CWIHP e-Dossier No. 72

Nationalist Smelters and Cuban Guerillas: The Bolivian Revolution through the Eyes of Czechoslovakia

by Thomas C. Field Jr.

April 2016

 

 

List of Documents

Obtained for Thomas Field by Vlasta Měšťánková; translated by Jiri Macek.
 
Source: Inv.č. 93, ka. 74, Komunistická strana Československa, Ústřední výbor, Kancelář 1, tajemníka ÚV KSČ Antonína Novotného—II. Č, Národní archiv, Prahu. 

 

Source: Inv.č. 93, ka. 74, Komunistická strana Československa, Ústřední výbor, Kancelář 1, tajemníka ÚV KSČ Antonína Novotného-II. Č, Národní archiv, Prahu. 

 

Source: Inv.č. 92, ka. 74, Komunistická strana Československa, Ústřední výbor, Kancelář 1, tajemníka ÚV KSČ Antonína Novotného-II. Č, Národní archiv, Prahu.

 

Source: Inv.č. 93, ka. 74, Komunistická strana Československa, Ústřední výbor, Kancelář 1, tajemníka ÚV KSČ Antonína Novotného-II. Č, Národní archiv, Prahu. 

 

Source: Inv.č. 94, ka. 74, Komunistická strana Československa, Ústřední výbor, Kancelář 1, tajemníka ÚV KSČ Antonína Novotného-II. Č, Národní archiv, Prahu.

 

Source:  Inv.č. 94, ka. 74, Komunistická strana Československa, Ústřední výbor, Kancelář 1, tajemníka ÚV KSČ Antonína Novotného-II. Č, Národní archiv, Prahu.

 

Source:  Inv.č. 93, ka. 74, Komunistická strana Československa, Ústřední výbor, Kancelář 1, tajemníka ÚV KSČ Antonína Novotného-II. Č, Národní archiv, Prahu.

 

Source: Inv.č. 94, ka. 74, Komunistická strana Československa, Ústřední výbor, Kancelář 1, tajemníka ÚV KSČ Antonína Novotného-II. Č, Národní archiv, Prahu. 

 

Source: Inv.č. 94, ka. 74, Komunistická strana Československa, Ústřední výbor, Kancelář 1, tajemníka ÚV KSČ Antonína Novotného-II. Č, Národní archiv, Prahu. 

 

 

Introduction

 

Halfway through his inaugural address on 20 January 1961, United States President John F. Kennedy directed a few words to “our sister republics to the south.”  Implicitly invoking the nineteenth-century Monroe Doctrine which opposed European influence in the Americas, Kennedy warned that Latin America’s ongoing “peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers,” and he vowed to “let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.”[1]

A few days later, revolutionary Bolivia tested the meaning of Kennedy’s strident words by welcoming a high-level delegation of officials from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.  In a secret inter-ministerial memorandum, Bolivian Foreign Minister Eduardo Arze wrote to his counterpart in the Economy Ministry that “Czechoslovakia is in a position to give Bolivia heavy machinery for industrial development, with long-term credits paid for by the material produced by the same installations.”  According to Arze, smelters to process raw materials for export “were just a single aspect of the broad commercial channel that could be established between that country and ours,” and he praised the Czechoslovaks for making concrete proposals while “not trying to obtain any commitment of a political nature.”  On the contrary, Prague’s economic offers were merely “motivated by its government’s necessities to sell machinery produced by Czechoslovak heavy industry, as well as its desire to cooperate with Bolivia’s economic growth.”[2]

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported alarmingly that the Czechoslovak delegation had been dispatched to La Paz “at the invitation of President [Víctor] Paz [Estenssoro]” (1952-56, 1960-64), the father of the country’s 1952 revolution, who boldly shared with US Ambassador Carl Strom his “plans to utilize both US and Soviet bloc aid.”  When Strom warned him that the Communist Second World “may score politically in Latin American through contributing ‘show’ projects for Bolivia,” Paz responded that he “feels no obligation to impede such development.”  Despite recognizing that President Paz was “under heavy domestic pressure” to accept Soviet bloc aid, the CIA added optimistically that the Bolivian president was likely playing a game, “dramatizing Bolivia’s interest in foreign economic help” in order to secure “an emergency increase in American aid.”[3]

As I argue in my recent book, From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era, the CIA was right.  Far from a Communist sympathizer, Víctor Paz Estenssoro was a “sincere, if flawed, nationalist,” a genuine Third Worlder whose “points of reference” (according to my interviews with his son) were Indonesia’s Sukarno, India’s Nehru, and Ghana’s Nkrumah.[4]  During the second Paz administration (1960-64), Bolivia assigned its first ambassador to Belgrade, along with a message from the Foreign Ministry praising Yugoslav leader Josep Broz Tito for, “along with the governments of India and the United Arab Republic…constitut[ing] the leaders of  the line of international neutrality, formalized in the declarations of Belgrade and Cairo…channeled as the third force, standing against permanent conflict in which the great powers of the communist and democratic western areas find themselves enmeshed.”[5]

....these documents also reveal a covert side to Czechoslovak relations with Bolivia, including Prague’s reports on Cuban-sponsored guerrillas that deepened Bolivia’s internal tensions during the months and years leading up to the 1967 death of the Third World’s most famous insurgent, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Read in conjunction Vanni Pettinà’s recent CWIHP e-Dossier, “Mexican-Soviet Relations, 1958-1964: The Limits of Engagement,” this document cache represents further evidence of the necessity of incorporating Latin America within historical literature on the Third World movement.[6]  Many of these records were consulted for my recent book on the contradictions within revolutionary Bolivia’s foreign policy that led to a massive US development intervention and the subsequent collapse of the country’s civilian government in November 1964.  Furthermore, these documents also reveal a covert side to Czechoslovak relations with Bolivia, including Prague’s reports on Cuban-sponsored guerrillas that deepened Bolivia’s internal tensions during the months and years leading up to the 1967 death of the Third World’s most famous insurgent, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Document 1 relates a November 1961 meeting between Bolivia’s chargé d’affaires in Prague, Jorge Calvimontes Calvimontes, a young leftwing journalist and poet who had risen to prominence in the 1950s as a writer for La Nación, the official newspaper of the Bolivian revolution and its heterogeneous political party, the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR; Revolutionary Nationalist Movement).  Building on President Paz’s interregnal visit to Prague in 1959, and his subsequent January 1961 signing of a bilateral agreement in La Paz, Calvimontes “expressed delight regarding the fact that economic relations between our countries are developing quite well.”  He also announced a Bolivian art exhibit soon to be inaugurated in Prague, representing “a cornerstone of the cultural relations agreement.”  Similar to modernization theorists in the US, who were stalwart allies of Bolivia’s nationalists, the MNR art exhibition would present the country’s revolution as a “unfinished work.”[7]  Color images would “reflect both specific modern developments as well as photography depicting the poverty and social destitution that is still present among Bolivians.”  The exhibition would also highlight “child drawings,” a quintessential example of petite bourgeois MNR culture, about which much has been written since the revolution of 1952.[8]  Similarly revealing is the fact that Calvimontes spent half of his meeting with Czechoslovak officials schmoozing for admission into Prague’s journalism studies department.  According to the US Embassy, the Bolivian chargé hoped to leverage his time in Prague in order to return to Bolivia for a political career, a plan dashed by the country’s subsequent turn toward rightwing military rule.[9]

The fact that Bolivia’s cultural agreements with Czechoslovakia culminated in a children’s art exhibit also reflected the chargé’s pet project for which he lobbied tirelessly, “Kid’s Town,” about which nothing is mentioned in his instructions from the Bolivian Foreign Ministry.  In Document 2, Calvimontes opened a February 1962 meeting at the Foreign Ministry by asking whether or not Czechoslovakia was willing to provide assistance for “Kid’s Town,” to which the local official responded that Bolivian Labor Minister Fernando Guachalla had “asked during a recent visit [to Prague] to focus our aid on a school for miners’ children.”  Caught off guard, Calvimontes responded that “this case is a different activity where [Prague’s] help is of course also welcome.”  Moving on to weightier matters, the Bolivian chargé “turned the conversation to our mutual economic relations and mentioned the need ‘to finally do something in order to see tangible results.’”  Politely avoiding mention of Bolivia’s recent acceptance of massive US funding under Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry official “replied that our chargé recently spoke with the Bolivian president regarding this issue,” but he complained that “we have been waiting for over a year now for the Bolivian economic delegation, already announced many times.”

As Document 3 reveals, Czechoslovakia was beginning to appreciate the political impact of US aid programs under the Alliance for Progress.  This secret July 1962 report by the Czechoslovak legation in La Paz notes that the acceptance of US funding meant “a more pronounced dependence on the United States of America,” as well as “Bolivia’s inability to accept loans offered by both the USSR and the camp of socialist countries.”  While Prague boasted that it somewhat “possesses an exemption to offering Bolivia economic help,” its legation complained that “the US ambassador exerts all possible pressure in order to prevent any further significant contract agreements with both the ČSSR as well as Yugoslavia.”  In his own words, US Ambassador Ben Stephansky vowed to Washington that Alliance generosity would indeed stimulate a “harder line on Soviet bloc aid,” and he reported that he was constantly “engaged in efforts [to] influence Bolivia away from both communism and neutralism.”  According to Stephansky, “the fact that Yugoslavia may not be as bad as [the] USSR or ChiCom [Communist China] does not seem to be relevant.”[10]  More flexibly, President Kennedy cast a “sidelong glance” toward President Paz Estenssoro in 1963 when he noted that Bolivia’s economic ties with Yugoslavia were tolerable since, as Kennedy put it, “President Tito is a very conservative communist.”[11]

In his own words, US Ambassador Ben Stephansky vowed to Washington that Alliance generosity would indeed stimulate a “harder line on Soviet bloc aid,” and he reported that he was constantly “engaged in efforts [to] influence Bolivia away from both communism and neutralism.” 

The 1962 Czechoslovak report goes on to explore the many conditions of US aid under Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, which included “a complete break in commercial intercourse with Cuba and the commencement of a strong opposition strategy against the labor movement.”  Prague’s legation also complained that “the USA operates in a manner of dirty politics by keeping foreign governments in the dark while mobilizing the army, perhaps to seize power by force later on,” and it warned that the military, “armed by the USA, with soldiers equipped and trained by US instructors…created the perfect conditions for military officers to turn from passive observers to active participants” in the country’s political life.

The report went on to condemn US and British corporations for “taking advantage of Bolivia’s helpless situation” as a raw material supplier.  According to the legation, Eastern Bloc offers for industrial plant projects such as tin and antimony smelters “provided Bolivia with the breakthrough it needed,” although “the reaction from the USA…was significant…and is set to continue.”  The difficulty of convincing Bolivia to accept Soviet bloc aid even prompted a sense of fatalism in the Czechoslovak report: “The Soviet offer regarding mainly oil extraction was not accepted and due to Bolivian dependence on the USA, it will not be.”  Worse yet, US Alliance for Progress funding was conditioned on a set of brutal anti-leftist labor reforms, including the firing of 20% of the 25,000-strong mine workforce and the physical removal of leftwing labor leaders from the mining camps.[12]  The Czechoslovak legation reported that “dependence on the USA is so great, and the Bolivia economic situation so closely monitored by various American institutions that it would be very challenging to withstand this pressure.”  According to the legation, “it is now generally accepted…that sooner or later Bolivia will need to comply with the terms dictated by the United States.”  President Paz Estenssoro was “understandably” reluctant to approve labor repression in exchange for Alliance for Progress funds, realizing that it would tear the revolutionary MNR party asunder and “mean the end of his public political career.”

.... “dependence on the USA is so great, and the Bolivia economic situation so closely monitored by various American institutions that it would be very challenging to withstand this pressure.” 

Despite this bleak picture regarding Bolivia’s economic future under US tutelage, Czechoslovak diplomats in La Paz remained upbeat regarding their country’s overall relations with Bolivia, noting that they “are not bad at all,” particularly over the “last couple of years which have both reinforced and broadened cultural and economic activities.”  Recognizing that “the pressure exerted by the United States is immense,” and that the US ambassador would continue “to either block or make any other efforts to close other deals virtually impossible,” Prague’s legation nonetheless recommended that its government upgrade its presence in La Paz to a full-scale embassy in order to persist in “approaching Bolivia with our own initiative.”  Even if Prague’s larger industrial aid offers continued to be stalled by MNR conservatives under pressure from Washington, an economic “penetrating of the Bolivian market” might well “deepen arguments between the United States and other capitalist countries” and even “eventually help to gain economic independence for Bolivia.”  With a “strong” Czechoslovak ambassador in La Paz, armed with ever-generous offers of industrial assistance, the La Paz legation hoped that Prague could continue “aggressively exploiting every opportunity to deepen divisions between Bolivia and the capitalist states led by the USA,” while “strengthening our relations and helping to forge ties with the USSR.”

Any document cache on Bolivian foreign relations would be incomplete without a mention of La Paz’s perennial scramble for allies in the country’s decades-long, epic struggle to regain sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.  According to the Bolivian Foreign Ministry, one of the most important roles of the country’s diplomats in Eastern bloc countries was to “hold press conferences, radio and television events, conversations in social, cultural, and university circles, explaining the background and scope of the need for our country to obtain an outlet to the sea.”[13]  Document 4 reveals one result of these instructions, as Chargé Calvimontes goes on for half an hour regarding Chilean “embargoes” of Bolivian material, both during the country’s Chaco War with Paraguay (1932-35) and in the wake of the revolutionary mine nationalizations of 1952.  The more immediate issue that Calvimontes discussed with his Czechoslovak counterparts was the ongoing Río Lauca dispute, which had recently led to the severance of all diplomatic relations with Chile and the temporary withdrawal of Bolivia from the Organization of American States (OAS).

As I argue in my book, Bolivia’s spurning of the OAS served a dual purpose, since the country’s revolutionary leaders had already resolved to oppose Washington’s diplomatic crusade against Cuba within the inter-American organization.  By not attending a series of OAS meetings in late 1962 and early 1963, the Bolivians avoided the kind of US recriminations that had followed its “pussyfooting” position (according to Washington Post columnist Drew Pearson) at the January 1962 OAS gathering.  US Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon had gone a step further in the wake of the August 1961 OAS meeting at Punta del Este, complaining that the Bolivians had “followed a straight communist line…taking clear guidance from the Cubans,” and he characterized the Alliance for Progress event as “a remarkable show of solidarity on the part of all except Cuba and Bolivia.”  For a country that hoped to secure millions of dollars of Alliance for Progress funding, this was very unhelpful publicity.[14]

Now that Cuba has entered the picture, it seems apropos to turn to this e-Dossier’s last five documents, which reflect a contradiction at the heart of Czechoslovak relations with Cold War Latin America.  On the one hand, and well demonstrated by Vanni Pettinà’s contribution to this e-Dossier series, Soviet bloc countries sought to capitalize on the real, albeit limited, spirit of Third Worldism within nationalist governing circles in Latin America.[15]  On the other hand, and equally well documented by Daniela Spenser’s e-Dossier, Czechoslovakia maintained stellar relations with Cuba throughout the Cold War.  Prague’s close ties to Havana culminated in Operation Manuel, a top secret program in which Prague provided safe and confidential passage to hundreds of Latin American leftists who travelled to Cuba between 1962 and 1970, including Cuban-trained guerrillas whose goal was to spread revolution throughout the hemisphere.[16]

Prague’s close ties to Havana culminated in Operation Manuel, a top secret program in which Prague provided safe and confidential passage to hundreds of Latin American leftists who travelled to Cuba between 1962 and 1970, including Cuban-trained guerrillas whose goal was to spread revolution throughout the hemisphere.

Spenser’s document cache includes a report by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCz), which concedes that “Operation Manuel is a complicated and politically sensitive affair primarily because its operations is at times in outright contradiction with the lines of the Communist Parties in Latin America and places Czechoslovakia into the position of a transfer station for revolutionaries.”  Noting that the Latin American sojourners were “for the most part sincerely progressive people who at times make political mistakes,” the CPCz assured its First Secretary that they had “taken this danger into consideration and [that] every effort is being made to protect the interests of Czechoslovakia.”[17]  Nonetheless, Prague’s complicity in Cuban sponsorship of guerrilla warfare in Latin America threatened to derail the country’s intricately negotiated economic and diplomatic relationships with established governments.  As one Czechoslovak diplomat later put it, Operation Manuel “was a very delicate matter,” since it forced Prague to balance its desire “to maintain good relations with Cuba” with its recognition that official ties with Latin American governments “were very valuable to us…not just in diplomatic terms, but above all in economic terms.”[18]

One upshot of Operation Manuel was that Prague became a veritable transit point for thousands of Latin American leftists traveling to Cuba, even those who were not participating in clandestine Cuban operations.  One such traveler was Raul Ruíz González, a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Partido Comunista de Bolivia (Communist Party of Bolivia; PCB), who headed the PCB’s delegation to the XII Congress of the Czechoslovak party in December 1962.  The resulting memorandum of conversation between Ruíz and members of the Central Committee of the CPCz, translated here as Document 5, represents an excellent example of the unofficial side of Czechoslovak foreign policy toward Cold War Latin America: its relations with the region’s Communist parties.  The meeting, which took place at Ruíz’s request, resulted in several Bolivian Communists being sheltered through Prague’s Operation Manuel on their way home from guerrilla training in Cuba.

Ruíz also explained that he had been “entrusted” by his colleagues in the PCB Politburo to find out as much as possible regarding the growing rift between the “international communist movement,” headed by the USSR, and the increasingly critical Communist Party of China (CPC).  According to Ruíz, the nascent Sino-Soviet split had “no doubt severely affected some politically and ideologically weak parties in Latin America,” and he specifically predicted a “long and hard ideological struggle within the [Bolivian] party in order to confront and eradicate some misperceptions.”  In retrospect, this conversation contains sharp irony, since Ruíz was one of three Central Committee members who broke away from the PCB two years later to launch a Chinese-oriented Communist Party.  As I argue in my book, the divide had more to do with local conditions than any inherent affinity for the Chinese schismatics.  Specifically, the Maoist breakaway movement in Bolivia condemned the orthodox PCB for its tacit modus vivendi with the governing MNR, and it advocated strongly for joining the radical Trotskyists and left nationalists who were in the process of allying with Bolivian conservatives to bring down President Paz Estenssoro in 1964.[19]

There were several reasons why PCB leadership resisted subversive action against the nationalist MNR in the years leading up to the 1964 coup.  First, Paz’s MNR scrupulously avoided political repression against the Communist Party throughout his tenure, seeing the existence of a strong leftist threat as a keystone in his ability to maintain US political interest (and therefore funding) in his country.  Even as his administration cracked down brutally on the trade union movement, the central condition attached to US aid, non-labor PCB cadres maintained their freedom of action and legal status.[20]

In a conversation with the head of the CPCz international department in May 1963, shown in Document 6, PCB First Secretary Mario Monje revealed the extent of his party’s modus vivendi with Paz Estenssoro’s MNR.  According to Monje, the Bolivian president was “heavily involved” with Operation Matraca, an ongoing Cuban-sponsored guerrilla operation targeting the military governing in neighboring Peru.  As I discuss in my book, Paz Estenssoro provided $20,000 to his friend and pro-Cuban journalist in Cochabamba, Víctor Zannier Valenzeula, who was one of the would-be guerrillas’ main contacts prior to their transfer into Peru.  Another PCB Politburo told me that collaboration with Cuban-trained guerrillas was “Monje’s thing, and Monje grabbed anyone inside or outside the Party, dubious people like Zannier.”  Yet another PCB Central Committee member conceded to me that “Monje trusted Paz, a faith that appeared in hindsight to have been erroneous.”  Indeed, the Bolivian president was meanwhile collaborating with Peruvian military authorities who ensured that Operation Matraca ended in tragedy for the Matraca guerrillas, including the death of celebrated poet Javier Heraud.[21]

The PCB was also trying to play a double game with Paz’s MNR, and when Bolivia’s political crises reached fever pitch in the lead up to the May 1964 presidential elections, the party turned to Prague for financial support.  Claiming to be “completely drained” without enough money “even to pay its functionaries, In Document 7, the PCB pled with the Czechoslovak Embassy for a favorable hearing.  Back in Prague, Foreign Ministry officials responded in bold handwriting with a short phrase: nepřichází v úvahu, which translates roughly as “no way.”  The Czechoslovaks knew that their official presence in Alliance for Progress-era Bolivia was living on borrowed time, and they had little patience for subversive proposals that could prejudice their delicately-negotiated economic and cultural ties to the governing MNR.

The Bolivian Communist Party’s fraught relationship with Cuban-sponsored guerrilla warfare is the subject of many legends and several scenes of a Steven Soderbergh film.  The final two documents in this e-Dossier shed fascinating light on the issue, and to my knowledge they have never been consulted by historians.  In Document 8, PCB Politburo member Jorge Kolle Cueto asks on 7 March 1967 to inform the Czechoslovak Communist Party, “on behalf of the CC of the Bolivian CP,” regarding “the situation in Bolivia…and his recent meeting with Fidel Castro.”  After four pages of discussion regarding the depressing internal political situation under 1964 coup leader, General René Barrientos, Kolle announced that “the party must necessarily prepare for the possibility of armed struggle in order to participate in the attempt to overthrow the current regime together with other leftist forces.”  Reflecting the official PCB line, in which rural guerrilla focos must be accompanied by other forms of armed struggle such as trade union mobilization and popular insurgency, Kolle told the Czechoslovaks that “the party leadership acts very judiciously; the party does not want to take hasty action, and it does not under any circumstances want to repeat what occurred in Venezuela and Guatemala.”  His interlocutors concluded that the commencement of armed struggle “could occur during the first half of 1967,” and they noted that “most of the plans have been drawn up in Cuba and that the Soviet comrades were also informed of the entire event from the outset.”

Particularly of interest here was Kolle’s report on his recent meeting with Fidel Castro.  According to Kolle, “Castro characterized the current policy of the Chinese CP as fascistic, while adding that the USSR makes mistakes as well.”  The Cuban leader expounded on the international situation, condemning both the “Sino-Soviet controversy” and Eastern bloc “hesitation” in Vietnam, which together enable “the imperialists to do what they want with impunity and attack one of the socialist countries without receiving proper retribution.”  Castro went on to describe his lack of faith in Soviet bloc concern for Cuban security: “due to the fact that Cuba is not a member of the Warsaw Pact, it is neither under the protection of Soviet missiles nor are they sure whether the socialist camp would risk World War III over Cuba.”  Castro also condemned the Eastern bloc’s continued diplomatic and economic relations with governing parties in Latin America, which was enabling the region’s governments to “maintain their political prestige and disorientation of the popular and revolutionary forces” while they meanwhile “suppress the armed revolutionary movement in their own countries.”  In presenting this information, Kolle was careful to add that “he was merely relaying Fidel’s opinions and that the foregoing makes clear that Fidel does not understand the basic tenets of peaceful coexistence.”

As the conversation moves onto the issue of armed struggle in Bolivia, it becomes clear that no one in the room was aware of the secret rift that had just emerged between Cuba and PCB First Secretary Mario Monje.  Armed hostilities in Bolivia would not commence for another few weeks, and Che Guevara’s presence in the country remained a closely guarded piece of information in Havana.  The Czechoslovak Communist Party was left to conclude that “due to Bolivia’s geographical position, it is very unlikely that under the current situation in Latin America a revolutionary movement could win before being rapidly liquidated with the help of some form of intervention from neighboring countries.”  The memorandum ends by concluding darkly that, “we can assume that the PCB is able to take wider armed action on their own against the government, but it is quite unlikely that this movement would be successful, and in particular that it could stay in power.”

Almost three months later on 30 May 1967, Document 9 shows an even more revealing meeting took place between the head of the CPCz’s international department and Aldo Flores, a member of the PCB Central Committee.  Here the conversation went straight to the issue of Cuban-sponsored guerrilla warfare in Bolivia.  Flores described several years of “close collaboration between the Bolivian CP and the Cuban CP…focused on preparing the conditions for the development of guerrilla warfare in the southern part of the Latin American continent.”  This had led to the “establishment of centers in Bolivia for the training and preparation of guerrilla groups, which would be ready to support any eventual guerrilla movement that erupted in neighboring countries such as Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Brazil, and Chile.” 

Flores described several years of “close collaboration between the Bolivian CP and the Cuban CP…focused on preparing the conditions for the development of guerrilla warfare in the southern part of the Latin American continent.”

Things had recently gone awry, however, since “Cuban officials built their own organization in Bolivia, composed entirely of their own people.”  According to Flores, “this organization gradually weakened its contacts with the leadership of the Bolivian CP and made decisions entirely on its own.”  Due to these “quite abnormal developments,” Flores explained that PCB First Secretary Monje had been dispatched to Havana in December 1966 to discuss with Fidel Castro “the situation that had developed in Bolivia.”  As Flores told it, Fidel admitted that “there were Cuban officials in Bolivia who would indeed assume all management activity in their own hand, and he conceded that it would be characterized as fraud by the Cuban party toward Monje.”  Castro apparently went on to describe his reasons, the principal of which was that “the liberation of Bolivia can only occur after the liberation of all the neighboring countries.”  According to Castro, “had the management of all activities been in the hands of the Bolivian CP, and if the revolution had been victorious in Bolivia, it would lead to the Bolivian revolution necessarily acceding to a series of compromises with the USA, because, due to Bolivia’s geographical position, it would be very difficult to prevent outside intervention and blockade.”  As Flores described it, Castro feared that a Bolivia-first strategy “would thus have slowed the Latin American revolution for many years.”

According to Flores, the Cubans informed the PCB in early 1967 that “armed action would commence during the first quarter of 1967.”  Since the Bolivian party leadership “did not consider this a very suitable date, because most mass organizations, especially the trade unions, are still recovering from government persecution that occurred after the military coup,” the PCB prepared to send Politburo member Jorge Kolle back to Havana to meet with Castro.  Kolle was to “inform Fidel Castro that the whole matter was not so tragic, but rather is likely a misunderstanding, and that it should suffice to coordinate all actions with the head of the Cuban organization in Bolivia once returning.”  As Flores reported, “this meeting never took place, and in the meantime armed hostilities commenced.”  Less than five months later, Che Guevara was captured and executed in southeastern Bolivia.

In my next book, I will draw on documentation from over a dozen countries to explore Che’s death and its impact in Bolivia and on the larger Third World movement.[22]  For now, I will end this e-Dossier with a quote from Flores, who expressed with notable frustration that his party planned to “continue supporting the guerrilla group” while “seeking to clarify the situation with the Cuban comrades without making recourse to public controversy or accusations of meddling in internal affairs.”  He concluded his meeting in Prague by expressing his Central Committee’s concern about “the disregard for the position of the party” in Cuban preparations for guerrilla warfare in Latin America’s Southern Cone.

There is a tendency to separate the Western Hemisphere from larger histories of the Cold War in the Global South.  This results in a kind of “historiographical Monroe Doctrine,” and ignores the quintessentially Third World nature of Latin American politics since 1945.[23]  By demonstrating the official and nonofficial aspects of Czechoslovak foreign policy towards Bolivia in the 1960s, this e-Dossier points to a wealth of new research that can take place once historians “take off the Cold War lens” to consider the anti-imperialist processes and practices long marking in Latin America’s foreign relations.  Since I am also currently working on an edited volume with Stella Krepp and Vanni Pettinà to explore a broad range Latin America’s Third World experiences, I sincerely hope that this is a beginning of a new wave of scholarship that will further widen the field of Latin American international studies.[24]

 

Thomas Field is Associate Professor and Department Chair of Global Security and Intelligence Studies at the Embry-Riddle College of Security and Intelligence.  He is author of From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era (Cornell University Press, 2014), which was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title and won the Thomas McGann Award from the Rocky Mountain Council on Latin American Studies.  He previously received the Bernath Article Prize and the Unterberger Dissertation Prize, both from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.  He is currently writing a book about the death of Che Guevara in Bolivia and its impact on the Third World project.




[1] John F. Kennedy, Presidential Inaugural Address, 20 January 1961, Speeches, John F. Kennedy Library.

[2] Foreign Ministry to Economic Ministry, 13 January 1961, RV-4-E-53, 1961-1962, Bolivian Foreign Ministry Archive, La Paz, Bolivia [hereafter RREE-BO].

[3] CIA, Intelligence Bulletins, 13 January 1961 and 3 February 1961, CIA Records Search Tool (CREST), US National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland, USA. [hereafter NARA-US].

[4] Thomas C. Field Jr., From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era (Ithaca, NY, 2014), 11, 73.

[5] Foreign Ministry to Ambassador Prudencio, 29 April 1963, RV-4-E-54, RREE-BO.

[6] Vanni Pettinà, “Mexican-Soviet Relations, 1958-1964: The Limits of Engagement,” e-Dossier No. 65, Cold War International History Project, Wilson International Center for Scholars (https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/mexican-soviet-relations-1958-1...).  Jeffrey James Byrne, Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization, and the Third World Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Robert B. Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned Movement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: The New Press, 2008).

[7] Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 210.

[8] The dean of Bolivian studies, James Dunkerley, recently wrote that new historical scholarship has “developed a persuasive research-based case for the revolutionary process being more culturally innovative and distinctive than had previously been recognized.”  See “The Bolivian Revolution at 60: Politics and Historiography,” Journal of Latin American Studies 45 (2013): 330.

[9] Embassy to State, 9 March 1963, folder “POL BOL-CZECH,” box 3831, State Department Central Files, Record Group 59, NARA-US.

[10] US Embassy to State Department, 16 August 1963, cited in Field, From Development to Dictatorship, 77, 221n35.

[11] Herbert Thompson (Kennedy’s interpreter) Oral History, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, cited in Field, From Development to Dictatorship, 105.

[12] See Field, From Development to Dictatorship, 21, as well as Chapter 5 (“Development’s Detractors: Miners, Housewives, and the Hostage Crisis at Siglo XX”).

[13] Foreign Ministry to Prague, 9 January 1963, RV-4-E-54, 1963, RREE-BO.  See also Foreign Ministry to Prudencio (Belgrade).

[14] Cited in Field, From Development to Dictatorship, 32, 43.  Regarding Bolivia’s late 1962 withdrawal from the OAS, and Foreign Minister José Fellman’s denial that it had anything to do with Cuba, see pages 63, 210n76.

[15] Pettinà, “Mexican-Soviet relations, 1958-1964.”

[16] Daniela Spenser, “Operation Manuel: Czechoslovakia and Cuba,” e-Dossier No. 7, Cold War International History Project, Wilson International Center for Scholars (https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/operation-manuel-czechoslovakia...).

[17] Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, 7 July 1967, document reproduced in Spenser, “Operation Manuel.”

[18] Stanislav Svoboda interview, Annex to Michel Zourek, “Checoslovaquia y el Cono Sur 1945-1989,” (unpublished PhD dissertation, Univerzita Karlova v Praze, 2014), 462-63.

[19] See Field, From Development to Dictatorship, 144, 163-64, 229n69, 233n21.

[20] Ibid, 68.

[21] Regarding Operation Matraca, see Field, From Development to Dictatorship, 71-73.  Quotes are by Ramiro Otero and José Luis Cueto, page 72.

[22] Provisional title: “Andean Pivot: Bolivia, the Death of Che Guevara, and the Rise of the Third World.”  Using Bolivia as a narrative turning point, this work considers the role played by Che’s 1967 death in the radicalization of an anti-imperialist version of Third World solidarity, a project that included an increasing number of Latin American voices during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

[23] Here I paraphrase Tanya Harmer’s comments at a December 2014 workshop at the University of Bern regarding the globalization of Latin American history.

[24] Matthew Connelly, “Taking off the Cold War Lens: Visions of North-South Conflict during the Algerian War for Independence,” The American Historical Review 105 (2000): 739-769.  Our edited volume is tentatively entitled From West to South: Latin America and the Third World Project.