The most complete human being of our age.” claimed Jean-Paul Sartre. “A pupil of the school of terror. A dogmatic, cold, and intolerant sectarian,” wrote the Black Book of Communism.
“Che” generates inexorable response, but even now, fifty-four years after his death, he never fails to fascinate. His tragic end, several famous photographs, and the sixties have made him immortal.
Time magazine counted him among the most influential people of the 20th century. And even in many shacks across South America, you can find his portrait hanging right next to the crucifix.
And between revolutionary episodes in his life, he spent a few months in 1966 at a secret intelligence villa on the outskirts of Prague.
In the summer of 1965, after five years as minister of the Cuban government, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, decided that office work was not suitable for him.
He picked up the rifle again and returned to action following one of the secret missions of Castro’s services abroad, in the most delicate theatre of the 1960s: Africa.
Amongst the turbulence of decolonization and the cold war, the guerrillas dreamed of exporting the revolution by supporting tiny Marxist vanguards in different countries. This is how Che found himself in the Congo at the end of 1965, in a catastrophic mission from which the Cubans hastily escaped after a few months.
In December of that year, Fidel Castro announced at a party congress that Guevara would not return to Havana; the Argentine was at the service of the revolution, somewhere in the world, at the service of the oppressed peoples, a decision, it was said, more from Castro than from Che.
Unable to return home, waiting for his next destination, he arrived in Dar el Salaam, in the newly formed Tanzania. Here he was joined in February 1966 by Luis García Gutiérrez, known as Fisín, a Havana dentist, carrying a plane ticket and the tools of the trade. The plane ticket was for Prague.
The tools of the trade, which trespassed the classical limits of dentistry by some length, served to make Che unrecognizable: a dental prosthesis, a hump, a crown of white hair on a false baldness. And for the most classic icing on the cake, square eyeglasses. This was Ramón Benítez, an Uruguayan, officially part of the escort of a communist official.
A revolutionary in Prague
The trick used by the Cubans was very simple. With Czechoslovakia being a country in socialist orbit, like the new Tanzania, the passage of people on this side of the iron curtain was relatively smooth. Castro’s diplomatic missions had already brought him to Prague, and Guevara himself had been greeted by President Antonín Novotný in 1961 and 1965, when the two countries had signed several cooperation agreements (it was the golden moment of relations between Cuba and Czechoslovakia, that froze after the Soviet invasion of ‘68).
The Cubans consequently said they wanted to hide an agent in the Bohemian capital, with escort men, returning from the African mission. Ramón Benítez was a member of the escort.
The StB did not suspected anything more than that, and they put up housing at the disposal of allied intelligence.
The first three months, between March and May 1966, Che spent them in a small apartment, at an address still unknown today, on Heřmanova street, in the residential district of Letná; between June and August in a villa in Ládví, the most peripheral neighborhood in the north-east of the city.
Revived and recuperated after his Czech stay, Che Guevara was ready to relaunch his revolutionary mission and after short, almost farewell, trip to Cuba he was heading towards one of South America’s least developed countries, Bolivia.