Sebastien Ochoa, the main man in my action-adventure, The First Guerrilla, is nothing like Che Guevara.
I hope that doesn’t disappoint you.
It disappoints me. I really wanted to write a book about a guy like Che. The coolest of the cool for 1960s dropouts and cafe bar revolutionaries.
I’ve been to Asia, the US and Europe in the last year – I’m very lucky. Every flea market, still, has at least one tee-shirt plastered with the iconic Guerrillero Heroica image of the bearded jungle fighter in the beret.
The photo was taken by Alberto Korda on March 5th, 1960.
It even made it onto a Cuban bank note.
See, I did my research.
Sadly, research was what finished it for poor Sebastien. You see Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was a sanctimonious dork.
Don’t get me wrong, Che is a formidable character. A middle-class kid from Buenos Aires, beset by allergies, who qualified as an immunologist and first impressed Fidel Castro as a volunteer medico.
Che’s Motorcycle Diaries and Latin American Diaries, recounting his travels through South America, are fascinating. He hated the USA. Sad to say, he had good reason. His descriptions of life for the downtrodden and struggles against the influence of the CIA are gripping.
His other famous book, Guerrilla Warfare, is an eye-opening memoir of the Cuban struggle and a guide to resistance upon which I have drawn heavily. Thanks, Che.
Unfortunately, Guevara was also dour, bigoted and confrontational. He treated women appallingly and thought nothing of shooting any guerrilla under his command who breached discipline. Carlos Franqui summed it up:
“Che Guevara was ‘serious and austere’, had an Argentinian accent and a look in his eye that was somewhere between pride and arrogance. He commanded respect and admiration but not fondness.”
That’s not exactly the hero I wanted for my swashbuckling tale, although I’m not sure what’s wrong with having an Argentinian accent. I can’t imagine anyone cheering on a misogynistic, pedant.
Fortunately, my research also uncovered Camilo Cienfuego.
My source on Camilo is Carlos Franqui’s biography – or should I say paean of admiration. The word ‘bromance’ comes to mind.
Camilo was a kid from the wrong side of the Havana tracks. A nationalist who disliked the dogma of communism. He lived in America for a while and once applied to join the US Army.
More important from my point of view, he was a cheerful larrikin. Reputedly the only man who could take the Mickey out of Castro and get away with it. A gourmand, a party boy, incredibly attractive to women. Did I mention Franqui’s man-crush on Camilo?
Cienfuegos was a damned fine unconventional warfare commander who rose to the top of Cuban revolutionary chain of command with Fidel, Guevara, Juan Almeida and Raul Castro. His column was first into Havana after the military junta capitulated. Fidel rode in his jeep.
What a man.
Now there’s a hero.
Che named his son Camilo.
Cienfuegos has a cool image of his own, wearing a bush hat, brandishing a Tommy gun, Castro at his side. It’s much less famous than Guerrillero Heroica, of course. I can’t show it to you because it’s copyright protected, but you’ll find it here.
More than a few of Sebastien’s adventures are based on Camilo’s exploits.
Sebastien isn’t as flamboyant as Camilo. He’s a naive lad from a palenque, a fortified mountain village, a refuge for outlaws. I put him there because, I’ll admit it, I couldn’t get over the fact that such places still existed in the Caribbean in the nineteen fifties.
He’s better educated than Camilo, rather less qualified than Che.
Camilo loved an awful lot of women, according to Franqui, with the happy knack that they all loved him back even after he moved on. Sebastien likes girls every bit as much as Camilo, and they like him, but he’s no lothario.
You’ll be pleased to know he treats his lady friends and female comrades much, much better than Che. The women in The First Guerrilla wouldn’t stand for it if he didn’t, but that’s a subject for another blog.
The First Guerrilla is just US99c right now, or the equivalent in the local currency wherever you buy your kindle books.
Please let me know if Sebastien’s the sort of hero you can cheer on.