Latin American guerrillas, according to Luis Mercier Vega, are primarily concerned with the creation of “counter-states,” power apparatuses designed to destroy and then supplant the governments of the countries in which they operate. Guerrilla theorists have given little attention to ideology, believing the development of “revolutionary consciousness” among their activists to be a natural consequence of the growing counter-state. Instead, they have simply proclaimed themselves “Marxist-Leninists” and let it go at that. This disregard for the intellect clearly disgusts Mercier, the Paris-based editor of Aportes, son of a French father and a Chilean mother. The author is especially piqued at Régis Debray, who “in everything exhibits the self-assurance and occasional naïvety of a graduate of the École Normale Supérieure” (p. 36). Guerrillas in Latin America. The Technique of the Counter-State is put forward as an answer to Debray’s Revolution in the Revolution?
Mercier points to the failures of the various Latin American guerrilla movements since the 1959 Fidelista triumph in Cuba. Debray’s “Cuban model,” he contends, not only is inapplicable to the rest of Latin America, but is based on a misreading of events in Cuba in 1957-1959. Mercier quotes a Cuban exile who writes that “the Cuban guerrillas did not destroy Batista’s army in battle, but that the latter surrendered only when demoralized by the results of a terrorism which formed the official response to violence in the towns” (p. 41). As usual when this exile-intellectual article of faith is repeated, no evidence accompanies it. Mercier ignores the social origins of the Fidelista guerrillas in Cuba, although he correctly notes the high proportion of upper- and middle-class university students in later Latin American insurgencies.
This book is not a successful critique of Fidelista guerrilla doctrine. It is mostly a collection of random notes on recent insurrections in Latin America. There is no systematic analysis, no methodical examination of source material or secondary literature. The text is strewn with long and tiresome quotations, and there is a 75-page section of documents at the end. Many of the latter are interesting— e.g., Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s farewell letter to his parents—but most are available elsewhere, and their reproduction hardly makes this volume worth its price.