My Life with Che: The Making of a Revolutionaryby Hilda Gadea
Che Guevara's first wife, Hilda Gadea, paints a personal portrait of the political icon, romantic wanderer, philosopher, doting suitor, and father. Ernesto Guevara and Hilda Gadea met in Guatemala as members of the political-exile community. Including "touching sections that demonstrate Gadea's insecurities and infatuation with Guevara, detailing their lover's
Che Guevara's first wife, Hilda Gadea, paints a personal portrait of the political icon, romantic wanderer, philosopher, doting suitor, and father. Ernesto Guevara and Hilda Gadea met in Guatemala as members of the political-exile community. Including "touching sections that demonstrate Gadea's insecurities and infatuation with Guevara, detailing their lover's quarrels and her jealousies as their relationship grows," (The Associated Press) My Life With Che offers an intimate look at the influential leader, providing a vital key to the comprehension of Che's legendary qualities.
“A candid, serious memoir by the iconic revolutionary's first wife. . . . An intelligent, tender look at Guevara's human side.” Kirkus
“(Includes) touching sections that demonstrate Gadea's insecurities and infatuation with Guevara, detailing their lover's quarrels and her jealousies as their relationship grows.” The Associated Press
“This is a vital book for anyone wishing to understand more about the late Argentine revolutionary. Vivid, intimate and uncensored, My Life with Che picks up Guevara's story where The Motorcycle Diaries left off, taking us, via his first marriage to Hilda Gadea, through his extraordinary transformation from bohemian adventurer to Marxist Revolutionary. A refreshing and engrossing read.” Jon Lee Anderson, bestselling author of NYT Notable Book, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life
“Che Guevara is our Jesus Christ: an idealist, a martyr, a redeemer around whom a religion has sprung, first spontaneously, then officially. Hilda Gadea's memoir is the gospel according to Mary Magdalene--an impassionate, first-hand account of the emblematic leader. We come across a Che that is, at once, small and larger-than-life. So we bow in reverence!” Ilan Stavans, best-selling author of The Hispanic Condition and Spanglish
“Gadea's life story is not as well known as her husband's, but in many ways it was even more extraordinary than that of the famous revolutionary. A political refugee from Peru, she was exiled not once but twice -- first to Guatemala and later to Mexico. Frequently harassed and jailed by the police for her political beliefs, Gadea's stoic resolve in the face of great odds was remarkable. My Life With Che is a revealing, compelling insider look at the life of Che Guevara, at the corrupt and compliant right wing authorities who did Washington's bidding in South America, and at a daring group of Latin American revolutionaries who dedicated their lives to the furtherance of a higher cause.” Nikolas Kozloff, author of Revolution!: South America and the Rise of the New Left and Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S.
“My Life with Che offers an intimate look at one of the most influential figures of the Cuban Revolution. The story of Che's life has become inseparable from the myth, and this book sheds new light on the man from the unique perspective of his first wife Hilda Gadea.” Alfredo José Estrada, author of Havana: Autobiography of a City
“Gadea's insights into the thinking and behavior of the young Che, and the Castro brothers during their exile in Mexico in the mid-1950s, are of great historical value. Che was then perfecting his Marxist beliefs but Raul Castro was already a great admirer of the Soviet Union. Gadea reveals too that Fidel espoused a radical internationalist agenda that he concealed from the Cuban people until after his victory. Essential reading for anyone interested in the Cuban revolution.” Brian Latell, author of After Fidel: Raul Castro and the Future of Cuba's Revolution and Senior Research Associate in Cuban Studies at the University of Miami
“Always be capable of feeling most deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.” Che Guevara, in his last letter to his children
Che Guevara is our Jesus Christ: an idealist, a martyr, a redeemer around whom a religion has sprung, first spontaneously, then officially. Hilda Gadea's memoir is the gospel according to Mary Magdalene--an impassionate, first-hand account of the emblematic leader. We come across a Che that is, at once, small and larger-than-life. So we bow in reverence!
Gadea's insights into the thinking and behavior of the young Che, and the Castro brothers during their exile in Mexico in the mid-1950s, are of great historical value. Che was then perfecting his Marxist beliefs but Raul Castro was already a great admirer of the Soviet Union. Gadea reveals too that Fidel espoused a radical internationalist agenda that he concealed from the Cuban people until after his victory. Essential reading for anyone interested in the Cuban revolution.
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My Life with Che
The Making of a Revolutionary
By Hilda Gadea
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 1972 Hilda Gadea
All rights reserved.
AT THE END of November 1953, I was working for the Institute for Public Works in Guatemala.
Juan Núñez Aguilar, an engineer and director of the institute, had called me and asked me to aid them in their work. I was assigned to the Department of Economic Studies. Núñez Aguilar was an influential man and a close friend of Dr. Juan José Arévalo, the former president of the republic, and of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, then the current president.
At the time, I was a political exile. A militant of APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance), the Peruvian party of the democratic left, I was forced out of the country by the military coup led by Manuel Odría and the repression that followed. I had recently finished my studies in economics at the Major National University of San Marcos, where my militancy had led to my position in the leadership of the Youth Peruvian APRA (JAP, APRA's youth movement), representing the students.
One day Núñez Aguilar took me to meet a young Argentine lawyer, Ricardo Rojo, who had made a dramatic escape from a Buenos Aires prison during Perón's regime. In spite of my sympathies for Perón's government, for its antioligarchic measures and its support of the working class, the fact that Rojo was a political exile and a lawyer who defended political prisoners convinced me I should help him. Among the political prisoners that Rojo had defended was a Peruvian student leader, Juan Pablo Chang, who had been with me in many of the Aprista activities. Also a member of the party, he was an old friend of mine. Years later, Chang would enter the pages of Latin American history fighting side by side with Che Guevara.
Although I thought that Núñez Aguilar also sympathized with Perón's administration, he asked me to introduce Rojo into Guatemalan political circles, so that he could meet some of the Peruvian APRA leaders working in exile. We arranged an interview with two of them, Andrés Townsend Ezcurra and Nicanor Mujica. Soon thereafter, Rojo told me that he was going to Costa Rica with Walter and Domingo Beveraggi Allende, to whom he had introduced me, and that they would be joined there shortly by two other Argentines.
A month later, on December 20, Rojo introduced me to the two Argentines: Ernesto Guevara, an M.D., and Eduardo García, a lawyer. Rojo asked me to help them and explained that, since they were not political exiles, they could not obtain the official stipend that Rojo received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The fact that I had a steady job and could therefore serve as a credit reference enabled me to obtain rooms for them in a boardinghouse not far from where I was living, a service I often extended to Latin Americans in exile.
Guevara and García were both in their mid-twenties, thin, and taller than the average Latin American. Guevara had dark brown hair, framing a pale face and fair features that emphasized his striking black eyes. Both were good-natured and easygoing, and Guevara had a commanding voice but a fragile appearance. His movements were agile and quick, but he gave the impression of always being relaxed. I noticed his intelligent and penetrating look and the precision of his comments. They both dressed in plain and casual clothes and nobody would have thought of them as professional men; they looked like two students. As I talked with them, I became aware that they were well educated.
On our first meeting, Guevara made a negative impression on me. He seemed superficial, egotistical, and conceited. I was more impressed by García's unaffected manner. Later, I learned that Guevara hated to ask for favors, and that at the time I met him he was suffering from an incipient attack of asthma. These attacks forced him to raise his chest in an awkward position in order to regulate his breathing. On this occasion, I remember I decided not to see the two often; they were not political exiles, so they were not brothers in our struggle, nor did we have common interests. Guevara had expressed his interest in learning what was going on in the country, and also indicated that he wanted to find work.
Two or three days later, they came to see me at the pensíon where I lived, which was owned by Señora Anita de Toriello, a widow and a relative of the chancellor. It was located just behind the presidential palace. The Argentines talked at length about their journeys prior to their arrival in Guatemala, of their stay in Bolivia, their entry into Peru, and their meeting there with some student leaders from Lima. They showed me a card from a friend and comrade, Jorge Castro Rossmorey, in which he asked me to help them in any way I could. The card, as well as Guevara's political evaluation of the Bolivian Revolution and opinions on the Latin American reality, made me appreciate him more.
Like many Latin Americans, I tended to mistrust Argentines, first because they are often so intent on showing that their country is more developed than the rest of Latin America, and second because they have a reputation for being overconfident about their own abilities. However, I soon overcame these prejudices; not so much on account of Rojo, but rather because of the personal qualities of Guevara. A fraternal feeling had already been established in our relationship. I knew then that I was going to help him because he had something to give to society. He told me about his illness; he had suffered from asthma since he was three years old. Thereafter, I always felt a special concern for him because of his condition.
THE FOLLOWING DAY, Gualo, as García was called, informed me that Ernesto was suffering greatly from asthma. The water and the food that he had been eating at the house of some Venezuelans had brought about the attack. Gualo came to pick me up and together we went to Ernesto's house. He was reading when we arrived; the worst part of the attack was over. That evening they told me about the last stage of their journey—Costa Rica.
Guevara told me that he had met Rómulo Betancourt and Juan Bosch; both these men would later become presidents of their respective countries. Ernesto considered Betancourt's political position plainly dishonest and related a conversation they had had in which Betancourt was very unclear as to his stance on the Yankee penetration of Latin America. He told me that he had asked Betancourt directly: "In case of war, which side would you be on, that of the Soviet Union or the United States?" Betancourt's answer had been: "On the side of the United States, of course." That definitely qualified Betancourt as a traitor. "You will see," Ernesto said, "he will rise to power and will betray his people; more and more he will surrender his country to the imperialists."
He then told me how he had visited Venezuela during his first trip, a country where there was only oil, no industry, and where agriculture was developed to a minimal degree. Everything was imported from the United States, even lettuce, eggs, and chickens—he had checked this at the market in Caracas. The position of Betancourt, he went on to say, was the same as that of Haya de la Torre, Figueres, and Paz Estenssoro: "They all represent complete submission to imperialism; they are afraid to seek the support of the people to fight it." Time would prove him right.
He told me that he had come to Guatemala from La Paz, where he had met Rojo. His original plan had been to go to Venezuela, where he was to meet his longtime friend Alberto Granados; he already had a job there that would pay eight hundred dollars a month. He decided in La Paz that his real interest was in learning as much as possible about the revolution in Latin America, and that the pursuit of this goal would leave him no time to earn money. Furthermore, he wanted a deeper knowledge of the Latin American countries and had decided to remain in Latin America for the next ten years, after which he planned to go back to Argentina. He wanted also to visit Europe and, being an Argentine, he wanted to go to Paris. I teased him about this, saying that what he really wanted to see was the Parisian cafés and the bohemian life of the Left Bank. I advised him to read José Carlos Mariátegui to learn how to study Europe. We talked about Mariátegui's works, El alma matinal and Seven Essays on the Peruvian Reality.
I am reminded of an incident from those days that revealed some aspects of Guevara's personality. He had, I found, an acute psychological perceptiveness, which enabled him to understand people. Gualo said to him at one point: "Querido, that's not the way it is ..." This expression, "dear," used between men is common in Argentina, but at that time I was not familiar with it and I found the term ambiguous, like everything the Argentines said. I said nothing and tried to hide my distaste for the term. Guevara, however, protested: "Gualo, you know that I don't like it when you call me querido. People who do not understand our way of speaking may think strange things...."
It was about that time that I decided to introduce them not only to political exiles but also to my other personal friends. In addition to the few, select guests of the Pensión Toriello, where I lived, I was a good friend of Myrna Torres and her family. Her father, Professor Edelberto Torres, was an exile from Nicaragua; he was well respected in Guatemalan cultural circles and among the different exile groups. He was a scholar, and a fervent admirer of the great poet Rubén Darío. His family was charming: his wife, Doña Marta, an amiable and active housewife, and his three children, Edelberto, Myrna, and Grazia. I had met Professor Torres at many of the political and cultural meetings in which exiles participated, but the fact that his daughter Myrna worked in the same place as I deepened my friendship with the family. Myrna was a bilingual secretary in the credit department; she was a restless, happy girl, full of sympathy and charm, and we quickly became friends. She liked me immediately because I was South American and because I was a political exile. She took me to her home, where I was very well received. Soon I was treated as one of their children and I became friends with all the family circle; they were all revolutionaries, some of them members of the Communist Youth Alliance. We attended their meetings, parties, and picnics and from time to time we went to revolutionary concerts and events.CHAPTER 2
THE FIGHTERS WHO had attacked the Moncada Barracks in Cuba and taken asylum in the Guatemalan embassy in Havana arrived in the country in September 1953. They were Antonio "Ñico" López, Mario Dalmau, Armando Arencibia, and Antonio Darío López, "El Gallego." The assault on the barracks on July 26 had caught my attention at the time. When I heard of the participants' arrival I asked Edmundo Guerra, a revolutionary comrade, to introduce me to them. I wanted to find out from them who Fidel Castro was, how the attack had been organized, why it failed, and what their goals had been.
At this time Guatemala was engaged in revolution, and it had become a refuge for many Latin American political exiles. My closest friends were the Peruvian exiles from APRA, Andrés Townsend Ezcurra, Nicanor Mujica, Hipólito Alfaro and his wife, Blanca; José Russo and his wife, Teresa; Jorge Raygada; Ricardo Temoche and his wife; and Carlos Malpica and his children among them. I also had friends among the exiles from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Honduras, as well as some Chilean technicians working in Guatemala. The majority of them had left by the time the Argentines and the Cubans arrived; only the Townsends, the Mujicas, the Temoches, and the Alfaros were still in the country.
The Cuban exiles from the Moncada were quite different from the others. They were a very lively group. They had hardly any political indoctrination—almost all of them were workers—yet they boasted the short but outstanding accomplishment of the Moncada attack. Ñico was noticeable not only on account of his tall and slender figure, but also because of his deep conviction that one had to make a revolution, and that in Cuba this revolution was going to be made by Fidel. Ñico told me about Fidel's career as a student leader, about his militance in the Orthodox Party of Chíbas; about how Fidel had gotten the students to support the government of Prío Socarrás after Fulgencio Batista staged a coup on March 10, 1952, despite considering Prío a political enemy. Ñico told me how, after Batista's coup, Fidel saw very clearly the necessity for the struggle and that when the party refused to accept his point of view, Fidel formed a group made up mostly of workers, clerks, and students. When I asked him how they had organized the attack while keeping it secret, he answered that it was all due to Fidel's good leadership. He expressed his faith in his leader with great enthusiasm, concluding: "Fidel is the greatest and most honest man born in Cuba since Martí. He will make the revolution." History would prove him right.
I also learned from Ñico how they had met and agreed on decisions and how later on they had begun training with only two or three firearms. To fund the movement, they sold whatever they had, their automobiles and even their jobs. Having put together a little money, they began launching their operations. One day Fidel had asked them to meet, and to be prepared to leave Havana after the meeting. They were not told their final destination. They traveled to Santiago de Cuba and from there to Siboney Farm, where the final plans were revealed to them. The goal was to attack and seize the Moncada army headquarters; they were given the date, time, and details. Ñico told me how, during the action, two groups of attackers made mistakes: one group withdrew unexpectedly, and another group, not recognizing their own people, began to attack them. Few succeeded in breaking through the ring of police. Afterward a few took asylum in the Guatemalan embassy; many were massacred. Fidel and a few others, including Haydée Santamaría and Melba Hernández, who were acting as nurses, were taken prisoner.
Ñico was sure that his stay in Guatemala would be a short one and that soon he would be leaving for another country to join Fidel and work for the revolution. His faith was so great that whoever listened to him would believe him.
The Moncada attack revealed a new technique. Like other revolutionaries, I am convinced that the real problem is tactical: how to take power so that we will be able to carry out the adequate transformation and creation of a just society. This is what we exiles talked about all the time, and it was also the reason for the great respect we had for the Guatemalan Revolution. However, we saw our entire Latin American continent in the hands of the oligarchies, and we knew that each time a democratic option opened up, no matter how feeble, the ruling classes would stage a coup to end all possibilities of real change. After the Bolivian Revolution of April 1952 came the Moncada action on July 26, 1953, a hopeful sign in the Latin American political scene. In my opinion, both tactics and strategy had changed: to capture an army headquarters in a nearby mountainous area seemed to be the way to continue the fighting in the mountains. When I asked Ñico about this, he answered that he could not reveal plans for the future, and he limited himself to saying that the action was meant to be only the spark of the revolution.
At any rate, the fact that Ñico and his comrades had taken part in that action produced a certain respect on the part of the rest of the exiles, particularly toward Ñico himself, whose awareness was greater. He became the closest of my Cuban friends. He knew about the Apristas' admiration for Cuban politician Eduardo Chíbas and told me that they had a Cuban Aprista Party with offices in the same building as those of the Orthodox Party.
Soon after I had introduced the Cubans to Myrna and her friends, they became part of the group, and because of their spirit and enthusiasm they were included in everything political—meetings, parties, and picnics.
Their arrival had been preceded by that of another Cuban, Benjamín de Yurre (a member of Prío Socarrás's group), who was also an exile. Through Yurre we met Harold White, a North American professor who, after several years of research, had written a book on Marxism. Both these men became members of our group. Our meetings were a joy to me; there were no alcoholic beverages and we never had problems of any kind. When the Argentines arrived, Yurre had already gone to Miami to join his group, but White remained.
At the close of 1953, both Guevara and Gualo García were already close friends of mine. They often came to visit and I went to concerts and political meetings with them. Clouds were already gathering on the Guatemalan horizon; the imperialists had started a frontal attack on the nationalization of the lands previously owned by the United Fruit Company, whose board of directors included Allen Dulles.
Excerpted from My Life with Che by Hilda Gadea. Copyright © 1972 Hilda Gadea. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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Meet the Author
Hilda Gadea was the first female secretary of the economy for the Executive National Committee for the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance in Peru but was exiled in 1948. She worked for the Guatemalan government as an economist and lived in Mexico and Cuba advancing the same revolutionary politics as Che. She passed away in Havana in 1974.
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