The interview was conducted in Havana in April 1997 by Mary-Alice Waters, editor of New International and president of Pathfinder, and Pathfinder editor Michael Taber. The introduction to the book is by Waters.
As a youth Saldaña joined the Communist Party of Bolivia in 1950. In 1955-58, by decision of the party, he worked in the Siglo XX tin mine, where he helped recruit leaders of the miners and establish the Communist Party there. He took part in logistical preparations and support work for both the 1963 Peruvian guerrilla movement defeated at Puerto Maldonado and the 1963-64 guerrilla front in Salta, Argentina, led by Jorge Ricardo Masetti with the backing of the Cuban revolutionary leadership.
Saldaña joined with Ernesto Che Guevara, one of the central leaders of the Cuban revolution, in the 1966-67 revolutionary front that Guevara led in Bolivia. After leaving the Communist Party over its refusal to support this effort, Saldaña became a founding member of the National Liberation Army (ELN) of Bolivia, led by Guevara and Bolivian revolutionary Inti Peredo. He was slated to join the guerrilla effort as a combatant, but circumstances kept him at the head of the ELN's underground network in the cities and tin mining regions. In October 1967 Guevara was captured in a battle at the Yuro Ravine and assassinated by U.S.-trained Bolivian army forces. Saldaña subsequently remained active in revolutionary politics, both in Bolivia and in Cuba.
Harry Villegas was a member of the general staff of the guerrilla unit led by Guevara in Bolivia. Also known by his nom de guerre, Pombo, he led the surviving veterans of the guerrilla campaign out of the encirclement by the U.S.-backed Bolivian army, and with the help of Bolivian revolutionaries was able to escape. Today Villegas holds the rank of brigadier general in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba. He is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and serves as a national leader of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution.
Copyright © 2001 Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission.
"With them came Rodolfo, who made a very good impression on me. He seems more determined than Bigote to break with everything. Papi informed him of my presence." This is what Commander Ernesto Che Guevara wrote in his field diary in Bolivia on November 20, 1966. The following day he noted, "I asked Rodolfo to send us an agronomist who can be trusted."
The interview with this outstanding Bolivian combatant conducted by Mary-Alice Waters and Mike Taber offers a close-up, human view of a long record of intense revolutionary battles beginning in 1950.
Loyalty, firmness, modesty, solidarity, humility, and dedication to the freedom of the peoples. These are words that define the life of the communist Rodolfo Saldaña.
Cuban revolutionaries are aware that starting in 1963 Saldaña gave full support to Che's plans to open a guerrilla front in Salta, Argentina, as well as to the movement in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. This is yet further evidence of his Latin American patriotism, of his opposition to imperialism, always in search of attaining true freedom.
Whether as student, mine worker, auto mechanic, teacher, member of the Bolivian Communist Party and its Central Committee, or leader of the urban network of the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, what characterized Saldaña was his honesty, personal example, and faithfulness to principles. In reality he reached what Che called "the highest level attained by the human species," that of being a revolutionary.
His incorporation into the Bolivian guerrilla front--for which he had received training beginning in January 1966--was prevented by factors beyond his control and choice. These included the necessity both of Tania's trip to the guerrilla front and then of her remaining there, which meant he had to continue his work in the city.2 Another factor, resulting from the Bolivian army's cordon around the zone of operations, was that contact with the guerrilla front and with Cuba was lost, despite efforts by the urban network to reestablish lines of communication. Unfortunately, Che never knew of these efforts.
In face of the treacherous stance by Mario Monje, general secretary of the Bolivian Communist Party, Saldaña was compelled to leave the party he helped found, and that, from the time he was very young, had changed the course of his life.3 Saldaña's firm decision to follow Che must have been very difficult and painful. But with integrity and conviction, he was prepared to implement this decision, adopted completely and without hesitation, because he was conscious of the full liberating dimension of Che's actions.
A few words on a personal note. We experienced Saldaña's solidarity and comradeship after we had evaded the encirclement of ten thousand Bolivian troops. We were in Cochabamba at the time, and knowledge of our presence in that city was spreading through "Radio Bemba," as we say in Cuba, that is, by word of mouth.
The compañeros of the National Liberation Army in La Paz, on their own and without the support of the Bolivian Communist Party leadership, decided to come find us. With joy and surprise one night, I saw three compañeros arrive, Rodolfo among them. "Compañero, we've come to rescue all of you," he told me, and we were taken to La Paz. Arriving at the house where we were to be hidden, we noticed two soldiers coming toward our car. Seeing us reach for our revolvers, Rodolfo touched my hand and said, "Easy, it's beyond their imagination that you could be here," giving us a demonstration of courage, dependability, and composure.
Later in Cuba, under the leadership of Guido (Inti) Peredo, the survivors of the October 8, 1967, battle at the Yuro Ravine underwent military training. The objective was to fulfill our commitment to continue the struggle. With great resolve and dedication, Saldaña trained alongside Bolivian, Chilean, and Cuban revolutionaries. His uppermost objective was always to "return to the mountains" in order to obtain the victory of the people of Bolivia and of the Americas.
While living in Cuba he participated in the revolution and felt fulfillment in being a builder of socialism. This was the great dream of a life dedicated entirely to the working people, with the working people, and for the working people.
Following Rodolfo Saldaña's recent death in Havana, his remains were returned to his Bolivian homeland. The publication of this valuable testimony, left by him as a legacy, constitutes a posthumous tribute to a vanguard combatant, a man faithful to the ideas to which he dedicated his life.
Hasta la victoria siempre
Harry Villegas Tamayo
Havana, January 18, 2001
1.Army Corps General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra is the highest-ranking officer in Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces after Fidel Castro and Raúl Castro. In Bolivia and Argentina in 1962-64, he collaborated with revolutionaries in those countries to help prepare conditions for the guerrilla nucleus that was headed by Jorge Ricardo Masetti in northern Argentina.
2. Tania was the nom de guerre of Haydée Tamara Bunke, a German-Argentine who in Bolivia worked with the ELN's urban network. In March 1967, while escorting visitors to Che's guerrilla camp, her cover was blown, leading to her incorporation as combatant.
3. After committing the support of the Communist Party of Bolivia, Mario Monje, the party's general secretary, reneged on this commitment to the guerrilla front led by Che Guevara, and instead waged a campaign in the CP to try to prevent those members who backed the guerrilla, such as Saldaña, from offering any support.
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