Fidel Castro betrayed the revolutionary leader Che Guevara, leaving him to a lonely death in Bolivia in 1967. He broke his solemn word to the Mexican government by training Mexican anti-government guerrillas in Cuba, and he weakened the revolutionary cause in Latin America by imposing a rigid political conformism on those fighting for change in the region. Cuba is today ruled by a corrupt elite who have everything, while the mass of people have to struggle for a living...
These are among the explosive allegations made against the Cuban leader in a book just published in Paris. Similar charges are commonly heard from conservative Cuban exiles in Florida and are generally discounted outside the United States. But now they come from a man who, before he fled to Europe a few months ago, was one of the most trusted members of President Castro's inner circle.
The book, Vie et Mort de la Revolution Cubaine (Life and Death of the Cuban Revolution), written by Benigno, the nom de guerre of Colonel Dariel Alarcon Ramirez, has caused shock in Latin America.
Until the end of last year Benigno had a glittering revolutionary record. An illiterate peasant of 17, he joined Castro, Guevara and the late Camilo Cienfuegos in the Sierra Maestra in their fight against the military dictatorship of General Fulgencio Batista. He was to become police chief of Havana and later accompanied Che in his expeditions to the Congo and Bolivia.
Benigno was one of the few to escape with his life after Guevara was hunted down and killed by the Bolivian army in 1967, and was later given highly sensitive tasks which ranged from running Cuba's prisons to commanding the security battalion of the Cuban general staff. President Castro's life was often in his hands.
He says that he is still faithful to the original ideals of the Cuban revolution, and that he idolises Guevara. "Che was kept in the dark about everything, and abandoned," says Benigno, who blames the Soviets for pressing Fidel Castro to forget his comrade in arms in his hour of need. At the same time, Benigno is scathing about the total lack of preparation for the guerrilla campaign which was started in Bolivia in 1966. It had been presented as a way to inflame all of South America with revolution, but was destroyed by the absence of basic intelligence or logistics, and crass security blunders.
For instance Tania, the East German woman who served as courier to the guerrillas - and who might have been Guevara's mistress - was taking them a tape player and recordings of Cuban music and Castro's latest speeches. But she forgot the items and left them on the seat of her jeep in the town of Camiri; they were found by the Bolivian police and confirmed the story of a deserter from the guerrilla ranks whom the Bolivian authorities had until then distrusted.
Benigno recounts how in 1969 he took the blueprint for revolution to General Juan Velasco in Peru in a suitcase. If he had been captured the case would have blown up, and a grenade automatically blown him to bits with it. Velasco's successful military coup was launched a month after he successfully delivered the documents.
Writing, however, of Castro's desire for political hegemony over members of the Latin American left, Benigno says, "Cuba wanted to direct the politics of each and every one of them, so as to serve its own interests, at the risk of breaking all the organisation up and thus serving US strategies."
As former director of Cuban prisons, Benigno talks with authority about the "terrible tortures", physical and mental, which go on in a system which holds 60,000 people. He tells of how a warder called The Dog at Valle Grande jail forced a hosepipe down a prisoner's mouth till the jet of water burst his stomach.
But he maintains a faith in revolutionary ideals and, in seeking exile in Europe, the former guerrilla has publicly distanced himself from the Cuban community in Miami, whose politics are often violently right-wing.
In an epilogue Benigno writes: "I think that the Cuban revolution can be proud of its successes, such as education and health. Without them no society is worthy of the men and women who make it up."
He comments on his hero Che Guevara's "honest and just principles where corruption and personal ambition had no place", but adds cuttingly about today's Cuba, "These principles have nothing to do with a process where liberty and democracy are absent."
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