Che Guevara's 'Black' Bodyguard - UPDATED





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Published on May 3, 2010

Brief Getty Images video of Commandante Ernesto (Che) Guevara (right), the Argentina-born Cuban revolutionary guerilla leader, theoretician and government minister, Cuban Prime Minister (later President) Fidel Castro (left) and Leonardo Tamayo Nunez (2d from left near end of video), one of Dr. Guevara's personal bodyguards, place and date not specified by Getty, but probably Havana, Cuba, about 1960. [NOTE: See UPDATE below. -- PL]

Tamayo, who was also known as "Urbano," his nom de guerre (war name), fought with Dr. Guevara's guerilla column in the Sierra Maestra mountains in the campaign to overthrow the U. S.-backed government of Fulgencio Batista, which succeeded on Jan. 1, 1959. At the time, Tamayo, who has been described as a "Negro," was in his late teens.

The short, square-jawed Tamayo was only one of several "black" or "mulatto" Cubans to fight with Dr. Guevara during the revolutionary war and later serve as a member of his personal escort. Another was Harry Villegas, also an Afro-Cuban, whose nom de guerre was "Pombo." Both men were members of the fearsome "Suicide Squad" of Dr. Guevara's Column No. 8 during the Cuban campaign.

Despite his youth, Tamayo traveled with Dr. Guevara on several of his diplomatic missions abroad, although, unlike Villegas, he did not fight with Dr. Guevara in the secret and ultimately unsuccessful "internationalist" mission to help insurgents overthrow the Western-backed puppet government of Moïse Tshombe in the Congo (Leopoldville, now Kinshasa) from April-November 1965.

However, Tamayo did fight in Dr. Guevara's column in the campaign to create a guerilla "foco," or nucleus, in Bolivia in 1966-67, which Dr. Guevara envisioned as a long-term revolutionary process that would lead to popular uprisings throughout U. S.-dominated Latin America.

After Dr. Guevara was captured by the Bolivian army and executed on Oct. 9, 1967, as his campaign was unraveling, Tamayo and Villegas were among only five members of Dr. Guevara's column to escape Bolivia and return to Cuba in March 1968. Both Tamayo and Villegas later served in "internationalist" missions in Angola.

Tamayo later rose to become a colonel in the Cuba's Ministry of the Interior and Villegas became a brigadier general in the Cuba army.

On Oct. 8, 2007, the 40th anniversary of Dr. Guevara's capture, Tamayo returned to Bolivia, which was led by President Juan (Evo) Morales, an Amerindian, who is a fervent admirer of Dr. Guevara, to pay tribute to his fallen leader and other comrades:


NOTE: If anyone could identify the gentleman at extreme right, please write to me through my YouTube.com channel. He bears at least a superficial resemblance to Cuban martyr Camilo Cienfuegos, who was killed in a plane crash on Oct. 28, 1959. If it's Cienfuegos, this would date the video before then.

Sadly, I was compelled to disable the comments section of this video because of my unfortunate experience with the previous Dr. Guevara video that I posted, which, despite my warnings, quickly became a rhetorical battleground for pro- and anti-Dr. Guevara and -Castro rants. This channel is devoted to HISTORY, not politics. -- PL

[UPDATE, 5/3/10: Since posting this video, I discovered a CORBIS photo that provided the place, date and identifications that Getty failed to:

["Original caption: Prime Minister Fidel Castro, (L) and Captain Antonio Nunez [Jimenez], (R) listen here to Argentine born Major Ernesto Guevara, Industry Minister, before boarding a plane for Montevidee [Montevideo], Uruguay. Between Guevara and Nunez is Captain Omar Fernandez, the New Transport Minister. Guevara will be the Chief Cuban Delegate to the Alliance for Progress Conference which will open August 5th [1961]."

[Fernandez does not appear in the video and Nunez is the man at extreme right.

[Also, I found an eFootage.com clip of the same occasion and added it to the beginning of the Getty video. -- PL]

SOURCES: When the Bolivian army was attempting to capture Tamayo and his four comrades, it issued reward notices describing him as "De raza negra."

Also, Argentine painter and journalist Ciro Bustos, a guest of the guerillas who was captured by the Bolivian army, provided the latter with detailed sketches and descriptions of the revolutionaries. He compared Tamayo with Villegas as "Also a Negro" (Harry Villegas, "Pombo: a man of Che's guerilla," [Mary-Alice Waters, ed.] [New York: Pathfinder, 1996, 1997], fifth photo after p. 312 (notice)]; Daniel James, ed., "The Complete Bolivian Diaries of Ché Guevara and Other Captured Documents" [New York: Stein and Day, 1968], seventh photo and caption after p. 98]).

(Videos Courtesy eFootage.com and Archives Film via Getty Images)

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