On January 3, 1959, just two days after the triumph of the Revolution, and following orders from Fidel, the Ciro Redondo Column No. 8 occupied Havana’s San Carlos de La Cabaña Fortress. Six days later, on January 9, Che arrived at the site.
The mansion where he established his command headquarters was built in the mid-19th century to house the governor of the fort. Here the heroic guerrilla established his office and received national and international personalities.
In his post as Commander-in-Chief of the Military Department of La Cabaña, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna founded the newspaper La Cabaña libre and inaugurated a school to teach illiterate members of the column to read and write. The small school functioned in his headquarters and the surrounding Morro Castle.
Che’s severe asthma meant his stay at La Cabaña was brief, lasting just three months. He then went to Tarará, east of the capital, but continued to direct the military fort until December 1959, when he assumed other responsibilities.
Che’s La Cabaña command headquarters, today a museum, offers a glimpse into the intense life of the heroic guerrilla through photos and personal objects; from the letter he wrote to his aunt Beatriz, aged just 5, to the notes featuring his signature as President of the National Bank of Cuba.
Divided into four areas, the museum tells of Che’s childhood and his friends and relatives, through maps, reproductions and manuscripts; a young Ernesto is pictured playing sports, during his motorcycle tour across 12 Argentine cities, followed by that across Latin America alongside his friend Alberto Granado, and a second trip with Carlos Ferrer; while his days as a medical student also feature, with a photo taken during an Anatomy class, and his I.D. card accrediting him as a doctor is also on display. This was the man who wrote a poem inspired by Bolivian miners; the revolutionary who joined the Granma expeditionaries.
Che’s travels across South America helped shape the internationalist and anti-imperialist thought of a man who became a revolutionary paradigm for millions of people around the world.
CHE AND THE CUBAN REVOLUTION
Visitors to the museum can also learn of Guevara’s participation in Cuba’s armed struggle, as well as the important battles fought in the Sierra Maestra and Santa Clara (in the eastern and central regions of the country). Che’s numerous tasks and posts following the triumph of the Revolution are also outlined: as Minister of Industry, President of the National Bank, Cuba’s representative to the United Nations, President of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, and as the originator of voluntary work.
After fulfilling functions of the utmost responsibility in the country’s leadership, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna turned his gaze toward the African nations where the conditions for revolutionary struggle could be created. The Congo was his main destination. He traveled there to advise on guerrilla tactics, using a pseudonym (Ramón), and disguised such that he was unrecognizable from Alberto Korda’s iconic photograph.
BOLIVIA: WHERE CHE BECAME ETERNAL
Traveling under the name of Adolfo, Che arrived in Bolivia in 1965. By then his image had changed so much that he was impossible to recognize.
In October 1967, his guerilla force was ambushed and he was wounded. On October 8, Che was assassinated in a small school in La Higuera. The third room of the museum at the San Carlos de La Cabaña Fortress displays photographs of the site where Ernesto’s corpse was washed and the surgical instruments used to prepare his body before being transported by helicopter to the Valle Grande Hospital.
Thirty years after Che’s death in Bolivia (October 8, 1967), a team of Cuban experts found and identified his remains along with 29 other guerrilla fighters who had accompanied him.
The remains were later transferred to Cuba. Upon arrival, a tribute to these heroic guerillas was held in Havana’s José Martí Plaza de la Revolución, before they were taken to their final resting place: the Che Guevara Mausoleum in the city of Santa Clara.
Stones from the area surrounding the La Higuera school are on display at the museum, as well as handicrafts and other personal objects, including his backpack, binoculars and a camera, which were donated by Cuban friends and others who were close to him.
Not far from his command headquarters is the house where Che lived during his time as Commander of the La Cabaña Military Department.
Today it serves as a museum with exhibits on the lives of Che and his fellow guerrillas.
The building has had several functions over the years: it housed the School of Geodesy and Cartography, and during the 1980’s it was an office of the Camilo Cienfuegos School of Artillery.
In 1999 the house became part of the La Cabaña Historical-Military park and museum complex. Several modifications were made to take advantage of its spaces. On October 27, 2006, it re-opened its doors as a museum. Among its exhibits are highly valuable objects which belonged to Tamara Bunke and other guerrillas who were killed in Bolivia, which arrived to the island three decades after Che’s death.
A particularly moving piece is the original casket in which Ernesto Guevara de la Serna’s remains were transported before being laid to rest in the Santa Clara mausoleum.