Che Guevara

Speech to the First Latin American Youth Congress

Written: July, 28 1960
First Published:
Source: The Che Reader, Ocean Press, © 2005.
Translated: unknown
Transcription/Markup: Ocean Press/Brian Baggins
Copyright: © 2005 Aleida March, Che Guevara Studies Center and Ocean Press. Reprinted with their permission. Not to be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Ocean Press. For further information contact Ocean Press at and via its website at

Compañeros of the Americas and the entire world: It would take a long time to extend individual greetings on behalf of our country to each of you, and to each of the countries represented here. We nevertheless want to draw attention to some of those who represent countries afflicted by natural catastrophes or catastrophes caused by imperialism.

We would like to extend special greetings to the representative of the Chilean people, Clotario Blest, whose youthful voice you heard a moment ago. His maturity can serve as an example and a guide to our fellow working people from that unfortunate land, which has been devastated by one of the most terrible earthquakes in history.

We would also like to extend special greetings to Jacobo Arbenz, [former] president of the first Latin American nation [Guatemala] to raise its voice fearlessly against colonialism, and to express the cherished desires of its peasant masses, through a deep and courageous agrarian reform. We would like to express our gratitude to him and to the democracy that fell in that country for the example it gave us, and for enabling us to make a correct appreciation of all the weaknesses his government was unable to overcome. In this way, it has been possible for us [here in Cuba] to get at the roots of the matter, and to decapitate with one strike those who held power, as well as the henchmen serving them.

We would also like to greet two of the delegations representing countries that perhaps have suffered the most in the Americas. First of all, Puerto Rico, which today, 150 years after freedom was first proclaimed in the Americas, continues to fight to take the first, and perhaps most difficult step of achieving, at least in formal terms, a free government. I ask Puerto Rico's delegates to convey my greetings, and those of all Cuba, to Pedro Albizu Campos. We would like to convey to him our heart-felt respect, our recognition of the example he has shown with his valor, and our fraternal feelings as free men toward a man who, despite being in the dungeons of so-called U.S. democracy, is still free.

Although it may seem paradoxical, I would also like to greet today the delegation representing the purest of the U.S. people. I would like to salute them because the U.S. people are not to blame for the barbarity and injustice of their rulers, and because they are innocent victims of the rage of all the peoples of the world, who sometimes confuse a social system with a people. All of Cuba, myself included, open our arms to the individuals and the delegations, to show you what is good here and what is bad, what has been achieved and what has yet to be achieved, the road traveled and the road ahead. Because even though all of you come to deliberate at this Latin American Youth Congress on behalf of your respective countries, I am sure each of you also comes here full of curiosity to find out exactly what is this phenomenon of the Cuban Revolution, born on a Caribbean island. Many of you, from diverse political tendencies, will ask yourselves, as you did yesterday and as perhaps you will do tomorrow: What is the Cuban Revolution? What is its ideology? Immediately the question will arise, as it always does, among both adherents and adversaries: Is the Cuban Revolution communist? Some say yes, hoping the answer is yes, or that the revolution is heading in that direction. Others, disappointed perhaps, will also think the answer is yes. There will be disappointed people who believe the answer is no, as well as those who hope the answer is no.

I might be asked whether this revolution before you is a communist revolution. After the usual explanations about communism (leaving aside the hackneyed accusations by imperialism and the colonial powers, who confuse everything), I would answer that if this revolution is Marxist — and listen well that I say Marxist — it is because the revolution discovered, by its own methods, the road pointed out by Marx.

In saluting the Cuban Revolution recently, Vice Premier [Anastas] Mikoyan, one of the leading figures of the Soviet Union and a lifelong Marxist, said that the revolution was a phenomenon Marx had not foreseen. He noted that life teaches more than the wisest books and the most profound thinkers.

The Cuban Revolution was moving forward, without worrying about labels, without checking what others were saying about it, but constantly scrutinizing what the Cuban people wanted of it. The revolution quickly found that it had achieved, or was on the way to achieving, the happiness of its people; and that it had also become the object of inquisitive looks from friend and foe alike — hopeful looks from an entire continent, and furious looks from the king of monopolies.

This did not come about overnight. Permit me to relate some of my own experience — an experience that could help many people in similar circumstances gain an understanding of how our current revolutionary thinking came about. Even though there is certainly continuity, the Cuban Revolution you see today is not the Cuban Revolution of yesterday, even after the victory. Much less is it the Cuban insurrection prior to our victory, when those 82 youths made the difficult crossing of the Gulf of Mexico [in November- December 1956] in a leaky boat to reach the shores of the Sierra Maestra. Between those young people and the representatives of Cuba today there is a distance that cannot be accurately measured in years, with 24-hour days and 60-minute hours. All the members of the Cuban Government — young in age, young in character, and young in the illusions they held — have nevertheless matured in an extraordinary school of experience; in living contact with the people and with their needs and aspirations.

Our collective hope had been to arrive one day somewhere in Cuba, and after a few shouts, a few heroic actions, a few deaths and a few radio broadcasts, to take power and drive out the dictator Batista. History showed us it was far more difficult to overthrow a government backed and partnered by an army of murderers, and backed by the greatest colonial power on earth. Little by little, each of our ideas changed. We, the children of the cities, learned to respect the peasants. We learned to respect their sense of independence, their loyalty; we learned to recognize their age-old yearning for the land that had been snatched from them; and to recognize their experience in the thousand paths across the hills. From us, the peasants learned how valuable someone is when they have a rifle in their hand, and when they are prepared to fire that rifle at another person, regardless of how many rifles that other person has. The peasants taught us their know-how and we taught the peasants our sense of rebellion. From that moment until now, and forever, the peasants of Cuba and the rebel forces of Cuba — today the Cuban revolutionary government — have united as one. The revolution continued to progress, and we drove the troops of the dictatorship from the steep slopes of the Sierra Maestra. We came face-to-face with another reality of Cuba: the workers — both in agricultural and industrial centers. We learned from them too, while we taught them that at the right moment, a well-aimed shot fired at the right person is much more powerful and effective than the most powerful and effective peaceful demonstration. We learned the value of organization, while again we taught the value of rebellion. Out of this, organized rebellion arose throughout the entire territory of Cuba.

By then much time had passed. Many deaths marked the road of our victory — many in combat, others innocent victims. The imperialist forces began to see there was something more than a group of bandits in the heights of the Sierra Maestra, something more than a group of ambitious assailants arrayed against the ruling power. The imperialists generously offered their bombs, bullets, planes and tanks to the dictatorship. With those tanks in the lead, the government's forces again attempted, for the last time, to ascend the Sierra Maestra.

By then, columns of our forces had already left the Sierra to invade other regions of Cuba and had formed the “Frank País” Second Eastern Front under Commander Raúl Castro. Our strength within public opinion was growing — we were now headline material in the international pages of newspapers from every corner of the world. Yet despite all this, the Cuban Revolution at that time possessed only 200 rifles — not 200 men, but 200 rifles — to stop the regime's last offensive, in which the dictatorship amassed 10,000 soldiers and every type of instrument of death. Each one those 200 rifles carries a history of sacrifice and blood. They were rifles of imperialism that the blood and determination of our martyrs dignified and transformed into rifles of the people.

In this way, the last stage of the army's great offensive unfolded, under the name of “encirclement and annihilation.”

What I am saying to you, young people from throughout the Americas who are diligent and eager to learn, is that if today we are putting into practice what is known as Marxism, it is because we discovered it here. In those days, after defeating the dictatorship's troops and inflicting 1,000 casualties on their ranks — five times as many casualties as the sum total of our combat forces, and after seizing more than 600 weapons — a small pamphlet written by Mao Tse-tung fell into our hands. The pamphlet dealt with strategic problems of the revolutionary war in China and described the campaigns that the dictator Chiang Kai-shek carried out against the popular forces, which just like here were called “campaigns of encirclement and annihilation.”

Not only had the same words been used on opposite sides of the globe to describe their campaigns, but both dictators had resorted to the same types of campaigns to try to destroy the popular forces. The popular forces here, without knowing of the manuals already written about the strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare, used the same methods as those used on the opposite side of the world to combat the dictatorship's forces. Naturally, when somebody lives through an experience, that experience can be utilized by somebody else. But it is also possible to go through the same experience without knowing of the earlier one.

We were unaware of the experiences the Chinese troops accumulated during 20 years of struggle in their territory. But we knew our own territory, we knew our enemy, and we used something every person has on their shoulders — which is worth a lot if they know how to use it — we used our heads to guide our fight against the enemy. As a result, we defeated it. The westward invasions came later, and the breaking of Batista's communication lines, and the crushing fall of the dictatorship when no-one expected it. Then came January 1 [1959] and the revolution, without thinking about what it had read, but hearing what it needed to from the lips of the people, decided first and foremost to punish the guilty, and it did so. Immediately the colonial powers splashed the story all over the front pages, calling it murder, immediately trying to do what imperialists always try to do: sow division. “Communist murderers are killing people,” they said. “There is, however, a naive patriot Fidel Castro, who had nothing to do with it and can be saved.” In this way they tried to sow divisions among those who had fought for the same cause. They maintained this hope for some time.

One day they happened upon the Agrarian Reform Law, and saw that it was much more violent and profound than the law their very intellectual, self-appointed advisers had counselled. All of those advisers, by the way, are today in Miami or some other U.S. city, like Pepin Rivero of Diario de la Marina, or Medrano of Prensa Libre. Others, including a prime minister in our government, also counseled great moderation, being that “one must handle such things with moderation.”

“Moderation” is one of those words colonial agents like to use. Those who are afraid, or who think of betraying in one way or another, are moderates. In no sense, however, are the people moderates.

The advice given was to divide up marabú land — marabú is a wild shrub that plagues our fields — and have the peasants cut marabú with machetes, or settle in swamps, or grab pieces of public land that might somehow have escaped the voraciousness of the large landowners. To touch the holdings of the large landowners was a sin greater than anything they imagined to be possible. But it was possible.

I recall a conversation I had in those days with a gentleman who said he had no problems at all with the revolutionary government because he owned only 900 caballerías. Nine hundred caballerías comes to more than 10,000 hectares [25,000 acres]. This gentleman, of course, did eventually have problems with the revolutionary government; his lands were seized, divided up, and turned over to individual peasants. In addition, cooper- atives were created on lands where agricultural workers were already beginning to work collectively for a wage.

This is one of the peculiar features of the Cuban Revolution that must be studied. For the first time in Latin America, a revolution carried out an agrarian reform that attacked property relations other than feudal ones. There were feudal remnants in the tobacco and coffee industries, and in these areas land was turned over to individuals who had been working small plots and wanted their land. But given how sugarcane, rice and cattle were cultivated and worked in Cuba, that land was seized as a unit and worked by workers who were granted joint ownership. Those workers are not owners of single parcels of land, but of the whole great joint enterprise called a cooperative. This has enabled our far-reaching agrarian reform to move rapidly. Each of you should let it sink in, as an incontrovertible truth, that no government here in Latin America can call itself revolutionary unless its first measure is agrarian reform.

A government that says it will implement timid agrarian reform cannot call itself revolutionary. A revolutionary government carries out agrarian reform that transforms the system of property relations — that doesn't just give peasants unused land, but primarily gives peasants land that was in use, land that belonged to large landowners, the best land with the greatest yield, land that moreover had been stolen from the peasants in past epochs. That is agrarian reform, and that is how all revolutionary governments must begin. On the basis of agrarian reform the great battle for the industrialization of a country can be waged, a battle that is very complicated, in which one must fight against very big things.

We could very easily fail, as in the past, if it weren't for the existence of very great forces in the world today that are friends of small nations like ours. I must note here for everyone's benefit — for those who like it and those who hate it — that at the present time countries like Cuba, revolutionary, non-moderate countries, cannot respond half-heartedly as to whether the Soviet Union or People's China are our friends. They must answer with all their might that the Soviet Union, China and all the socialist countries are our friends, as are many colonial or semicolonial countries that have freed themselves.

These friendships with governments throughout the world is why it is possible to carry out a revolution in Latin America. When the imperialists carried out aggression against us using sugar and petroleum, the Soviet Union was there to give us petroleum and to buy sugar from us. Without that, we would have needed all our strength, all our faith, and the devotion of the people, which is enormous, to withstand the blow this would have signified. These measures taken by “U.S. democracy” against this “threat to the free world” would have had huge effects on the living standards of the Cuban people, and the forces of disunity would have done their work, viciously playing on the effects.

There are government leaders in Latin America who still advise us to lick the hand that wants to hit us; to spit on the one who wants to help us. We answer these government leaders who, in the middle of the 20th century, recommend bowing our heads: We say, first of all, that Cuba does not bow down before anyone. Secondly, we say that Cuba, from its own experience, knows the weaknesses and defects of the governments advising this approach — and the rulers of these countries know them too; they know them very well. Nevertheless, Cuba has not deigned or allowed itself, or thought it permissible, to advise the rulers of these countries to shoot every traitorous official or nationalize all the monopoly holdings in their countries. The people of Cuba shot their murderers and dissolved the army of the dictatorship. Yet they have not been telling governments in Latin America to put the murderers of the people before the firing squads or to stop propping up dictatorships. Cuba knows there are murderers in each one of these nations. We can attest to that fact because a Cuban belonging to our own movement [Andrés Coba] was killed, in a friendly country [Venezuela], by henchmen left over from the previous dictatorship.

We do not ask that they put the person who assassinated one of our members before a firing squad, although we would have done so in this country. What we ask, simply, is that if it is not possible to act with solidarity in the Americas, at least don't be a traitor to the Americas. Let no-one in the Americas parrot the notion that we are bound to a continental alliance that includes our great enslaver. That is the most cowardly and denigrating lie a ruler in Latin America can utter.

We, the entire people of Cuba who belong to the Cuban Revolution, call our friends friends, and our enemies enemies. We do not allow for halfway terms: one is either a friend or an enemy. We, the people of Cuba, don't tell any nation on earth what they should do with, for example, the International Monetary Fund. But we will not tolerate them coming to tell us what to do. We know what has to be done. If they want to do what we would do, good; if not, that's up to them. We will not tolerate anyone telling us what to do. We were here on our own until the last moment, awaiting the direct aggression of the mightiest power in the capitalist world, and we did not ask for help from anyone. We were prepared, together with our people, to resist through to the final consequences of our rebel spirit.

We can speak with our heads held high, and with very clear voices, in all the congresses and councils where our brothers of the world meet. When the Cuban Revolution speaks, it may make mistakes, but it will never tell a lie. In every place where it speaks, the Cuban Revolution expresses the truths that its sons and daughters have learned, and it does so openly to its friends and its enemies alike. It never throws stones from behind corners; it never gives advice containing daggers cloaked in velvet. We are subject to attacks. We are attacked a great deal because of what we are. But we are attacked much, much more because we show to each nation of the Americas what is possible. What is important for imperialism — more than Cuba's nickel mines or sugar mills, Venezuela's oil, Mexico's cotton, Chile's copper, Argentina's cattle, Paraguay's grasslands or Brazil's coffee — is the totality of these raw materials upon which the monopolies feed.

They place obstacles in our path every chance they get, and when they themselves are unable to erect obstacles, others in Latin America are unfortunately willing to do so. Names are not important, because no single individual is to blame. We cannot say that [Venezuelan] President Betancourt is to blame for the death of our compatriot and co-thinker [Andrés Coba]. President Betancourt is not to blame; he is simply a prisoner of a regime that calls itself democratic. That democratic regime could have set another example in Latin America, but it nevertheless committed the great mistake of not using the firing squad in a timely way. Today the democratic government of Venezuela is again a prisoner of the henchmen Venezuela was familiar with a short while ago — and with whom Cuba was familiar, and with whom the majority of Latin America remains familiar.

We cannot blame President Betancourt for this death. We can only say the following, supported by our record as revolutionaries and by our conviction as revolutionaries: the day President Betancourt, elected by his people, feels himself a prisoner to such a degree that he cannot go forward and decides to ask the help of a fraternal people, Cuba is here to show Venezuela some of our experiences in the field of revolution.

President Betancourt should know that it was not — and could not have been — our diplomatic representative who started the affair that ended in a death. It was the North Americans, or in the final analysis the U.S. Government. A bit closer to the events, it was Batista's men, and closer still, it was those dressed up in anti-Batista clothing, the U.S. Government's reserve forces in this country, who wanted to defeat Batista yet maintain the system: people like [José] Miró Cardona, [Miguel Angel] Quevedo, [Pedro Luis] Díaz Lanz and Huber Matos. In direct line of sight it was the reactionary forces operating in Venezuela. It is very sad to say, but the leader of Venezuela is at the mercy of his own troops, who may at any moment try to assassinate him, as happened a while ago in the case of the car packed with dynamite. The Venezuelan President, at this moment, is a prisoner of his repressive forces.

This hurts, because the Cuban people received from Venezuela the greatest amount of solidarity and support when we were in the Sierra Maestra. It hurts, because much earlier than us Venezuela was able to rid itself of the hateful and oppressive system represented by [Marcos] Pérez Jiménez. It hurts, because when our delegations went to Venezuela — first Fidel Castro, and later our president Dorticós — they received great demonstrations of support and affection.

A people who have achieved the high degree of political consciousness, who have the high fighting spirit of the Venezuelan people, will not remain prisoners of a few bayonets or bullets for long. Bullets and bayonets can change hands, and the murderers themselves can wind up dead. But it is not my mission to list here all the stabs in the back we have received from Latin American governments in recent days and to add fuel to the fire of rebellion. That is not my task because, in the first place, Cuba is still not free of danger. Today Cuba is still the focus of the imperialists' attention in this part of the world. Cuba needs your solidarity, the solidarity of those from the Democratic Action Party in Venezuela, the URD [Democratic Republican Union], or the Communists, or COPEI [Independent Political Electoral Committee], or any other party. It needs the solidarity of the Mexican people, the Colombian people, the Brazilian people and the people of every nation in Latin America.

The colonialists are scared. They, like everyone else, are afraid of missiles, they too are afraid of bombs. Today they see, for the first time in their history, that bombs of destruction can also fall on their families, on everything they have built with so much love — as far as anyone can love wealth and riches. They began to make estimates; they put their electronic calculators to work, and they saw this set-up would be self-defeating. This in no way means that they have renounced the suppression of Cuban democracy. Once again they are making laborious estimates on their calculating machines as to which of the available methods is best for attacking the Cuban Revolution. They have the methods of Ydígoras, Nicaragua, Haiti. For the moment, they do not have the Dominican method. They also have the mercenaries in Florida, the OAS [Organization of American States] and many other methods. And they have power to continue improving these methods.

[Former] President Arbenz and his people know they had many methods and a great deal of might. Unfortunately for Guatemala, President Arbenz had an army of the old style, and was not fully aware of the solidarity of the peoples and their capacity to repel any type of aggression. One of our greatest strengths is being exerted throughout the world — regardless of partisan differences in any country — the strength to defend the Cuban Revolution at any given moment. Permit me to say this is a duty of Latin America's youth. What we have here in Cuba is something new and it's worth studying. You will have to assess what is good here for yourselves.

There are many bad things, I know. There is a lot disorganization, I know. If you have been to the Sierra Maestra, then you already know this. We still use guerrilla methods, I know. We lack technicians in necessary quantities commensurate to our aspirations, I know. Our army has still not reached the necessary degree of maturity and the militia members have not achieved sufficient coordination to constitute themselves as an army, I know.

But what I also know, and I want all of you to know, is that this revolution has always acted with the will of the entire people of Cuba. Every peasant and worker who handles a rifle poorly is working every day to handle it better, to defend their revolution. And if at this moment they can't understand the complicated workings of a machine whose technician fled to the United States, then they are studying every day to learn it, so their factory runs better. The peasants are studying their tractor, to fix its mechanical problems, so the fields of their cooperative yield more. All Cubans, from both the city and country, share the same sentiments and are marching toward the future, totally united in their thinking, with a leader they have absolute confidence in because he has shown in a thousand battles and on a thousand different occasions his capacity for sacrifice and the power and foresight of his thought.

The nation before you today might disappear from the face of the earth because an atomic conflict may be unleashed on its account, and it might be the first target. Even if this entire island were to disappear along with its inhabitants, Cuba's people would consider themselves satisfied and fulfilled if each of you, upon returning to your countries, would say: Here we are. Our words come from the humid air of the Cuban forests. We have climbed the Sierra Maestra and seen the dawn, and our minds and our hands are filled with the seeds of that dawn. We are prepared to plant them in this land, and defend them so they can grow.

From all the sister countries of the Americas, and from our own land, if it should still remain standing as an example, from such a moment on and forever, the voice of the peoples will answer: “Thus it shall be: Let freedom triumph in every corner of the Americas!”

Copyright: © 2005 Aleida March, Che Guevara Studies Center and Ocean Press. Reprinted with their permission. Not to be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Ocean Press. For further information contact Ocean Press at and via its website at