Top secret: Documentary reveals how Che’s diary was smuggled to Cuba

Cuban investigator Froilan Gonzalez reads from the pages of Che Guevara’s published diary.

When Latin American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara was killed by US-backed Bolivian soldiers in 1967, he left behind a diary that both Cuba and the United States wanted to use for their own purposes.

Havana was hoping to glorify the Argentina-born guerrilla, who had played a key role in Cuba’s 1959 revolution, while the US was interested in tarnishing the image of Guevara, who blamed poverty in Latin America on capitalist exploitation by its northern neighbour.

Cuba won the battle in the end, publishing the diary on July 1, 1968.

Its translated version was then published by a US magazine, preventing the CIA from using it for propaganda purposes.

The diary had been found among Guevara’s belongings by his captors.

The top-secret operation through which Cuba got hold of the highly sought-after object is documented in the new film “Operacion Gaveta” by Cuban investigator Froilan Gonzalez.

Pages show the copies of Che Guevara’s diary. Once the guerilla was executed in Bolivia in 1967, there was a fight to publish his diary.

“The CIA had a plan to make changes to the diary; calligraphers were working to insert falsehoods into it that Che did not write, such as bad-mouthing the Bolivians,” Gonzalez told dpa.

Guevara had travelled to Bolivia to spread the revolution after helping consolidate it in Cuba, where he held several government posts, and trying to spark it in Congo, where his campaign flopped.

He was captured with fellow fighters in Bolivia and executed in the village of La Higuera on October 9, 1967. Thirty years later, his remains were exhumed and reburied in a mausoleum in the Cuban city of Santa Clara.

A prolific writer, Guevara kept notes of his travels in Latin America, and his “Motorcycle Diaries” even became a commercial success.

The first edition of “El Diario del Che en Bolivia” (Che’s Diary in Bolivia) from 1968 is shown on the left, while the second 1988 edition is on the right.

“A new stage begins today,” is how Che started his Bolivia campaign diary. It covers the period from November 7, 1966, to October 7, 1967, one day before the battle in which he was injured and captured.

After Guevara’s death, both the US and Cuba had plans for his diary.

“Operacion Gaveta” shows how the CIA operated in Bolivia between 1964 and 1968. “The North Americans came as far as controlling the entire third floor of the Bolivian Interior Ministry,” Gonzalez says.

In the documentary, Bolivia’s then-intelligence chief and CIA collaborator Ricardo Aneyba Terrico, now in his 80s, reveals a secret he kept for years to protect his life: He photographed Guevara’s diary to allow it to reach Cuba. “The Bolivians felt constantly humiliated by the United States, looked down upon,” Gonzalez says.

The need to regain “a sense of dignity” is what motivated Aneyba to help the Cubans, he explains.

The intelligence chief made two copies of the diary. He handed one of them to Bolivia’s then-interior minister Antonio Arguedas, who gave it to journalist Victor Zannier so he could get it to Cuba.

Zannier hid the microfilm in the cover of a record of Bolivian folk music and travelled to Chile. The film was then hidden in another record, of Chilean traditional music, which Chilean journalist Mario Diaz took to Havana through Mexico.

Once the copy of the diary landed in the hands of Cuba’s then-leader Fidel Castro, the race to get it published took a frenetic pace. Editors worked in a high-security house in a Havana residential area for a week, without even being allowed to go outside.

On July 1, 1968, the first edition of “El Diario del Che en Bolivia” (Che’s Diary in Bolivia) was published, with over a million copies distributed to Cubans for free.

“The CIA was made to look ridiculous in the operation, which was carried out in total secrecy, because [the diary] reached us without anything being leaked,” says Rolando Rodriguez, who headed the Cuban Book Institute at the time, in the documentary.

The first edition lacked 13 pages, which were recovered and added to the 1988 edition.

In the prologue to the first edition, Castro wrote that “the way this diary reached us cannot be revealed now.”

More than two years after his death, the complete secret is now finally out. – Guillermo Nova