Mario Monje arrived. Two other Bolivians came with him, Pedro and Walter. They are both leaders of the Bolivian students movement but they are still a few years older than me. Tania also came with them. I had heard talk of Tania (she’s a woman) before. She has been in Bolivia for a long time preparing the ground. And we have been waiting for Monje for a while, though he seemed to do nothing but cause trouble.
He addressed us all and told us that our struggle was heroic, but that he had to be the leader. Mongo said he would not cede military leadership to an untried man, that politically everyone had their own strengths, but that we are an international brotherhood and we must do the best for the revolution. Monje didn’t look happy.
He wanted to talk it over with the Bolivians and most of them were at the other camp so he went there. Inti went with him. He told me that when Monje gave them all the choice to leave or stay and fight with Mongo as leader, they all chose to stay. Inti said this didn’t please Monje.
At midnight Monje raised his glass to toast a new struggle for independence, like the one in Bolivia from 1809 led by Murillo. Mongo said ‘To triumph one must fire the opening shot. And the moment for that has arrived.’
We stayed up because we wanted to celebrate January 1st - the anniversary of the Revolution – from its first minute. Pombo and Pacho chatted about it and it reminded me of why we are here. Then Che (on this day I must use his real name not just call him Mongo) spoke to us all reminding us of the importance of the date and of the Cuban revolution for which so many have suffered and given their lives. Cuba has overthrown the dictator, but the rest of Latin America, and many other countries in the world, still sit under its yoke – even when they call it democracy. It is not democracy for many of the people and these are the people we are fighting for.
Talking late into the night, Pombo said that he doesn’t think Monje’s aims are the same as ours at all. Inti agreed with him.
January 1st 1967
This morning Monje left, without talking to anyone. I heard Coco tell Inti later that Monje just refused to fight under Mongo and that he said he would resign his party leadership as well. No one understands why he is taking this stance. But Pombo said it is likely to lead to trouble in the future.
Later in the day Mongo explained to us why Monje had left. He said the Monje refused to accept him as leader, even though he respected him personally, and that he was not happy with the internationalising the group, feeling it should be led by Bolivians. He point blank refused to let pro-Chinese comrades join our group. Mongo said he deferred on this point but that he would not budge as regards being in prime charge. This was not because of ego but because of experience. He wants us to succeed and he wants us to stay alive and with his experience of revolution it is obvious to everyone (except Monje) that Mongo must lead. He said very clearly ‘as revolutionaries we cannot allow the guerrilla struggle to be used as an instrument of political blackmail rather than a vehicle for taking power. These were his very words.
Inti told me that Monje had told all the Bolivians they had to go back to the city with him and if not they would be expelled from the party and have the payments from the party to their families stopped. Apparantly the Bolivian Communist Party had agreed only four men, so only four men were authorised to stay. These were Ñato, Coco, Loro and Rodolfo. Carlos and Inti both argued with him about this.
Once Monje had left, Mongo said he was now to be called Ramon – a new name for a new year. I took this to be because he had no trust in Monje. He also explained that our goal was to unite with all who wanted to make revolution. He said he was sorry for the Bolivians as the immediate future was likely to be most difficult for them, and said if any wanted to follow Monje and leave we would think none the less of them. He told them that they should give thought to the option. That there now was still time, but that later it would be impossible. He told them if they stayed, we would treat them with respect as comrades, but we would require a sacrifice from them, even as we sacrifice ourselves in the cause. That they would face difficult times. He said that one day, later in the struggle they might remember this moment and the lack of support for our cause from the Communist Party and feel that they were right. But n one wanted to leave. I think they were all disgusted by Monje – as indeed was I. He must have known he could not come in and take over.
Inti told me that he had heard Ramon talking with Monje and that Ramon said clearly ‘I am here now and the only way I will leave here is dead.’ He was determined to show Monje his commitment – remember he has said that a revolution, if it is a true one, ends with death, or victory.
I trust in Ramon that we will achieve victory because I do not want to die. But if I die, I know it will be in a good cause. Still, I feel I have much life in me yet.
January 2nd 1967
We listened to a speech by Fidel on the radio. Now I see how important the radio can be. It was incredible to listen to that powerful voice so clearly, here, so far away and it inspired me even more to be worthy of this fight. Tania left this afternoon. She is to go to Argentina to get more fighters, and Coco is going to Santa Cruz to get more men as well.
Not much work was done today. Everyone is still very disturbed by Monje. Ramon sent a number of men off on various scouting activities, but I stayed with him in the camp.
Loro had been tasked with taking Monje out, but he has not come back. We all wonder what has happened to him.
I was at the camp working on the cave. We are fixing a roof, but it is very hard work and not finished even at the end of a long day’s work. Others are building a roof for the kitchen so we are all very busy. Good roofs are important because of the bad weather. We need to keep things dry.
It is raining again today. We were detailed to do target practice but the rain stopped that. It didn’t stop our classes though. We did some maths and also some political studies. After the class Ramon saw me writing in my diary and asked me how it was going. I said it was fine and I was trying to keep a good record of what was happening.
‘Make sure you keep it safe,’ he said to me. ‘We don’t want to give our secrets away.’
I promised him I would not, but I felt bad about having mentioned him by name a few days ago so I went and scribbled over that bit. I will be more careful in future. I don’t imagine this book will fall into the wrong hands, or that it would be of interest to anyone if it did, but I don’t want to let anyone down or give away any secrets. The rain is no secret. But I suppose if someone read this they might think that our morale was poor because of the rain. That is not true. My morale is high. So is that of everyone. We are not weak willed like Monje. I feel sorry for Inti because he is embarrassed by Monje, being a fellow Bolivian. We do not judge one man by another here. Ramon says each man is to be judged on his own merits and we must all try to be the best men we can be.
We finally finished the roof of the radio operators cave. Inti told me I should be happy as I may spend a lot of time in here soon. I am still not comfortable using the radio, but I will learn.
Inti had been away scouting – I think Ramon sent him to stop him from brooding about Monje. He came back with a prisoner – a little turkey hen. There was an argument whether she should be a mascot or put in the pot. I voted for pot. Inti reported back that he and Carlos had gone quite some way along the Nacahuasu River and then found some houses and a settlement called Iti which has a cattle trail leading all the way to Lagunillas. They went on further on some good roads and back along the Iquiri River. Others, including Joaquin went further along the Iquiri till they came upon some signs of people. Another group led by Marcos went along the ridges, but came to a point where it was blocked. We are building up a picture of the local area which will come in handy later on. I was stuck with the radio, trying to make contact with Inti most of the day but I never managed it.
We had class today. Not everyone attended. After it, Ramon called all the group together and talked to us all about the necessary characteristics of a guerrilla unit, and how we all needed greater discipline. No one came beyond criticism. I was singled out for not being disciplined enough in learning how to use the radio properly and I felt truly ashamed. I am trying my best, but it seems my best is not good enough, so I will have to try better. I do not blame Ramon for criticising me because he has to lead us and to constantly remind us to live up to his expectations, which are no greater for any of us than the standards he sets (and achieves) for himself. Still, it was hard to be criticised. But I got off comparatively lightly. After me, Ramon went on to strip Marcos of second in command position and give this to Joaquin. The reason was that Marcos is committing far too many errors of action and judgement. Ramon pointed out that study is central for all of us – that there is much to learn and no one can be lazy in this respect or think he knows enough. He said that there was too much carelessness and that it was necessary for us to form a strong as steel nucleus so that we could set a good example to those who came to join us later. He made Joaquin second in command but he did not escape the criticism. Ramon reminded him of the poor way he had dealt with Miguel on New Year’s Eve and told him that he must live up to a better vision of leadership. Generally he told us that the incidents he outlined – too many for me to remember – are undermining our discipline and cohesion and that we all have to be better.
Loro arrived in the afternoon, after all this. We were pleased to see him since he had been away so long and no one knew what had happened to him. Some had even whispered that he might have left with Monje. But in fact he brought two mules, strong animals who will help us carry heavy things. I like them already.
The lesson I learned today is that every man has to look into his heart and face up to himself. When I look at myself, I know I can be better and I remind myself that my goal is that I will be like Che.