
here, Jose Marti, when he said that all the world's glory could fit into a

Revolutionaries do not struggle for honor or glory, or to occupy places in
history. Che holds and will hold a great place in history because he did
not care about it, because he was ready to die in the first battle, because
he was always totally unselfish and therefore converted his life into an
epic. He converted his life-style into such an example that we tell our
people, we have told them it was a belief, a principle. If we say what we
want our children to be like, we say like Che. There is not a single Cuban
family, a Cuban father, not a single Cuban child who does not have Che as
an example for his life.

We who knew him, we who had that tremendous privilege, we can state that if
the world is searching for an example, this contemporary world, this new
world, this world which is writing its current history, a new history of
humanity--in this world seeking to build a humane society, a superior human
society facing difficult problems, tough and harsh struggles--when one
thinks of the conditions necessary for that, our people, our country has
taken for that world that model, has set that model for its children. We
believe that it will have an extraordinary value.

What a tremendous thing it would be if we managed to translate that reality
into future generations and that in the future we have generations like

From generations of men like Che, future societies will be built. From
generations of men like Che the superior society will arise, communism will
emerge. (applause)

He left us that example. Lastly he left us for the future his quick
intelligence, his Spartan nature, his heart of steel--but steel for
enduring suffering and sacrifice. He also left us a noble soul, a simple
soul, a generous one devoted to a cause, to fighting for others, to
sacrificing himself for others--with his intelligence, his heart, his
steady hand. He left us his diary, where he narrated the epic of the last
days of his life with that clean succinct and laconic style that reflected
toward the end of his life literary ethics of extraordinary value in every

That is why the world's youth see in Che a symbol, and like him, feel the
cause of the Algerians, the Vietnamese, and like him feel the cause of
Latin Americans. The name and personality of Che is viewed with tremendous
respect, admiration and warmth in all continents. Che's name and
personality are alive there in the core of the American society--in those
battling for civil rights; fighters against the war of aggression, fighters
for peace, in the souls of progressive man, in the souls of citizens
fighting for any given cause. Even right there in the United States the
figure and banner of Che wave.

That is why his personality has taken on gigantic proportions and is what
it is today. Nobody's imagination created it, nobody's fantasy created it,
nobody's interest.

Never has a flag been raised on a more solid base, never has a example
risen on such firm ground. He himself created that Che, that personality,
that symbol during his short but intense life, during his brief and
creative life. He did not expect that; he did not seek that; but as a
result of his life, of his unselfishness, his nobility, his altruism, he
has been made into what he is today: A banner, a model, a fighter, a guide,
a monument to the nobility and spirit of justice. This can be summarized in
two words: Into the revolutionary model of the fighter and of the communist
for all the peoples of the world. (applause) Thank you very much.