BY STEVE CLARK
In this International Socialist Review supplement to the Militant, we are printing in full the letter to the editor of the New York Times submitted by Mary-Alice Waters in reply to the article "Mysteries of Bolivia: The Revised Che Guevara" by Thomas H. Lipscomb. Lipscomb's article was featured November 26 on page 3 of the Times's Sunday supplement, the "Week in Review." We are also reproducing the letter as it was abridged by the editors of the Times and run in its letters column Saturday, December 2.
The Militant had planned to reproduce Lipscomb's article in this issue as well, so our readers could examine the entire record and make up their own minds. Our request for permission was rejected by the Times, however.
Mary-Alice Waters is the editor and author of the introduction to The Bolivian Diary of Ernesto Che Guevara, published in a new translation by Pathfinder Press in 1994. She is also editor of a new and complete English-language edition of Guevara's Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War: 1956-1958 to be published early next year. The Episodes is Guevara's account of major military battles and political events through which the leadership of the Cuban revolution was forged in the course of the popular war and mass uprising that brought down the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in January 1959.
A few days prior to Lipscomb's article in the "Week in Review," the Times had carried a dispatch from La Paz, Bolivia, headlined "Where is Che Guevara Buried? A Bolivian Tells." It was a news account by Jon Lee Anderson, identified by the Times as a U.S. journalist working on a biography of Guevara to be published by Atlantic Monthly Press.
Anderson reported that Bolivian Gen. Mario Vargas Salinas had revealed what was done with Guevara's body in October 1967 following his capture and murder by the Bolivian army in a CIA-organized operation. Vargas said he had participated in dumping the bodies of Guevara and five other slain guerrillas into a mass grave under the airstrip in the town of Vallegrande on October 11, two days after Guevara had been shot and killed in the rural mountain village of La Higuera.
Anderson wrote a relatively straightforward article echoing none of the long-standing stories about alleged divisions between Guevara and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. These lies have circulated ever since April 1965 when Guevara, with Castro's agreement, resigned his government, party, and military posts in Cuba in order to return to South America to help advance the anti-imperialist and anticapitalist struggles that were sharpening in several countries, especially in the continent's Southern Cone.
Having spent much of the latter half of 1965 in Africa aiding the national liberation movement in the Congo (now Zaire), Guevara, after several intermediate stops, returned to Cuba in secret in December. There he prepared to leave for Bolivia within a few months to lead a guerrilla movement of Bolivian, Cuban, and other volunteers against that country's military dictatorship. Guevara was in Bolivia from November 1966 until his death 11 months later.
In October 1965, a few months after Guevara dropped from public view, Castro released a letter Guevara had written him. In that letter, which Castro read in full to a rally that was broadcast over Cuban television, Guevara said that "other nations of the world summon my modest efforts of assistance. I can do that which is denied you owing to your responsibility as the head of Cuba, and the time has come for us to part....
"I state once more that I free Cuba from all responsibility, except that which stems from its example," Guevara wrote to Castro. "...I have always been identified with the foreign policy of our revolution, and I continue to be. Wherever I am, I will feel the responsibility of being a Cuban revolutionary, and I shall behave as such."
Despite Guevara's letter, the falsifications about his political divergence with the leadership of the Cuban revolution continued to be spread. As Waters points out in a portion of her letter not printed by the Times, this hearsay fell on particularly fertile ground among liberals and middle-class radicals who had turned against the Cuban revolution by the mid-1960s under mounting pressures of bourgeois public opinion.
With Guevara's capture and murder in October 1967, enemies of the Cuban revolution from La Paz to Washington seized the opportunity to stoke these lies. Bolivian Gen. Alfredo Ovando, for example, had initially told the press that "Che could not be questioned since he was fatally wounded when he was captured." But several weeks later, as the regime's story that Guevara had fallen in battle was already coming unstuck, Ovando took a different tack. He presented the first in a string of self-serving accounts of alleged "final conversations" with the captured communist leader.
"Che Guevara had ample opportunity to talk after he was captured. And actually he talked for several hours," Ovando told the press. "You understand why I can't reveal what he said don't you? It is for reasons of security. But I can reveal that he was worried about two things: the error of judgment committed by Fidel Castro as a result of his desire for the success of the guerrilla war and the courage of Bolivian soldiers." At the same time, Ovando continued to insist that Guevara had died of battle wounds. This lie was rapidly exposed as news leaked out from the autopsy that Guevara had been shot through the heart the day after his capture.
Thomas Lipscomb was evidently incensed that lies that had been fertilized for years had simply been disregarded by journalist Jon Lee Anderson in filing his dispatch on General Vargas's revelations. The Times editors, true to their 35 years of support to overturning the socialist revolution in Cuba, gave Lipscomb a prominent spot in the Sunday "Week in Review" to rectify this oversight.
Lipscomb's article - lacking, as Waters points out, even a semblance of routine fact-checking and honesty in citation - reads from start to finish like a placement from "higher up." It is the kind of "run-it-because-I-say-so" hack work that must irritate at least some of the more conscientious professional copy editors at the Times.
"A report from Bolivia last week by the journalist Jon Lee Anderson may have cleared up the question of what happened to the body of the Communist guerrilla leader Che Guevara," Lipscomb writes. "But some serious questions still remain about Guevara's fatal expedition. Among them is how much support Fidel Castro really gave Guevara's Bolivian expedition, and how well this second most famous guerrilla in the Cuban Revolution of 1959 carried out his task."
Lipscomb then enumerates the allegations refuted by Waters in the accompanying letter. Several points should be made about the Times's abridgment and treatment of Waters's letter.
First was their decision to print it in the Saturday edition, rather than the Sunday "Week in Review" where Lipscomb's article had appeared. The Sunday Times has a substantially larger circulation than either the weekday or especially Saturday editions; it is regularly bought across the United States and around the world by readers who don't follow that paper on a daily basis. And the "Week in Review," which contains the editorial and letters pages, is among the features for which the Sunday Times is most widely known. (During the six months ending Sept. 30, 1995, the Sunday Times had an average weekly circulation of 1,667,780, compared to 1,081,541 Monday through Friday and 1,003,411 on Saturdays.)
Second, while the Times editors carefully changed each of Waters's references from "Castro" to "Mr. Castro" and from "Lipscomb" to "Mr. Lipscomb" (although "Guevara" remained "Guevara"), they were immeasurably more scrupulous in removing each and every sentence by Waters that called attention to their failure to observe even the most minimal standards of verifying facts and citations in Lipscomb's article.
Pointing to one of Lipscomb's most flagrant misrepresentations, for example, Waters wrote that "the Times evidently didn't bother to ask Lipscomb for the source of this direct quotation." But that sentence, as Militant readers can see, was dropped from her letter. Waters added that "a new English edition of Guevara's Episodes, of which I am the editor, allows Times readers to check the facts for themselves. They will discover that Lipscomb's `quotation' is made up out of whole cloth." That, too, was simply dropped by the Times.
At the same time, the Times's lapse in copyediting brought to light a useful revelation about the publishing history of Guevara's Bolivian diary. The Times identifies Lipscomb as "the editor of `The Complete Bolivian Diaries of Che Guevara and Other Captured Documents' (Stein & Day, 1968.)" The cover and title page of the Stein and Day edition itself, however, clearly state, "Edited with an introduction by Daniel James." James, who died a year ago, was a U.S. journalist who for a time was editor of The New Leader, a pro-State Department social democratic magazine.
In her introduction to the 1994 Pathfinder edition of The Bolivian Diary, Mary-Alice Waters explains that Stein and Day "claimed they had been granted `exclusive literary rights' by Bolivia's military dictatorship.... Publisher Sol Stein told the press he had undertaken the project `as an act of conscience,' because the Cuban edition [published in English earlier in 1968 in Ramparts magazine and as a Bantam paperback] was `a clear attempt to build Guevara as the Robin Hood of the 20th century.' "
Lipscomb was an editor at Stein and Day in 1968, according to Who's Who. It is possible, even likely, that he actually did edit Che's diary, perhaps under the aegis of institutions beyond Stein and Day itself. Those in the Times management who, upon request, placed Lipscomb's article in the "Week in Review" undoubtedly know who edited the Stein and Day edition, and under what auspices. This information, however, is not likely to be provided to the readers of the New York Times.
Any reader of the Militant who doubts that the editors of the New York Times might falsify events about the Cuban revolution can refer to the documented record of at least two instances: the 1961 U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, and the October 1962 "missile crisis."
In his 1969 book The Kingdom and the Power, former Times reporter Gay Talese recounts how the newspaper's publisher Orvil Dryfoos and Washington bureau chief James Reston put a stop to a preinvasion story by reporter Tad Szulc on the planned 1961 assault that had been scheduled as the front- page lead the following day.
According to Talese, Dryfoos "ordered the story toned down, moved to a less prominent place on the page, its headline minimized, and any reference to the imminence of the invasion eliminated. It was in the national interest to withhold certain vital facts from the American people, including the CIA involvement, Dryfoos and Reston felt...."
Commenting on this decision by the Times "not to publish all it knew about the Bay of Pigs invasion," Talese continued: "The Times was the bible, emerging each morning with a view of life that thousands of readers accepted as reality. They accepted it on the simple theory that what appeared in The Times must be true, and this blind faith made monks of many men on The Times. Many. Not all. There had been Timesmen who were less than truthful, or truthful in their fashion, or not truthful in the journalistic sense, which is a truth that is limited but verifiable. Or they had perhaps been too truthful, so controversial as not to be in the national interest or the newspaper's interest, which was often the same thing. The New York Times, after all, grew with the nation during the two great wars, prospered with it, and The Times and the nation were equally committed to capitalism and democracy, and what was bad for the nation was often just as bad for The Times."
The very next year, in October 1962, the administration of President John Kennedy photographically confirmed the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The Cuban government had agreed to this installation earlier that year in face of Washington's escalating aggression. Economic sabotage against Cuba was on the rise. Washington had implemented its Operation Mongoose campaign of terror against the Cuban people and their leaders. And large-scale preparations for a U.S. assault aimed at crushing the revolution had already been set in motion by the Kennedy administration. All this has been confirmed by previously secret documents released by the U.S. government in recent years.
In light of its information about the Soviet missile sites, the National Security Council in October 1962 was meeting long hours in secret in the White House to discuss what course to take. They eventually settled on an armed naval blockade of Cuba and put the U.S. military on nuclear alert.
According to government documents and tapes declassified in recent years, when news of the White House discussions was leaked to Reston on October 20, the Times's chief Washington correspondent, Kennedy administration officials asked him to hold the story in the "interests of national security," and Reston agreed. The following day Kennedy himself called the editors of the Times and the Washington Post, telling them not to go into print with what they knew, and neither did so. (See Laurence Chang and Peter Kornbluh, The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: A National Security Archive Documents Reader, New York: The New Press, 1992.). Three years ago, on the 30th anniversary of the October 1962 crisis, the Times featured a column by Fedor Burlatsky, an adviser to former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, on the Op-Ed page of its October 23 issue, under the patently false and dangerously provocative headline, "Castro Wanted a Nuclear Strike." Once again with no cited sources, Burlatsky quoted Castro as having written in a cable to Khrushchev during the missile crisis that "I propose the immediate launching of a nuclear strike on the United States."
"Neither the supposed quotation nor the Times's rather eye-catching headline...squares with well-documented facts," wrote Waters in a letter to the editor at the time. She pointed out that the Cuban government itself had published the relevant correspondence between Castro and Khrushchev in the Dec. 2, 1990, issue of Granma Weekly Review in Spanish, English, and French, and that these documents had subsequently been reproduced in numerous other publications as well.
"No document contains the sentences Burlatsky `quotes,' nor any even resembling them," Waters said.
Waters quoted the Oct. 26, 1962, cable from Castro to Khrushchev "that Burlatsky is presumably referring to," showing that it included no proposal for "the immediate launching of a nuclear strike." She also cited an Oct. 31 cable from Castro to Khrushchev, whose reply to the Cuban leader's earlier message was the source of the unfounded rumor. "I did not suggest to you, Comrade Khrushchev, that the USSR should be the aggressor, because that would be more than incorrect," Castro had written. "It would be immoral and contemptible on my part."
In summing up her letter, Waters said: "The documentary record is clear: (1) the correspondence between Castro and Khrushchev contains no passage resembling Burlatsky's quotation; (2) no other, unreleased message has ever been referred to that might contain the passage; and (3) no other version of the October 26 cable different from the one released by Cuba has been offered that supports Burlatsky's story."
Yet, the Times rejected Waters's letter, and the falsifications by Burlatsky remained unanswered. (The entire text of Waters's reply, together with a feature article on the truth about the U.S.-instigated October "missile crisis," was published in the December 1992 issue of the ISR supplement to the Militant. Readers can obtain a copy by sending $3 to the Militant, 410 West Street, New York, NY 10014.)
The third point worth noting about the Times editors' abridgment of the letter submitted by Waters is their deletion of the final sentence of a short quotation from a 1987 interview by Fidel Castro with Italian journalist Gianni Mina. Waters had cited this passage in reply to Lipscomb's charge that "there is no record of any attempt by Castro to break through to Guevara's force" in Bolivia to save him.
The Times included part of the Castro response but deleted his statement, "We believed in what [Che] was doing, and we believed he could carry out what he proposed." Given Lipscomb's opening remark that among the key remaining questions "is how much support Fidel Castro really gave Guevara's Bolivian expedition," these words by Castro seem relevant to the matters under dispute.
In her letter, Waters clearly establishes the falsity of Lipscomb's assertion that Bolivian Captain Gary Prado Salmo'n "has stated that Guevara said Castro failed him at a crucial time." The record shows that Prado never made any such statement.
Felix Rodriguez, the CIA officer who by his own account issued the order to kill Guevara, has also written his version of a supposed final conversation with Guevara.
Rodriguez, using the name Fe'lix Ramos, was on the scene in La Higuera and Vallegrande directing the operation in October 1967, and he was photographed standing beside Guevara shortly before the revolutionary leader was murdered. Following official retirement from the CIA some time ago, Rodriguez sought to capitalize on his involvement by releasing an autobiographical potboiler entitled, Shadow Warrior (Simon and Schuster, 1989). Rodriguez is the Cuban- born son of a wealthy family who went into exile in Miami following the 1959 victory over the Batista regime.
Rodriguez claims that his "instructions from the United States Government were to try to keep [Guevara] alive under any circumstances." On the other hand, he says, "I also remembered some pertinent Cuban history: Fidel Castro had once been thrown into jail by Batista, only to be subsequently released. `And look at what we have today, in Cuba and Latin America,' I thought to myself."
So when the regime in La Paz decided Guevara should be executed, Rodriguez claims, he ordered Bolivian soldier Mario Tera'n to shoot Guevara - not "in the face, but from the neck down. Then I walked up the hill and began making notes. When I heard the shots I checked my watch. It was 1:10 p.m. [on October 9]. Che was dead."(Rodriguez's account, of course, is no more reliable than that of several Bolivian army officers. All of them seek to portray themselves in the best possible light in the eyes of those whose class interests they serve.)
Even this professional CIA killer and liar, however, apparently concluded he could not credibly quote Guevara saying he felt betrayed by his long-time comrade and fellow communist leader, Fidel Castro. Here is what Rodriguez concocts instead:
[Che] refused to speak badly about Fidel, although he damned him with faint praise. Actually, Che was evasive when Fidel's name came up. It became apparent to me that he was bitter over the Cuban dictator's lack of support for the Bolivian incursion....
When I asked him if he had any message for his family, he said, `Tell Fidel that he will soon see a triumphant revolution in America.' He said it in a way that, to me, seemed to mock the Cuban dictator for abandoning him here in the Bolivian jungle."
It "became apparent" to Rodriguez that Che felt abandoned. That's how it "seemed" to him.
In fact, Rodriguez's entire account of his alleged talks with Guevara has been repudiated by Captain Gary Prado, the Bolivian officer who captured Guevara and to whom Lipscomb falsely attributed this statement. So, even on the part of those competing among themselves for a fast buck and passing mention in history books, there is simply no source for Lipscomb's assertion in the Times "that Guevara said Castro failed him at a crucial time."
* * *
By printing this exchange, the Militant encourages our readers to take the advice excised by the editors of the New York Times from Waters's letter: to read the documentary record and find out for yourselves.
Pick up the books by Guevara cited by Waters.
Read the interview with Cuban Brigadier General Harry Villegas that is quoted by Waters and that appears in this issue of the International Socialist Review supplement to the Militant.
And buy some of the books and pamphlets on the Cuban revolution
and on working-class politics that are advertised on these pages.
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