September 15, 2014

1965. Where is Che Guevara?

News from Castro's Cuba
Fidel Castro (left) and Che Guevara in the early 1960s (source)
October 8, 1965
The most dramatic human sea-lift since the desperate World War II evacuation of Dunkirk may be in the making in Cuba. Fidel Castro's surprise offer 10 days ago to allow "any Cuban who wants, to leave the island" could not be refused by the United States. President Johnson's quick agreement to accept the refugees also appeared to have caught the Castro-ites by surprise. The rapid reaction by the White House didn't give the Havana government much propaganda time to boast how kind, sweet, and generous Fidel had become.

Now the Cuban officials appear to be trying to force the United States into an embarrassing protest against the unorganized departure of the island refugees by inviting exiled Cuban fishermen and other private boat owners to start an unauthorized freedom ferry service between north Cuba and the Florida Keys—dumping the emigres onto U.S. soil in violation of the law.

However, morally, there appears nothing the U.S. can do except welcome the refugees and try to sort them out later. It carries with it the risk of admitting some Castro agents among them. But that's nothing compared to the damage that would be done to the United States if somehow Washington could be blamed for blocking the flight of the Cuban dissidents.

Washington's Castro-ologists and other experts on Caribbean affairs are most suspicious of Fidel's motives in the sudden lifting of what might be called "the sugar-cane curtain." And there still is some question as to how high the curtain will be raised, whether Castro's offer applies only to the 15,000 to 20,000 Cuban relatives who already have applied for U.S. visas, or whether the bearded Premier really meant it when he said any unhappy Cuban was free to depart.

President Johnson's reply in his New York speech on Monday declared that "all Cubans who seek refuge in the U.S. will find it." And he called for the Red Cross and the Swiss Embassy handling Washington's affairs in Havana to make arrangements for the orderly entry of the emigres into this country, with priority going to relatives and political prisoners.

There are approximately 179,000 Cuban refugees now registered and living in this country. Most all of them have relatives, and Castro's dictatorial Communist regime has made the beautiful island a miserable place to live.

Washington officials have their fingers crossed that a volunteer fleet of refugee sailors does not attempt a mass migration across the 90-mile-wide Florida Straits. At best, it's a dangerous operation. But so was the Dunkirk rescue mission in the spring of 1940. Then England's so-called "Sunday sailors" took every shape and size of boat across the Channel to lift more than 338,000 soldiers off the beach and save the British army.

Whether Fidel Castro would allow a mass exodus of Cubans from the island seems unlikely. To permit such a migration would prove to the rest of Latin America and the world the dismal, home-grown failure of the once-vaunted Castro revolution.

There is one Cuban refugee that U.S. officials would very much like to know about. The disappearance of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the 37-year-old Argentinian who for long was the No. 2 man under Fidel, poses one of the most puzzling mysteries on the world Communist scene. Cubans who fought with him in the early days of the anti-Batista revolt describe Guevara as the real brains of the Castro movement—a man so skilled in guerrilla warfare that U.S. military officials use his book on the subject as a text—and the most dedicated Marxist in the Western Hemisphere.

Although Fidel Castro said last week that "Che" Guevara had resigned his Cuban citizenship to go elsewhere to serve the Communist world revolution, there also are reports that the handsome revolutionary is dead or perhaps in a political prison. One story goes that Guevara became disenchanted with Moscow's "co-existence" brand of Communism after the Russian back-down on Cuban missiles. Recently he has made no secret of his support for the Stalinist "tough-line" Marxism being spouted by Communist China's leaders.

Also, Guevara was said to have clashed with Fidel himself over the Cuban dictator's growing complacency and preoccupation with the island's internal problems. "Che" yearned for the good old days when the capture of Havana was to be only the first step towards Communizing all of Latin America and then move in on the United States.

Thus, the speculation is that Guevara may have become the victim of one of two heresies—or both. Russian secret police may have liquidated him as a Red Chinese agent, or the Castro brothers may have regarded "Che" as a threat to Fidel's dictatorship and removed that threat. Or perhaps Guevara was allowed to walk out on the whole Cuban mess, to go his own way. If he's alive, then watch out, for where "Che" goes, trouble's not far behind.

This is Bill Downs, substituting for Edward P. Morgan, saying good night from Washington.