Guevara was a central leader of the Cuban Revolution. After the revolutionary triumph in 1959 he occupied a range of leadership assignments as industry minister, president of the national bank and often represented the Cuban leadership abroad. A Marxist and accomplished combatant, he was killed by the Bolivian army Oct. 9, 1967, in a CIA-organized operation.
Guevara had led a group of Cuban and Bolivian revolutionaries in opening a guerrilla front against the Bolivian military dictatorship. Only new revolutionary victories could change the relationship of class forces and break the isolation that was weighing heavily on Cuba. Guevara and Fidel Castro believed that the political conditions in Bolivia were favorable, and its geographic position — bordering five other countries — “makes it a strategic region for extending the revolutionary struggle,” Che wrote.
Seeking to aid African forces fighting for independence from colonial rule, Guevara had earlier led a group of 128 Cuban volunteers to the Congo, where they fought alongside supporters of slain liberation leader Patrice Lumumba. Dreke, who had fought under Che during the Cuban Revolution, became a leader of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces afterwards, and served as Guevara’s deputy during the 1965 campaign in the Congo.
These events were the focus of Dreke’s talks. They also are described at length in Dreke’s own book, From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution. Politically active since the age of 15, Dreke became a cadre of the July 26 Movement, coordinating activities of students and revolutionary-minded sugar workers; a combatant in the Rebel Army; head of the struggle against the counter-revolutionary bandits in the Escambray mountains after the revolution came to power; and an internationalist fighter.
The Cubans went to the Congo to aid followers of Lumumba fighting against dictator Joseph Mobuto and his imperialist backers in Brussels and Washington. “In Africa, 17 former colonies had formally attained their independence, but all they got was a flag and an anthem,” Dreke said, “while they continued to be oppressed and exploited by the imperialist powers.”
Journalist Fabrizio Casari, the moderator at the main event in Rome, asked Dreke if he considered the Congo mission to be a failure. “I don’t think so, no,” he responded. Even though Guevara had thought so at the time, it’s important to review this in the light of subsequent developments, Dreke said.
“The Congo mission didn’t achieve what we wanted,” he said. “But the Cuban Revolution came out strong, enabling the mission in Angola from 1975 to 1991 in which the apartheid regime was defeated by thousands of Cuban volunteer soldiers, fighting alongside Angolans and Namibians. Angola was a victory for what Che led in the Congo and for the internationalism of the Cuban Revolution under Fidel Castro’s leadership.”
Alongside Dreke at the Rome event — 300 people at the prestigious Music Park Auditorium — were academics Angelo D’Orsi and Alessandra Riccio. The two-hour presentation was interspersed with readings from Guevara’s letters and other writings, film clips and a musical performance by Renata Mezenov Sa, a Cuban living in Italy. At other events, academics and Cuba solidarity activists joined the platforms. The events often took the form of an “encounter,” with a moderator directing questions to the panelists.
In Rome, Dreke said with a smile that “with the permission of the organizers” he wanted to address a question that hadn’t been asked — Che’s relationship with Fidel Castro. He said it was important to counter the slanders that started early in the revolution and continue to be peddled today that seek to divide Fidel and Che. We have to tell the truth about this, Dreke said, “if we are to honor Che and honor Fidel.”
Che convinced by example
“Che was a true revolutionary combatant defending the cause of socialism,” Dreke said. “He convinced by his own example, his simplicity, his moral values and revolutionary ethics. Whenever anyone stands up to fight capitalism, Che’s presence can be felt.”
When Guevara was killed in Bolivia, Dreke was in Guinea-Bissau, working with revolutionary leader Amilcar Cabral to train fighters to combat Portugal’s colonial rule. As a reaction to Che’s death, Dreke said, Cabral organized simultaneous attacks on several Portuguese garrisons, carried out by Cuban and African forces under the name “Che has not died.”
In a lively question-answer session at a town meeting of 150 in Padua, Dreke was asked what he thought about developments in Venezuela. The Cuban government and people will continue to oppose the aggression against the government of Nicolás Maduro by Washington and pro-imperialist forces inside the country, he said. “There are some 40,000 Cuban volunteers in Venezuela, and they will continue to extend international solidarity.”
Asked about U.S. President Donald Trump’s stance toward Cuba, Dreke replied, “There have been 11 U.S. presidents since the Jan. 1, 1959, triumph. Each has had their own particular way of seeking to destroy the revolution. Trump is the latest. He will fail like the others because over nearly 60 years the Cuban people have demonstrated their strength in unity in defense of the revolution.”
“What are the objective conditions for victory in revolutionary struggle?” a student asked at the University of Venice. “I don’t think it’s possible to give a list,” Dreke replied, “it’s above all a leadership question.” The questioner picked up a copy of Dreke’s book along with Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? by Mary-Alice Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the U.S.
Books by SWP leaders, leaders of the Cuban Revolution and other revolutionaries were available at many of the events on Pathfinder Books tables staffed by representatives of the Communist League in the United Kingdom. Participants in Dreke’s meetings purchased 95 books and six subscriptions to the Militant.
US gov’t doesn’t have ‘moral authority’ to criticize Cuba
UN votes 191-2 against US embargo against Cuba
‘Cuban Revolution will never negotiate its principles’
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home