On October 18, 1967, the third day of
national mourning, Fidel Castro delivered a eulogy to a crowd of almost one
million at the Plaza de La Revolución in Havana.
Speech by Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro from Havana’s Plaza de la
Revolution at a mass public ceremony in tribute to Ernesto Che Guevara -
Revolutionary comrades: It was a day in July or August of 1955 when we first
met El Che. And in one night, as tell in his accounts, he became a future Granma
expeditionary. But at that time that expedition had neither ships, weapons, nor
troops. And this was the way El Che, together with Raul, joined the first two
groups on the Granma list.
Since then, 12 years have gone by, 12 years fraught with struggles and
obstructions. Through these years death reaped many valuable and irreparable
lives, but at the same time, through these years, extraordinary people emerged
in our revolution and were molded among men of the revolution. And ties of
affection and friendship were made among these men and the people, ties which
went further that it is possible to express.
Tonight we are gathered here, you and I, to try to express these sentiments in
some way with regard to one who was one of the most familiar, one of the most
admired, one of the most beloved, and, without any doubt, the most extraordinary
of our comrades of revolution, to express these sentiment to him and to the
heroes who have fought and have fallen beside him—his internationalist army
which has been writing a glorious page of history.
Che was on of those persons whom everybody liked immediately because of his
simplicity, because of his nature, because of his naturalness, because of his
comradeship, because of his personality, because of his originality, even before
his other singular virtues were revealed. During those first moments he was the
doctor of our troop, and thus our bonds emerged and thus our feelings emerged.
He was soon to be impregnated with a profound spirit of hatred and contempt for
imperialism, not only because his political makeup was already considerably
developed, but because only a short time before he had had the opportunity to
witness in Guatemala the criminal imperialist intervention through the mercenary
soldiers who overthrew the revolution in that country.
For a man such as he, many arguments were not necessary. It was enough for him
to know that Cuba lived under a similar situation. It was enough for him that
there were men determined to fight that situation with weapons in hand. It was
enough for him to know that those men were inspired by genuinely revolutionary
and patriotic sentiments. That was more than enough. In this manner, one day
near the end of November 1955, he began the trip to Cuba with us. I recall that
the crossing was very difficult for him because, in the circumstances under
which it was necessary to organize the departure, he could not even obtain the
medicines that he needed, and he suffered a sever attack of asthma during the
entire crossing without any relief, but also without a single complain.
We arrived. We began the first marches. We suffered the first setback. And after
a few weeks, we met again, as you know, that small group of those who were left
of the Granma expedition. Che continued to be the doctor of our troop.
The first victorious battle was waged and Che then became a soldier of our
troop; at the same time he was still the doctor.
The second victorious battle was waged and Che the soldier became the most
distinguished of the soldiers in that battle, for the first time accomplishing
one of those singular exploits which characterized him in all the actions.
Our force continued to develop and a battle of extraordinary importance at that
time was waged. The situation was different. Reports were erroneous in many
aspects. We were going to attack a strongly defended position in full daylight,
in the morning, at the edge of the sea. It was well armed and we had enemy
troops at our rear, very near. Under conditions of confusion which it was
necessary to ask the men to make a supreme effort, after Comrade Juan Almaida
had begun one of the most difficult missions, one of the flanks still did not
have enough men. It lacked an attacking force, which could endanger the
operation. At that moment, Che, who was still the doctor, asked for three or
four men, among them a man with an automatic rifle. In a matter of seconds he
quickly began to assume the mission of attack from that direction. On that
occasion he was not only a distinguished fighter but he also was a distinguished
doctor, giving assistance to the wounded comrades and at the same time caring
for the wounded enemy soldiers. And when it was necessary to abandon that
position, once all the weapons were captured, and begin a long march besieged by
various enemy forces, it was necessary for somebody to stay with the wounded. El
Che stayed with the wounded, helped by a small group of our soldiers. He cared
for them. He saved their lives and joined them in the column later.
From that moment in which he was outstanding as a capable and brave commander.
El Che, this type of man who when a different mission has to be done does not
wait, does not wait to be asked – arrived and completed the mission. This he did
during the battle of Uvero, and he did this, too, on an occasion, not mentioned
in the early stages, when, because of a betrayal, our small force was attacked
by surprise by many planes. As we were retreating under the bombing and had
already walked some distance, we remembered some rifles of some peasant soldiers
who had been with us during the first actions and who had later asked permission
to visit their families – there was still not much discipline in our young army
– and at the moment we considered the possibility that the rifles would be lost.
No sooner was the problem brought up, under the bombing, when El Che volunteered
and, and he did so, left rapidly to bring back the rifles.
That was one of his outstanding characteristics – immediate willingness,
instantaneous readiness to volunteer for the most dangerous mission. Naturally
this elicited admiration, double admiration for that comrade who fought beside
us, who was not born in this land, who was a man of profound ideas, who was a
man in whose mind surged dreams of struggle in other parts of the continent and
yet, that altruism, that unselfishness, that willingness to do the most
difficult always, to risk his life constantly. It was in this way that he won
his rank of major and of commander of the second column that was organized in
the Sierra Maestra. In this way his prestige grew. His fame began to grow as a
magnificent fighter, which was to carry him to the highest ranks in the course
of the war.
Che was an unbeatable soldier, commander. From a military standpoint Che was an
extraordinary capable man, extraordinarily brave, extraordinarily aggressive. If
he had and Achilles heel as a guerrilla, that Achilles heel was his excessive
aggressiveness. It has his absolute scorn for danger. The enemies try to draw
conclusion about his death. Che was a master of war.
Che was an artist in guerrilla warfare. He demonstrated this an infinite number
of times, but above all in two extraordinary exploits. One of them was the
invasion at the head of a column, a column which was pursued by thousands of
soldiers through territory that was absolutely open and unknown. He accomplished
with Camilo a formidable military feat.
But, in addition, he demonstrated it in his brilliant campaign in Las Villas,
and he demonstrated it above all in his daring attack on the city of Santa
Clara, entering a city defended by tanks, artillery, and several thousand
infantry soldiers with a column of barely 300 men.
Those two exploits mark him as an extraordinarily able chief, a master, an
artist of revolutionary warfare. Nevertheless, after his heroic and glorious
death they attempt to deny the veracity or worth of his guerrilla concepts and
ideas. The artist can die, particularly when he is an artist in such a dangerous
art as the revolutionary struggle, but what cannot die under any circumstances
is the art to which he dedicated his life and to which he dedicated his
Why is it so strange that this artist should die in a battle? It is much more
extraordinary that on the many occasions that he risked his life he was not
killed during some battle. Many were the times in which it was necessary to take
action to prevent him fro getting killed in actions of minor importance. And so
in a battle, in one of the many battles that he waged, he lost his life. We do
not have enough evidence to make a judgment as to all the circumstances
preceding that battle, as to the degree in which he may have acted in an overly
aggressive manner, but we repeat that if as a guerrilla he had an Achilles heel,
that Achilles heel was his excessive aggressiveness, his absolute contempt for
That was where it was difficult to agree with him, because we understand that
his life, his experience, his ability as a veteran chief, his prestige, and
everything that he signified in life, were much more, incomparable more,
valuable that he perhaps realized himself. The idea that men have a relative
value in history may have profoundly influenced his conduct; the idea that
causes cannot be defeated when men fall and that the uncontainable march of
history does not stop nor will it stop because the commanders fall. And this is
certain, this cannot be doubted. This shows his faith in mankind, his faith in
ideas, his faith in setting an example. Yet, as I said a few days ago, I would
have wholeheartedly wished to have seen him as the molder of victories, molding
under his leadership, molding under his direction, the victories, because men of
his experience, of his caliber, of his singular ability are uncommon men. We are
able to appreciate all the value of his example and we have the most absolute
conviction that this example will serve as emulation and will serve to bring men
similar to him from the bosom of the people.
It is not easy to find in one person all the virtues found in him. It is not
easy for a person to be able spontaneously to develop a personality like his. I
would say that he is the type of man who is difficult to equal and practically
impossible to improve upon. But I would also say that men like him are able with
their example to help the rise of other men like him.
We not only admire the warrior in El Che, the man capable of great feats, and
what he did and what he was doing, that fact in itself of facing alone with a
handful of men an entire oligarchic army trained by Yankee advisers, supplied by
Yankee imperialism, supported by the oligarchies of all the neighboring nations,
that fact in itself is an extraordinary feat. If one seeks in the pages of
history one may not possibly find a single case in which somebody with such a
small number of men had embarked on such a large-scale task, in which somebody
with such a small number of men had embarked on a struggle against such
considerable forces. It is proof of his self-confidence. It is proof of his
confidence in the people. It is proof of his confidence in the capacity of men
for combat. One may seek in the pages of history and nothing comparable will be
And he fell. The enemies believe that they have defeated his ideas, that they
have defeated his guerrilla concepts, that they have defeated his viewpoints on
the armed revolutionary struggle. What they gained with a lucky blow was to
eliminate his physical life. What they did was to achieve the accidental
advantages which an enemy may achieve in war. That lucky blow, that stroke of
fortune, we do not know to what degree it was helped by that characteristic, to
which we referred before, of excessive aggressiveness and absolute contempt for
danger in a battle like so many battles. It also happened during our war of
independence, in a battle at Dos Rios, where they killed the apostle of our
independence. In a battle at Punta Brava they killed Antonio Maceo, veteran of
hundred battles. In similar battles a number of chiefs were killed, a number of
patriots of our independence wars. Nevertheless, that was not the defeat of the
The death of Che, as we said a few days ago, is a hard blow, it is a tremendous
blow to the revolutionary movement because, without any doubt, it deprives it of
its most experienced and capable chief. But they who sing victory are mistaken.
They are mistaken who believe that his death is the defeat of his ideas, the
defeat of his tactics, the defeat of his guerrilla concepts, the defeat of his
thesis, because that man who fell as a mortal man, as a man who many times
exposed himself to bullets, as a military man, as a chief, he was a thousand
time more capable than those who with one stroke of luck killed him.
However, how must revolutionaries face this adverse blow? How must they face
this loss? What would be Che’s opinion if he had to make a judgment on this
subject? He expressed that opinion very clearly when he wrote in his message to
the Latin American solidarity Organization that if death surprised him at any
place, it would be welcome, providing that his battle cry had reached a
receptive ear and another hand was stretched out to grasp a weapon. And that was
his battle cry. It will not reach one receptive ear, but millions of receptive
ears, not one hand, but millions of hands outstretching to grasp weapons,
inspired by his example. New commanders will arise. Men will need commanders who
will rise from the rank and file of the people, just as commanders have arisen
in all revolutions. Those hands will not be able to count on a commander of the
extraordinary experience, of the enormous ability of El Che. Those commanders
will be formed from among the millions who sooner or later will take up arms.
- Fidel Castro's Eulogy for Che Guevara