A team of Cuban scholars has worked for a decade on an edited set of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s memoirs on the Cuban Revolutionary War, published as Pasajes de la guerra revolucionaria (Havana: Editorial Política, 1996). Mary-Alice Waters, a writer and longtime champion of the Cuban Revolution, worked simultaneously to prepare an English version, the Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War, 1956-58. Waters and the Cuban editing team started earlier on the other Che Guevara memoirs, the less complete account of his fatal expedition in Bolivia. These essays emerged as El diario del Che en Bolivia (Havana: Editora Política, 1987, 1988); they were refined and translated into English as The Bolivian Diary.
Che Guevara belongs to an exclusive fraternity of revolutionary theoreticians who were also force commanders in the field. His first literary effort, La guerra de guerrillas, was really a long essay, part theory and part application. A quick translation by the Central Intelligence Agency went to the desk of Robert F. Kennedy, soon to be attorney general and Cold War adviser extraordinaire to President-elect John F. Kennedy. The Kennedy brothers, hoping to build support for the forthcoming Alliance for Progress, perceived Guevara’s piece as the expression of a serious threat to their hemispheric view. Consequently, a month before JFK’s inauguration, orders were given to the U.S. Army to begin training the Latin American armies and security forces in counterinsurgency and nation-building programs.
In the early 1960s, English translations of Che Guevara’s “On Guerrilla Warfare” came out in Evergreen, Ramparts, and Monthly Review; other Guevara essays followed. Gathered mostly from Cuba’s Verde Olivo magazine, they were translated into English by Victoria Ortiz and published as Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War (1968). The same year, John Gerassi edited Guevara’s essays and published them as Venceremos! The Speeches and Writings of Ernesto Che Guevara (1968). The Gerassi volume contains the essays on the battles against the Fulgencio Batista government, Guevara’s political and economic theories, and the original “On Guerrilla Warfare.”
The present work edited by Waters, Episodes, corrects hundreds of little errors that have crept into the Che Guevara essays; it also fully identifies figures alluded to or previously identified only by noms de guerre. Photographs, a glossary of terms, an order-of-battle chart, and rosters of names with minibiographies make this work mandatory reading for students of the Cuban Revolution.
Che Guevara organized a team of Cuban internationalist volunteers to fight alongside followers of Patrice Lumumba in Zaire, then called the Congo. Guevara’s work and message were a major force at the January 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana. In November of that year, he joined the guerrilla cadre he had inserted into the Bolivian altiplano, and he kept a diary during the ten-month effort to implant a revolution. Betrayed in the field, captured, and executed in October 1967 by the Bolivian administration of Rene Barrientos, he was immediately enshrined in the Valhalla of fallen revolutionaries. Aleida March obtained the diary—actually in two separate segments—and arranged for its publication under Cuban government auspices.
Daniel James translated and edited Guevara’s field memoirs as The Complete Bolivian Diaries of Che Guevara and Other Captured Documents (1968). Until now, the James volume has stood as the definitive Guevara memoir on the Bolivia episode, just as the Ortiz and Gerassi volumes have been the sources for Guevara’s revolutionary theories and his field command role in Cuba. Recently, however, Bolivian government officials have cooperated with Cuban authorities to release and validate more documents. Michael Taber and Michael Baumann worked with Waters to render the present version, The Bolivian Diary. Newly translated, it contains field notes by Inti Peredo and other field commanders who corroborate Guevara’s notes and also fill in gaps.
Waters’ meticulously edited pair of volumes is now the best original source for English-speaking scholars. Her attention to detail and her precision do not overcome the rough eloquence that was Guevara’s style; the transcendental message of a new moral order bites through the prose with deceptive simplicity.
The Uruguayan poet José Rodó created, in the early 1900s, a Latin American metaphorical persona called Ariel, a romantic yet legitimate Icarus whose wings always melted in the heat of competition with the North American giant. Ernesto “Che” Guevara became Latin America’s Ariel incarnate during the Cold War. He blended Marxist political and economic constructs of another time and culture with the essential spirituality of Latin America. Waters’ meticulous volumes do for Guevara’s work and writing what Arrian of Cappadocia did for Alexander the Great: preserve the thought and work of a tempestuous, controversial figure with honesty and artistic grace.