IN 1968, the year after Ernesto Guevara de la Serna’s assassination, the first edition of El Diario del Che en Bolivia (Che’s Bolivian Diary) was published in Cuba. This edition lacked 13 pages that had been censored by the Bolivian military.
Besides the omission in the text, the site at which the Argentine-Cuban fighter and his comrades-in-arms had been buried remained unidentified.
In the mid-1980s, a team of Cuban specialists toured the Bolivian route described by Guevara in this text, with the aim of publishing an illustrated edition of the diary. One of the researchers who worked on this project was well-known author Adys Cupull Reyes.
“We wanted it to be didactic. Che says they ate armadillo and we photographed the armadillo. We wanted to present the animals he mentioned so that they would become known.
“We took cameras. Once there, we started to take photos of the different sites. Based on this work, we followed the whole trail that he describes in his diary, but seeking out and talking to the people.”
The research conducted in Bolivia had the support of local residents, who guided Adys and Froilán González García – also a researcher – through the dense wilderness, to reach those who had the answers to their questions.
“Such was the importance of these modest people who kept that secret for 30 years and took care of the place where the Cubans and Bolivians were buried.”
BOLIVIANS WERE NOT TO BLAME
At the beginning of the 1980s, Cuba and Bolivia reestablished ties. It was in this context that our interviewee traveled to Bolivia.
“We had read about Che, but we only knew of the diary that appeared in 1968. We were interested in learning more, as we had already done research on Julio Antonio Mella and Martí.
“I arrived with a sense and image that the Bolivians were to blame for what had happened. However, this research allowed me to learn about Bolivia and how much they had suffered.
“There were things that were done during the investigation that, if not for the Bolivian people, could not have been done. They cried when the remains were to be taken away. They did not want them to be moved. Where the guerrillas were buried there are now stones and a mausoleum.”
As part of the search for Che’s remains, it was necessary to interview soldiers who were operating in the area near La Higuera at the time of his assassination. “With the exception of those who said that he (Che) was buried, the soldiers who had operated there said that they had cremated him and scattered his ashes. This was an official version and we started to investigate that official version.
“Many people collaborated with us, files were opened, photographs and documents were handed to us. This encouraged us and let us know what they (the Bolivians) were like. It was not as I thought. They were not to blame for anything. They had been victims.”
FIDEL THE VISIONARY
Based on what Che pointed out in his notes between 1966 and 1967, and visits to places he mentioned in the diary, the Cuban specialists were able to confirm that the text published in 1968, with an introduction by Fidel Castro, had been tampered with.
“We realized that the diary was missing pages. In the introduction Fidel points this out when he says: They (the missing pages) have not yet arrived… “What a visionary! He knew they would turn up.
“When we got there, we started to poke around among the Bolivians, in press agencies like El Diario, in the newspaper Presencia, which was widely read, and it turned out that they had already published it (the diary).”
Adys and Froilán were responsible for the images, annotations and photos that appear in the illustrated edition of El Diario del Che en Bolivia, stemming from their stay in the South American country in the 1980s.
“Not only did the names and photos of the places, mountains and people appear, but also the maps of where there was fighting. These are maps we brought from Bolivia. Here, Harry Villegas, a survivor, and Tamayo collaborated with us. They checked and confirmed. It was not something done by one person.
“We also include, apart from the sites, maps and photographs, other aspects of the research; we expanded the voices that appear in Quechua, Aymara and Guaraní, we sought the meanings with the people who spoke these languages in those regions, as we were accompanied at certain times by a guide who knew Guaraní. Later a teacher of that language told us about the words.”
THE MISSION COMES TO AN END
The year 1987 not only marked the 20th anniversary of Che’s assassination in Bolivia, but also the end of Adys’ mission in that country, having been there since 1983.
Speaking to Granma International, Adys explains: “By the end of 1986 we had a series of photos. I think it was at the beginning of ‘87 that we put together an outline with all that material. How could the diary be illustrated to facilitate greater understanding? We already had photos of the guerrillas.
“We took that outline to Comandante Juan Almeida, because he directed a commission on historic subjects. It was a very profound conversation. He looked at everything, made suggestions and at the end he said, ‘All I ask is that you be consistent with what you are going to write and do.’ And they gave the Editora Politica house the task of publishing the diary. We enthusiastically worked day and night, and with the desire to know and make known the results.”
Finally, in October 1987, the illustrated edition of El Diario del Che en Bolivia was published. This time all the pages of the original text were included.
“For the first time the photographs of each of the guerrillas appeared. It was not until the 1980s that people knew who they were. There were pseudonyms, but their names were unknown. There were even some Bolivians whose photos had to be taken in the Central Forensics Department.
“There were those he (Che) said were in the vanguard, in the rearguard, those who had been left out because they had entered the forces but were not reliable and had to be kept apart. You realize just how many they were. In all there were 50, but thousands of soldiers had been deployed around them.”
To date the text has been translated into English, Italian, Turkish and Russian; there are three editions, four reprints, and the diary continues to arouse interest among those who admire this unforgettable internationalist fighter.
THE INFINITE DIMENSION OF CHE
The initial goal of the investigation that took Adys to Bolivian soil was not to write about the Heroic Guerrilla. But the data they collected, the interviews conducted and the places they visited provided enough material to write several books on Che.
All these publications not only honor the memory of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, a man of epic proportions, but all those who accompanied him between 1965 and
1967, during what would be his last days as an internationalist fighter.
One of the most well-known of these texts is the book La CIA contra El Che, for which the authors were once again helped by the local Bolivian people.
“We had the courage to publish it in 1992. The text is one of the most printed. It received awards from the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the Cuban Book Institute.
“In De Ñancahuasú a La Higuera one can glimpse all the pain and all the sacrifice of those poor people who did not know anything about guerrillas. They knew nothing of what was happening.
“At this time a book called El rescate has been published, it is no longer a case of from Ñacahuasú to La Higuera. Now it’s from La Higuera to Chile. It talks about the survivors, about how those men got out of there, in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by soldiers. This new book contains these facts. It was published in Argentina, but still hasn’t been published here.”
The unique opportunity to have closely studied the final years of Che’s life has left its mark on Adys Cupull Reyes, who in spite of her vast investigative work talks about Guevara with unlimited admiration:
“He deserves it, not just him but all those who fell with him. I think Che would be grateful that all his comrades appear in the diary. We did it with that intention, thinking that it was his desire.”